This is the second of a three part series describing the creation of the Challenger collection, a project to digitize and make available primary source materials related to the Space Shuttle Challenger and the disaster that occurred on January 28, 1986.
The collection can be accessed here.
Once the items were selected for the collection our attention turned to the digitization process. Because we had selected such disparate material we had to adopt a number of different strategies to ensure the items were digitized properly.
The most straight-forward items to digitize were the photographs. They fit neatly on our scanner and transferred well to the electronic medium. Scanners are in essence made for digitizing photographs, so the process presented few problems. We chose to scan the photographs at the highest resolution our scanner allows. This gave us the most freedom to manipulate the image if need be, with the trade-off of increased file size. Since our collection is relatively small the larger file size was not a problem. The letters and other more or less standard textual material (press-kits and applications) were similarly easy to digitize. We chose to render these items at a slightly lower resolution as we saw no significant difference in quality between highest and medium resolutions. Again the scanner was essentially made for these types of items.
The ephemera — that is, those items which did not readily fit into any other category — were slightly more difficult to digitize. One item — a bright orange parking pass meant to be left on the dashboard of a vehicle parking at the launch site — was larger than a standard 8” x 11” sheet of paper. It took a few tries to get the coloring to render faithfully for the digitized version. Other items underwent a similar trial-and-error process before we were satisfied with the result.
The item that gave the most trouble was a governmental report. It was a 438 page book that could not be pressed flat enough to be scanned on the flatbed scanner we’d used for the photographs and other items. In order scan the report we had to use a standing scanner. The book was laid flat and the scanner lens was positioned over it in such a way as to capture the page as a JPEG. The page was turned and the next page captured. In order to save time — and so the book could remain roughly in the same place — the odd pages were scanned first. The book was then flipped and the even pages were scanned starting at the back of the book. The pages were then converted to PDFs and oddities — such as a slightly rotated page — were corrected. A few pages required rescanning. Once all pages were acceptable they were combined in the correct order into a single file.