Remote Capture: Digitising Documentary Heritage in Challenging Locations

Remote Capture: Digitising Documentary Heritage in Challenging Locations Jody Butterworth, Andrew Pearson, Patrick Sutherland and Adam Farquhar (eds)
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The authors share first-hand experiences of digitisation in a wide variety of environments. This book contains invaluable practical guidance on how to expect the unexpected and deliver quality results in challenging situations.
—Andreas Nef, Technical Lead, Docuteam GmbH and Digital Archive Consultant supporting Swisspeace and others in countries including Sierra Leone, Tunisia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands

This is a must-read how-to guide if you are planning to embark on a scholarly digitisation project. Tailored to the specifications of the British Library’s EAP (Endangered Archives Programme) projects, it is full of sound, practical advice about planning and carrying out a successful digitisation project in potentially challenging conditions.
From establishing the scope of the project, via practical considerations about equipment, work routines, staffing, and negotiating local politics, to backing up your data and successfully completing your work, Remote Capture walks you through every stage. Bursting with helpful hints, advice and experiences from people who have completed projects everywhere around the globe from Latin America to Africa to Asia, this book offers a taste of the challenges you might encounter and the best ways to find solutions.
With a particular focus on the process of digitisation, whether using a camera or a scanner, Remote Capture is invaluable reading for anybody considering such a project. It will be particularly useful to those who apply for an EAP grant, but the advice in these pages is necessary for anyone wondering how to go about digitising an archive.

Remote Capture: Digitising Documentary Heritage in Challenging Locations
Jody Butterworth, Andrew Pearson, Patrick Sutherland and Adam Farquhar | April 2018
192 | 48 colour illustrations | 6.14'' x 9.21'' (156 x 234 mm)
Open Field Guides Series, vol. 1 | ISSN: 2514-2496 (Print); 2514 250X (Online)
ISBN Paperback: 9781783744732
ISBN Hardback: 9781783744749
ISBN Digital (PDF): 9781783744756
ISBN Digital ebook (epub): 9781783744763
ISBN Digital ebook (mobi): 9781783744770
ISBN Digital (XML): 9781783746132
DOI: 10.11647/OBP.0138
Subject codes: BIC: AJG (Photographic equipment and techniques), GM (Museology and heritage studies), GP (Reference, information and interdisciplinary subjects); BISAC: SOC019000 (SOCIAL SCIENCE / Methodology), PHO007000 (PHOTOGRAPHY / Techniques / Equipment), SOC024000 (SOCIAL SCIENCE / Research), REF020000 (REFERENCE / Research); OCLC Number: 1037803538.

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List of figures
List of tables

A note on the text boxes
Brands and manufacturers
Digital resources


1. Planning the project
Project design
Calculating the budget

2. Equipment and skills for digitising in the field
Cameras and scanners
The Digital SLR camera: a general introduction
DSLRs: principles and settings
Tripods, copy stands and remote controls
Lighting and flash
Copying glass plate negatives and transparencies
Essential equipment and skills
Practical advice for photography in the field
Hard drives and data management

3. Image standards
Examples of good and bad images

4. Collection care and document handling
General considerations for safe handling of library material
Dirty and dusty material
Pictures and glass plate negatives
Loose-leaf items
Bound items

5. A workflow for digitisation
Creation of the digital images
Renaming and organising the digital images
Developing and exporting the digital images
Backing up
Virus checking
Cataloguing/creation of metadata

6. On the ground
Before departure
Local liaison and partnerships
Managing expectations
Staff and their management
Outreach and publicity


Further resources
Useful downloads
Other reading


Digital Appendices (available online at
Digital Appendix 1. Practical Methods for Digitisation
Digital Appendix 2. Using Electronic Flash
Digital Appendix 3. Digitisation Process Notes
Digital Appendix 4. Costed Equipment List

Jody Butterworth
attended the International School of Geneva with students from 80 different countries and it is very probably this happy experience that has shaped her interests. She has spent seven years living and working across Asia and whilst in Mongolia she became inspired to pursue a career in cultural heritage. Jody became EAP Curator in 2012 and she considers it an incredibly rewarding job.

Adam Farquhar directs the Endangered Archives Programme. He is also Head of Digital Scholarship at the British Library, where he and his team focus on establishing services for researchers that take full advantage of the possibilities presented by digital collections and data across all formats and subjects. He has led several major research efforts and established the digital preservation and data programmes at the British Library. He was a founding member of the International Image Interoperability (IIIF) Consortium executive committee; founding President of DataCite; and founding President of the Open Preservation Foundation. He has been responsible for the Library’s maps, newspaper, photographic, audio and moving image collections. Before joining the Library, he was the knowledge management architect for Schlumberger and research scientist at the Stanford University Knowledge Systems Laboratory.

Elizabeth Hunter joined the British Library Photographic Studio in 1988, which at the time was based at the British Museum and involved studio and location photography as well as black-and-white film processing. When the British Library moved to its current location in 1998, Elizabeth used the Library’s first DSLR camera to photograph the Queen officially open the new building. Elizabeth keeps up to date with the latest developments and is currently working on 360VR and 3D photography.

Flavio Marzo
was born in Susa near Turin in Italy. He now lives in London where he has been working for the British Library since 2005 and became an ICON accredited conservator in 2012. He previously worked in prominent institutions such as the Vatican Library and the libraries of The Queen’s and Magdalen Colleges in Oxford, and also as private conservator/restorer in the Benedictine Monastery of Novalesa in Italy. He has also been involved in several conservation projects in Italy, Greece and Egypt as conservator, consultant and teacher. In 2012, Flavio was appointed Conservation Studio Manager for the Qatar Digitisation Project within the British Library/Qatar Foundation partnership. He is also the author of a number of articles published in conservation journals.

