Monday, 23 December 2013

Digitising Larkin - part 1

A significant portion of my job at the Hull History Centre relates to digitisation – that is, the production of high-resolution digital images of archival materials. We do this broadly for two closely related reasons; preservation and accessThe creation of a digital facsimile means that a fragile item, otherwise unsuitable for handling by the public, is still available for consultation. This in turn also facilitates greater access in the form of outreach, the creation of research materials and public displays. 

Whilst I have undertaken numerous digitisation tasks, the largest and perhaps most significant relates to the workbooks of Philip Larkin, poet and University of Hull Librarian from 1955 to 1985. The workbooks (Ref U DPL/1/2-8) contain the drafts of poetry written by Larkin between March 1950 and July 1982, offering an extraordinary insight into the working practices of one of the best-regarded writers of the 20th century. 

The History Centre houses seven of these workbooks. The earliest, covering October 1944 to March 1950, was donated by Larkin to the British Library as part of a SCONUL initiative to keep the working papers of British authors in this country at a time when many manuscripts were being purchased by affluent American universities. So acute was the issue that Larkin suggested that the conference in which he addressed SCONUL was akin to ‘a conference of barn door closers’. 

One of the Larkin workbooks under the (cold) lights 

The project to digitise the Larkin workbooks has been carried out with extensive consultation of the image specifications recommended by the British Library.
We are fortunate at the History Centre to have a bespoke 100 megapixel camera scanner built by Solar Imaging (see above), running Silverfast Ai Studio software, as well as working in a purpose-built building which lends itself well to photography (level flooring, little in the way of vibrations).

With this is mind, I was afforded the opportunity to attend a digitisation training day held at their Preservation Advisory Centre on November 13th 2013 and I will post my reflections on this event in the new year.

Riki Stansfield
Archives Assistant

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