Comparing Digital Materials from Beinecke

 

A hands-on comparison of the digital materials from the manuscript collections of Beinecke Library at Yale University, New Haven, USA.

Preface

Digitization projects have been taken up by manuscript libraries around the world. The two pillars of such libraries -catalogues and the actual holdings- are undergoing a process in which they first become available digitally, usually for a fee, then they become available online for viewing, sometimes for a fee, then they become available for download, at which point the fee may be dropped and access is granted gratis. Let us take a closer look at the different qualities of these pictures to 1) better understand what we may expect and 2) see if we can come up with certain preferences.

Introduction

After having visited the digitization studio of Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, at Yale University, I wanted to evaluate the digital surrogates Beinecke offers for free on their website. The portal that they use is currently mostly suited for specific purposes: if you already know which manuscript you want to look, you can search for the call number and you will find it quickly. There is no general browsing possible, as far as I know, but you can search for words as well. They don’t allow search in Arabic, so you will need to use transliteration. This can be finicky, as for example Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī’s (d. 1111) writings are catalogued under “Al-Ghazzālī” and searching for “ghazali” will yield no results. The pages for each entry is clean and clear, with plenty of metadata available. With one click you can order the item to be called up to the physical reading room, and to view the digital images there are three possibilities: “Image view,” “Zoom view,” and “Export as PDF.” They are discussed below. In general the quality of the images are superb, both in attention to details in their production as well as their technical quality.

Photo quality

Yale Ar MSS Suppl 533 al-Sharh al-Mutawwal 2b TRUE

Origin: Beinecke Library, Yale University

File Size Original: 7.3mb (see below)

Dimensions Original: 2480 x 3507

Particular Folio: Ar MSS Suppl 533 f. 2b, al-Sharḥ al-Muṭawwal

Evaluation: This manuscript is offered at “medium resolution.” I took this excerpt from downloading the PDF and then extracting a page from it. For 10 folios, the PDF is 6,2MB, so the file size for just this one page should be ignored. This medium resolution is probably sufficient for reading cleanly copied texts, but struggles when we deal with a complicated manuscript such as this one. See next image.


 

Yale Ar MSS Suppl 533 al-Sharh al-Mutawwal 2b WEBN TRUE

Origin: Beinecke Library, Yale University

File Size Original: 736kb

Dimensions Original: 1127 x 1500

Particular Folio: Ar MSS Suppl 533 f. 2b, al-Sharḥ al-Muṭawwal

Evaluation: This is the same “medium resolution” manuscript, but this time downloaded from the “Image view” button. As the picture is much more busy, it means the quality is a lot less. Color balance is near perfect though, as can be seen well from this picture. See also next image.

 


 

Beinecke_DL_2055867WEBZOOM

Origin: Beinecke Library, Yale University

File Size Original: unavailable (see below)

Dimensions Original: unavailable (see below)

Particular Folio: Ar MSS Suppl 533 f. 2b, al-Sharḥ al-Muṭawwal

Evaluation: This is the same manuscript, but this time I viewed the folio through the “Zoom view” button. The quality is a lot higher which makes me suspect this is not the ‘medium quality’ version of this manuscript, but a high(er) quality. Clearly, at this quality point, this manuscript with its unusual scribbles in the margin and in between the lines becomes clearly legible. Note however that this image is not downloadable. I took this excerpt with a simple screen grab, but this is of course not a good method if you wish to have the entire folio, let alone the entire manuscript. They rely on technology that chops up the image into little blocks that are dynamically put together.


Yale Landberg 265 Hall Hidayat al-hikma 1r PDF TRUE

Origin: Beinecke Library, Yale University

File Size Original: 6,7mb (see below)

Dimensions Original: 2480 x 3507

Particular Folio: Landberg 265, f. 1r, Ḥall Hidāyat al-ḥikma

Evaluation: This is the image quality of a “High resolution” picture, taken from the downloadable PDF. It is indeed a highly detailed picture; very usable. Again, the file size makes little sense, but the following should give an indication: the PDF consists of 67 folios and is 48,9mb.

