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This Week in History: Pressing Matters

Royal BC Museum Archives Collections Manager Beverly Paty says they have a lot of volumes at the museum.

"But the ones that require our priority for scanning are letterpress books," Paty said. "They have very thin onion-skin paper, and a lot of time the binding is coming apart, so they're very fragile."

Each individual page of the hundreds of letterpress books must be individually scanned.

The pages are extremely thin, so technicians place a sheet of heavy paper with identifying information underneath each page before the scan.

Bruno Lindner, the Royal BC Museum digital conversion technician, explains that "originally these letterpress books were done on microfilm."

"We adopted the things that we learned on microfilm to this brand new technology," Lindner adds.

The table that the Letterpress books are scanned on is split, so the digital technician can manipulate the placement of a piece of glass which is placed over each page before scanning — along with the sheet of identifying paper underneath.

"It's a painstakingly slow process, especially with the letterpress books because you have an issue with the glass going over top," Paty says. "Because the paper's so thin, it can crinkle, or crease, so you have to be very careful."

So why do this?  Why go to all this trouble, and scan each individual page of hundreds of books?

Paty says that it's because "The information inside is starting to be lost, because the ink itself is an issue. It bleeds, or it has bled, over time."

This can make the writing unreadable and lost forever.

"If we don't do this, we'll lose the information, and we want to preserve the information for future researchers," Paty says.

It's just one of the many vital tasks undertaken by preservation staff at the Royal BC Museum.

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