U.S. National Archives & Records Administration
United States National Archives and Records Administration
To equip NARA for the ongoing digitization of U.S. Federal government documents and materials considered important enough for legal or historical reasons to be permanently preserved and archived under stringent technical guidelines.
An estimated: 10 billion pages of textual records; 12 million maps, charts and architectural/engineering drawings; 25 million still photos and graphics; 24 million aerial photographs; 300,000 reels of motion pictures film; 400,000 video and sound recordings; and 133 terabytes of electronic data.
A combination of high-volume book/large-format, microfilm, microfiche and paper document scanners, including the Zeutschel Omniscan 14000-series and accompanying Omniscan 12 64-bit software, both designed specifically to meet NARA’s standards.
- (11) Zeutschel 14000-series book/large format scanners
- (2) Zeutschel 12000-series overhead scanners
- Zeutschel Omniscan 12 64-bit software
- Zeutschel OP500 ArchiveWriter
- (17) Mekel Technology MACH-series microfilm and microfiche scanners
- (2) Wicks and Wilson microfilm and microfiche scanners
- (9) InoTec Scamax® 422 auto-feed document scanners with I.R.I.S. PowerScan software
- Technical support (training, annual maintenance, software upgrades, etc.)
For more than 30 years, The Crowley Company (Crowley) has provided capture equipment, scanning services and technical support to the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), helping to keep the agency at the forefront of technical advancements in the records management and preservation industries.
Of all documents and materials created yearly by the United States Federal government, only two to five percent are considered legally or historically important enough to be permanently preserved and archived1. This preservation takes one of two forms: conservation (the remedial repair of damaged records) or reformatting. With billions of Federal government records to preserve – the majority of which are text-based – NARA’s mission is to make these records accessible in an ever-changing environment. This has necessitated a migration toward digital formatting.
In 2004, then NARA Preservation and Imaging Specialist, the late and respected Steven Puglia, along with Jeffrey Reed and Erin Rhodes, authored “Technical Guidelines for Digitizing Archival Materials for Electronic Access: Creation of Production Master Files – Raster Images.” This guideline, an update to an earlier document, intended to provide a technical foundation and standardization for digitization activities. The guide, coupled with the creation of NARA’s electronic archives infrastructure for permanent storage, led to department approval for the purchase of lab equipment to digitize the NARA collections.
Creating A Scanner That Didn’t Exist
The response to the original RFP specifications for the ideal overhead scanner revealed a void in the document imaging industry: such a scanner did not exist.
As the preferred North American distributor for Zeutschel GmbH (Zeutschel), The Crowley Company partnered with the firm’s team of German engineers to design a scanner to meet NARA’s rigid demand for color-quality output from a line scan camera with unheralded image quality and speed.
During the scanner development, a Crowley expert technician acted as a field-testing liaison between manufacturer and user. Crowley’s technician took several trips to the Zeutschel’s Tubingen, Germany headquarters and to NARA’s College Park, Maryland location to ensure that the equipment and software could meet the exacting standards set forth in technical guidelines. After nearly four years of engineering and field-testing, the Zeutschel OmniScan (OS) 14000 scanner achieved the required spatial frequency response (SFR) and image noise levels and was deemed a success.
To complement the camera, Zeutschel designed OmniScan 12 64-bit software to allow for image processing while moving on to the next scan – something that no other software program at the time could accomplish with files of such large size. With researchers demanding digital images that allow for easy access and a closer proximity to the original, the perfecting of these nuances was critical.
A Multi-Vendor Solution
Throughout the years, Crowley has been able to provide multiple digitization solutions to meet NARA’s exacting standards for digitization and preservation.
Large Format Overhead Scanners
As of this printing, there are 11 Zeutschel OS 14000 and two OS 12000 scanners in operation at the College Park (Md.) location for the digitization of books, maps, photos, hand-written documents, engineering and architectural plans and other archival records.
As owners of Mekel Technology since 2003 and Wicks and Wilson (Wicks) since 2011, Crowley entered the manufacturing business with a knowledge base unlike most vendors: that of being its own client. Using Mekel Technology and Wicks microfilm, microfiche and aperture card scanners in its high-volume digitization services bureau, Crowley was intimately familiar with the capabilities and benefits of both brands and has been able to share these benefits with NARA.
NARA uses Wicks scanners in their onsite reading room. They also utilize 17 FADGI-capable Mekel Technology MACH-series scanners in their microfilm and microfiche digitization department. Both brands utilize full roll film and microfiche media capture and specialized processing software to ensure 100% image capture on the first pass. The scanners have proven themselves with increased productivity and unparalleled image quality.
NARA also owns a Zeutschel OP500 16/35 mm archive writer for digital records that require the long-shelf life and security afforded by microfilm.
Nearly all of NARA’s archival preservation efforts are for paper records that have been reviewed and de-classified. The 24/7 production capabilities of the German-engineered InoTec SCAMAX® 400-series scanners fit NARA’s need for production efficiency, easy indexing, FADGI 3-star image quality and unparalleled performance endurance. NARA currently has nine InoTec document scanners in use and can take advantage of their ability to be upgraded in the field for future innovations.
Through its Digitization Services division, Crowley scan operators have captured NARA collections digitally at onsite locations as a subcontracted vendor.
A key factor in the long-term partnership between NARA and Crowley is access to extensive technical support. From installation/training to software upgrades and maintenance agreements, Crowley Technical Support helps NARA protect their wide range of scanner investments and keeps all hardware running at peak performance throughout its lifespan.
The Proven Results
Digitization methods are constantly being refined as technology changes. The partnerships that The Crowley Company has formed with the above-mentioned scanner manufacturers, coupled with its own three-part role as manufacturer, scanning service and support provider offers an unparalleled opportunity to understand and meet client demands. In this case, when the equipment didn’t exist, the collaboration allowed for an innovation that ultimately raised the industry standard.
Today, as NARA continues with the digitization of Federal government records, the archives are kept safe through digitization which also allows researchers and the public to have unprecedented ease of access to files as close to the original as technologically possible.
Postscript: FADGI Imaging Standards
A lot has changed in the decade since the Zeutschel OS 14000 was created specifically to meet NARA’s digital imaging specifications and this original case study was written.
As institutions acquired the technology to create high-quality images, the desire increased to create a measurable technical standardization of these images to ensure consistent quality across federal records holdings. In 2007, a group of federal agencies formed the Federal Agencies Digital Guidelines Initiative (FADGI) to create a set of technical guidelines, methods and practices for digitized and born-digital historical, archival and cultural content2. As of this reprinting, twenty government agencies (including NARA) are participants in the program and contribute to either still image or audio-visual guidelines.
The still image guidelines rely heavily upon strong capture hardware, target testing and analysis software to measure digital image color, precision and accuracy. The guidelines and technologies have played off each other’s advancements, resulting in a moving and improving target for manufacturers and records custodians to create the highest-quality and most-consistent images. The majority of the scanners mentioned in this piece meet or exceed FADGI imaging standards.
“The demand for information in a digital format is strong. For an archivist, the dilemma is how to do this while keeping the original material pure.” – Steven Puglia, NARA Preservation and Imaging Specialist