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Rescuing Colombian archives and libraries

Posted: 08 Jul 2015, 11:36
by Team Neogranadina
Hello! My partner and I have long followed your website with great interest. He built his first book scanner in 2010, and last year we built the DIY book scanner 9.2 following your previous design. We have been absolutely delighted with it. We are both academics and we have to travel a lot for research so being able to carry a digital copy of our library with us has been an enormous help. We came back to the website a few weeks ago, and read about Daniel’s retirement, Spreads, and the Archivist, and we thought it was high time that we introduced ourselves and what we’re doing.

During a recent research trip to an archive in Colombia we were asked by the director of the archive if we knew of anyone who would be able to digitise their archive. Without hesitating, my partner said that we could knowing that it would be possible to adapt the design to allow it to photograph early modern manuscripts, which tend to be larger in size. From there the idea snowballed and now we’ve set up a non-profit foundation here in Colombia to digitise the country’s endangered archives and libraries.

As I am sure you are aware, Colombia is a developing country which has been marred by violence for more than fifty years, with disastrous consequences, and although this conflict is coming to an end and its economy is fast recovering, the country's manuscript and early print heritage — which dates back to the sixteenth century — remains in danger. This material continues to be lost and damaged as a result of neglect, a lack of adequate funding for its preservation, poor climatic conditions, and damage caused by the employment of inadequately trained and amateur archival staff. By digitising these documents, we hope to preserve them at least in digital form for future generations to prevent this heritage from being lost forever.

We’re extremely grateful to the whole DIY book scanner community for making our dream of digitising all this material a practical possibility. Your designs are making it possible for us to build scanners cheaply and easily, and to send them to archives and institutions around Colombia, even in remote rural areas. We're also very interested in the work Johannes Baiter and the rest of the community have done on SpreadsPi, which we hope to implement to make the process of digitising these images as easy as possible, letting the people operating the scanners focus on handling this invaluable documentation carefully, and allowing us to involve volunteers, school children, and university students in the digitisation process — really getting local communities involved in preserving their manuscript and early printed heritage.

The other aspect to our work is accessibility. Archives can be difficult to access in Colombia due to the expense involved in travelling to them or restrictive entrance policies, so much material has remained off-limits to researchers and academics — not to mention the general public. We are very keen to change this, by making this material more easily accessible. And the more that we’ve looked into archive digitisation projects across the world we realised that many require people to pay to access digitised images, either because they are run by commercial enterprises or as a result of the high costs of commercial scanners and of running digitisation programmes. We want to break away from this, and as a result of your amazing work we can run digitisation programmes at a very low cost, and make the resulting images available to everyone for free. And because our costs are low, we can keep things running through fundraising alone, at no cost to the archives or institutions whose documents we digitise either.

We’ve been very fortunate, and our project has been greeted with an enormous amount of enthusiasm: we’ve had lots of volunteers who want to help with the digitisation, students and teachers who want to use our images in their work, and even help from various institutions to set up the digital archive and digital library to make them available.

We’re only just getting started, but we’ve made some important progress. This week we’ve finished setting up the non-profit foundation in Colombia, called Fundación Histórica Neogranadina (New Granada was the name given to the region of modern-day Colombia in the colonial period, when the vast majority of the material we want to work on was created), and we are in the process of setting up a corresponding charity in England (where we are from).

We are currently building the Archivist, making some alterations to work within the limitations of what is available here. For example, we are having to do without the new lighting module because we have been unable to get the parts here in Colombia, but we are using the design from the old DIY scanner. We are also having to increase the size of the machines by 50% so that they can accommodate manuscripts, so a couple of engineer friends are helping us modify the CAD files. We hope to have one standard-sized scanner and two larger ones by the middle of this month, so that we can start a pilot project at the archives we have partnered with.

All of this is to say that we are extremely grateful for everything you’ve done and made possible. We are very excited to be embarking on this project, and we wanted to get in touch with all of you to introduce ourselves and explain what we are doing. We’d love to hear your thoughts. We’ll also keep you posted on our progress. Above all, thank you!

Re: Rescuing Colombian archives and libraries

Posted: 08 Jul 2015, 12:36
by duerig
Hi there. This looks like a great project. I hope you keep us posted with photos and updates about how things are going. It is exactly this kind of heritage-preservation that makes me very passionate about the idea of bookscanning.

If you folks have any questions on the design of the Archivist, let me know. Aside from Daniel, I am probably the one most experienced with the design. :)

Also, if there are any pieces you need shipped in, especially for the lighting module, email me. Sending big heavy plywood parts is prohibitively expensive. But the lighting module is much more reasonable to ship and good lighting will be essential for scanning historical documents. My email is duerig at tenrec dot builders

Regardless, best of luck. I especially want to see pictures of the giant Archivists as you build them.


Re: Rescuing Colombian archives and libraries

Posted: 12 Jul 2015, 22:54
by nafraf
Hi, does your non profit organization have a website? I'd like to know more about it. Great project!

Re: Rescuing Colombian archives and libraries

Posted: 14 Jul 2015, 15:51
by Team Neogranadina
Hallo! Thank you both so much for your enthusiasm, it is really appreciated especially in these early stages.

Yes, we have a website: However, it is under construction at the moment so not all the features are working yet.

Thank you for offering to help with the Archivist, we will certainly get in touch when things come up. And again, thank you so much for your offer to help with the lighting module, I imagine that we will be in touch about that when we are back in England. Unfortunately time is against us at the moment so we will use the older version of the lighting module for the pilot projects but hopefully we will be able to update them after that.

We have been working hard all week to modify the designs so that they are 68% larger (so that we can scan up to broadsheets) and have sent the wooden parts off to be cut this week. We had a lot of fun putting two sheets of plywood (240x170cm) onto the roof of the only car we could find to take them to the laser cutters! We just need to finish modifying the metal parts and hopefully they will also be cut this week. We shall post pictures as soon as we have the machines assembled. Many thanks again for your interest!

Re: Rescuing Colombian archives and libraries

Posted: 25 Aug 2015, 16:08
by MJM
Nice use to scanners, its exactry what I want to develop too.

Just sended you a message,team.