- Book Conservation and Digitization: The Challenges of Dialogue and Collaboration ed. by Alberto Campagnolo
digital cultural object, library digitization, project management, multi-spectral imaging, manuscript conservation, book conservation
Despite the closure of major libraries and the curtailment of air travel that occurred during the global pandemic of 2020–21, decades-long efforts to digitize rare books and manuscripts have provided humanities researchers with vast resources that have enabled virtual access and opportunities for research. The timely publication of a volume of essays edited by Alberto Campagnolo provides a veritable master class in the work required to make these digital assets readily accessible online to scholars around the world.
Alberto Campagnolo is that uncommon individual whose expertise combines the interdisciplinary fields of rare book and manuscript conservation and digital humanities. For this volume, he has brought together a number of his former tutors, project collaborators, and other colleagues to share their individual personal digitization experiences from various libraries, archives, and museums. Organized into three sections, the book includes contributions authored by over a dozen eminent conservators, library heritage preservation experts, and specialists in digitization and imaging.
The key words in the volume’s title—dialogue and collaboration—are emblematic of the book’s support for the central role of book conservators at the outset of any digitization project, no matter how large or small. Campagnolo’s introduction and first section, entitled “Books as Objects and Their Digitization,” along with the nine case studies given in Section 2, [End Page 357] Manuscript Studies make compelling arguments for how collaborative digitization projects ought to be structured and why the involvement of conservators needs to be front and center at all stages. For some institutions this may seem self- evident. But when funding resources are short and pressures mount to get more books online, digitization can compete with conservation when the mandate to digitize is given priority over more time- consuming condition surveys and conservation treatments. There is an urgency to this book’s advocacy, for it cannot be denied that digitization can and does cause material damage. The remedy is to involve conservators and to embed their active participation into the digitization workflow to prevent material loss.
Campagnolo’s two long- form chapters in Section 1 make explicit the premise of the book: in “Understanding the Artifactual Value of Books,” and “Conservation and Digitization: A Difficult Balance?,” Campagnolo argues for the need to document by digitization (and associated metadata, such as object descriptions) an object’s “untransferrable features”—that is, the physical aspects of manuscripts not made apparent in a two- dimensional page scan (74). These features often include the physical details and material qualities of historical bindings, parchment, paper, ink, pigment, and so on, and the three- dimensional structure of the codex as a whole. With his extended articulation of what constitutes “artifactual value,” Campagnolo makes clear that the conservator’s role is not limited to preservation and treatment, but also includes unique knowledge and understanding of materials and features, the description and documentation of which require standardized vocabularies (17–48). To this first section must be added Athanasios Velios and Nicholas Pickwoad’s collaborative contribution (grouped among the “Case Studies”), which outlines the seminal resource of the Language of Bindings Thesaurus, a project of the Ligatus Research Centre; their essay provides a roadmap to how those observations ought to be expressed and linked using structured vocabularies. Together these three essays articulate and model ways of thinking about books as objects, arising out of the collaborative endeavors to catalogue, conserve, and digitize rare books and manuscripts.
The case studies in Section 2, “Conservation and Digitization in Practice,” showcase the collaborative digitization projects at the Vatican Library, the National Archives at Kew, the British Library, the Wellcome Library, [End Page 358] the Herzog August Bibliothek, the London Municipal Archives, the Library of Congress, and Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai, Egypt. As models, these essays are rich with insights and recommendations. For instance, Almuth Corbach’s review of available book- cradle equipment is helpful to anyone...