14 Apr 2023

Digitising projects in Maynooth University Library using a digital camera and scanner

Guest post by Bridie O’Neill, Edel King & Laura Gallagher, DPDS, MULibrary

The Digital Publishing and Data Services (DPDS) department in Maynooth University (MU) Library purchased a new state-of-the-art Zeutschel scanner last year. We received training on  the scanner and its accompanying software, Omniscan. We spoke to people digitising in other institutions and paid a visit to the National Library of Ireland to view their scanning suite. Since then, we have received some reprographic requests from around the world. 

In this blog post, we will detail how we fulfilled these requests using our DSLR digital camera and the scanner.

Digitising using the DSLR camera. 

We were requested to digitise the Bloomfield maps of the Loughton & Redwood Estate by MU's Arts and Humanities Institute. The maps consisted of 34 maps and ledgers dating 1836-1840. The maps were oversized, measuring 80 cm by 1 metre. We chose the digital camera (DSLR) as the best medium to digitise the maps.  

Image from the Bloomfield collection

We ran several tests using different exposure settings to gain the depth of field required for the maps. As the maps were oversized we placed them on the floor supported by backboards and the copy stand was adjusted to allow the maps to be photographed in that position.

We also experimented with lighting and discovered that the best exposure could be gained from turning off the overhead fluorescent lights and engaging the flash function on the camera with even tungsten lighting. We documented all our findings in a ‘How to’.  

The photographs were captured and saved using TIFF format which renders the best quality for reproduction purposes. The files were then converted into JPEG format to assist data transferring and ease of editing. The MU Arts and Humanities department are utilising the maps in an interactive project with pop up fields for further in-depth information.   

Using the camera and copy stand

Digitising using the scanner 

We received a reprographic request from an academic in Durham University for the digitisation of a 1595 book called Essais de Michel de Montaigne. This was the first request we received where we could properly use the new scanner.  

Image from Essais de Michel de Montaigne

The scanner comes with some excellent features. One of these is Interleaving. Interleaving allows you to scan one half of the book entirely, for example solely the right-hand pages. After that, with Interleaving mode on, you can scan the left-hand pages. Interleaving puts each scan in its correct place automatically so that page 3 is followed by page 4 etc. 

We found this feature extremely useful when scanning the Montaigne book.  It allowed us to set up the book on the scanner with the relevant supports, scan one half of it and then set up the other half. This meant that there was much less handling of the item.

Interleaving equipment

The requestor wanted a full view of the book including the spine and leaves. These areas were not possible to capture using the scanner, so we supported the book and took the images using our DSLR camera and then worked on them using Photoshop. 

Spine of Montaigne

Initially, we thought it best when scanning the right-hand pages to just scan the images and then use filters after to crop, straighten or brighten the image. However, this book generated nearly 800 scans and so cropping and straightening after scanning proved time consuming. When scanning the left-hand pages, we made sure the book was positioned exactly how we wanted before scanning so that little work had to be done on the images after.

A proper file structure had to be established. The images are scanned as TIFFs, (as per best practice). Then, as part of finalising, a feature called ‘Copy’ can copy them all into another chosen format. For testing purposes, we used one folder for all formats. But as we would only be sending one version to the requestor, we needed to separate formats for actual projects so that everything was more easily accessible. 

Using the scanning software

Teams has proven to be a very useful tool. Creating a channel or folder and either uploading or copying the files to that location means that the files are available for the team to work on or look at no matter where they are. It also provided us with a useful location to store backups.

We purchased some book supports for digitising as well and they have been very useful to us with regard to handling of the sometimes fragile material being digitised.

Book supports that we purchased


We are currently working on a curatorial request to digitise the Wardell Archive, housed in our Special Collections and Archives (SC&A) department. This collection comprises the personal papers of the Wardell family. This project has over 600 items, organised across 147 items. They are mainly letters and are handwritten front and back. 

Image from the Wardell collection

As the collection is so vast, a good naming convention is vitally important so that once all the letters are digitised and converted from TIFFs to JPEG, they are easily identifiable and therefore easy to ingest into our Digital Library. For example, Item 1 in Wardell, a handwritten letter with writing front and back was named PP2-1-001 (front) and PP2-1-002 (back) to clearly identity that the item generated 2 scans. We used a renaming feature set up with the OmniScan software which allowed the user to name each scan they digitise on a project.

We use colour cards beside each item and a grey back board underneath. This allows for the requestor to see the full depth of the paper and the ink used in writing.


 The feedback we received on the digitisation of our projects to date has been extremely positive. Digitising allows academics and researchers to see items that could have been. They can enlarge and use them without damaging the original item.  We are looking forward to working with both the camera and the scanner in the future on further reprographic or curatorial projects and exploring all the features that the scanner has to offer.

If you have any questions about our digitisation projects or wish to put in a request, you can contact the team at, digital.library@mu.ie

The MU Library Digital Library will launch in the coming months.


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