Andrew Pearson
is a Senior Heritage Consultant with AECOM. He also holds Research Associate status at Brunel University. His doctoral and early-career research focused on Roman Britain, while his current research addresses the historical archaeology of the Atlantic slave trade, with particular reference to the island of St Helena and the Anglophone Caribbean. His projects for the Endangered Archives Programme comprise EAP524 (St Helena), EAP596 (Anguilla), EAP688 and EAP1013 (both St Vincent) and EAP794 (Nevis).

Patrick Sutherland
is an independent photographer and former Professor of Documentary Photography at the University of the Arts London. For over two decades Patrick has been documenting the culturally Tibetan communities of the Spiti Valley in North India. The project has led to numerous exhibitions and two books: Spiti and Disciples of a Crazy Saint. The latter concerns the Buchen, travelling lay religious theatre performers, exorcists, musicians and healers unique to Spiti, whose material culture is the focus of Sutherland’s two Endangered Archive Programme grants, EAP548 and EAP749.


The introduction to Remote Capture: Digitising Documentary Heritage in Challenging Locations provides an overview of the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP), including its purpose, end goal, and what all is involved in bringing a digitisation project to fruition. The chapters of this book will help guide individuals and groups on how to digitise materials that are at risk of being lost unless they are preserved. Whether one is starting from scratch or has been awarded and EAP grant, the introduction argues that this book will provide insights into the tools one needs to make a digitisation project successful, involving, for instance, how to plan the project and its budget, how to handle materials used in the digitisation project, and what to keep in mind when working with digital files.

1. Planning the project

Various factors need to be considered before undertaking a digitisation project. Chapter 1 highlights integral aspects to a project’s design, such as its scope, budget, and planning, to help ensure a project’s success. The chapter further outlines how to estimate quantifiable metrics of the collection to be digitised, and how to effectively estimate timescale and labour requirements for the project. This planning phase also takes into consideration post-collection tasks, such as how the documents will be archived and accessed by others. This chapter hence gives an overview of everything that should be considered before the project begins. Special consideration should also be taken to ensure that external expectations of both grant-awarding institutions and local partners are met, and the chapter argues that it is better to underpromise and overdeliver as opposed to the other way around.

2. Equipment and skills for digitising in the field

Chapter 2 provides an overview of commonly used equipment, digital cameras and scanners, and brands that are integral to a digitisation project. This chapter provides a good deal of information to help get someone up to speed on what types of equipment are available, and the advantages and disadvantages of each type of equipment. The aim here is to offer a reference guide to help advance someone from the stages of planning purchases all the way to analyzing images and diagnosing common problems such as incorrect exposure. This chapter ends with considerations on how to transfer and store images: from scanners and their specifications to various data storage equipment such as SD cards and solid-state drives (SSDs).

3. Image standards

This chapter builds on the previous chapter, and provides technical aspects of photography for digitisation purposes, including what background colours to use when taking photographs of items for digitisation and various EAP standards for digital material. The second major section serves as a handy reference guide as to what makes a picture good or bad, and features numerous examples illustrating common problems and solutions to these problems.

4. Collection care and document handling

Chapter 4 provides the next logical step: how to handle your target collection with care and ensure none of it is inadvertently damaged in the digitisation process. Different items have different suggestions on how to handle and clean them. This chapter offers a brief outline of conservation principles and methods, and provides specific advice for caring for dirty and dusty materials, pictures and glass plate negatives, loose-leaf items, and bound items. Consideration is also given to methods of handling, when or when not to wear gloves, and what to keep in mind when housing and archiving materials. 

5. A workflow for digitisation

Chapter 5 provides a workable workflow process to take a project from its initial preparation to its digitisation and the creation of backup copies. This section is meant to ensure the data is not only organised in a way that makes sense but also that, should anything happen to the main copy of the digitised collection, it can be restored. It is worth noting the process presented here is meant for a collection held in one repository and the materials are digitised at a central location. The workflow would have to be restructured as necessary to fit specifics of the project. Examples of a document tracking systems and logistics to keep in mind are also presented.

6. On the ground

The last chapter rounds out the information of the previous one by providing practical advice for while in the field, as well as an outline of the necessary preparations to be taken before departing to the project site (such as visas and medicines). The remainder of the chapter covers possible site-based problems to anticipate, which can be detected through a risk assessment. This chapter also emphasizes the importance of awareness of local politics and bureaucracy, copyright permissions and open access, and local liaison and partnerships. It further outlines how to effectively manage expectations of a project, how to conduct good communication, and how to manage staff. Finally, it examines good financial management practice and the importance of outreach and publicity of the project. Each section includes a list of testimony to illustrate each one's importance.


The conclusion outlines the scope of previous EAP projects, and reiterates the key points made throughout the book, stressing the importance for adequate preparation in advance of the project start date. It further stresses how digitisation projects are not only feasible and achievable, but can be personally rewarding.
A set of Digital Appendices for this book are available online at the British Library website:

Digital Appendix 1. Practical Methods for Digitisation
Digital Appendix 2. Using Electronic Flash
Digital Appendix 3. Digitisation Process Notes
Digital Appendix 4. Costed Equipment List

These resources will be updated by the British Library as appropriate.