 


Yale Landberg 265 Hall Hidayat al-hikma 1r WEB ZOOM TRUE

Origin: Beinecke Library, Yale University

File Size Original: unavailable (see below)

Dimensions Original: unavailable

Particular Folio: Landberg 265, f. 1r, Ḥall Hidāyat al-ḥikma

Evaluation: This is the same image but now seen through the “Zoom view.” Note the higher details in the grains on the top right, in the smudge on the right, and in general the writing has a slightly more crisp feel to it. In fact, notice how the shapes are bigger, indicating higher level of detail. In short, for the highest quality one needs to use the Zoom view.


Yale Landberg 265 Hall Hidayat al-hikma 1r WEB TRUE

Origin: Beinecke Library, Yale University

File Size Original: 715kb

Dimensions Original: 1142 x 1500

Particular Folio: Landberg 265, f. 1r, Ḥall Hidāyat al-ḥikma

Evaluation: This is the same image but now seen through the “Image view.” Clearly, the Image view gives inferior quality in comparison to the other two modes. Already for the kind of script on display in this image, the quality becomes tricky to use as there will definitely be situations where higher quality is desirable.


Yale Landberg 510 Risala fi al-hikma wa-al-rumuz wa-al-isharat 56b TRUE

Origin: Beinecke Library, Yale University

File Size Original: 5.6mb (see below)

Dimensions Original: 2480 x 3507

Particular Folio: Landberg 510, f. 56b, Risāla fī al-ḥikma wa-l-rumūz wa-l-ishārāt

Evaluation: Another example of an image from a PDF. This time a text of 18 folios, of 5,6mb. The script is large by itself, which translates into a highly detailed picture. The color balance is great.

 

 


Yale Landberg 510 Risala fi al-hikma wa-al-rumuz wa-al-isharat 56b WEB TRUE

Origin: Beinecke Library, Yale University

File Size Original: unavailable

Dimensions Original: unavailable

Particular Folio: Landberg 510, f. 56b, Risāla fī al-ḥikma wa-l-rumūz wa-l-ishārāt

Evaluation: Same as before, this time from the “Zoom view.” We see the same result: higher quality with the zoom view.

 

 

 


Yale Landberg 711 159b al-ayn wa-al-athar 12321322 TRUE

Origin: Beinecke Library, Yale University

File Size Original: 3mb

Dimensions Original: 2611 x 3394

Particular Folio: Landberg 711 f. 159b, al-ʿAyn wa-l-athar

Evaluation: I got this image directly from Beinecke, not through the website. In fact, it is not available on the website. As can be seen from the image and its details, the website provides basically the same quality, at least through the “Zoom view.”

 

 

 

 


 

Yale Landberg 711 159b al-ayn wa-al-athar Evernote Snapshot 20150224 104254 TRUEOrigin: Beinecke Library, Yale University

File Size Original: 899kb

Dimensions Original: 1379 x 2400

Particular Folio: Landberg 711 f. 159b, al-ʿAyn wa-l-athar

Evaluation: I shot this picture myself, using my iPhone and Evernote. I put Evernote on the ‘Document’ mode, which forced the picture into black and white. As can be witnessed, these simple combination of a phone and an application can already produce usable results, though it does not stand up against the precision offered by Beinecke itself.


 

General remarks

Here is the difference between PDF images and direct images:

Beinecke_DL_2055867PDF Beinecke_DL_2055867WEBN

I gave both images a blue border, to show the dimensions. The PDF generates some more whitespace around the image, and provides some information. In previous posts I have highlighted the usefulness of such information and I am happy to see Beinecke is experimenting with it. I say ‘experimenting,’ because I do hope they will continue to develop it into more detailed information. Currently, it states at the top: “Yale University Library // Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library” and at the bottom it gives the folio number and the page number within the PDF. What would be great is if next to the folio number also the call number of the manuscript would be mentioned, perhaps even together with title and author. I think it makes sense to offer the images under ‘Image view’ without this information. In that case (on the right), we see that the images are shot folio for folio, not two at a time, and with some black background. The light is even and the color balance is near perfect.

Here is another example, the difference between a professional photo and a homemade one:

Yale Landberg 711 159b al-ayn wa-al-athar 12321322 Yale Landberg 711 159b al-ayn wa-al-athar Evernote Snapshot 20150224 104254

On the left a picture taken by the digitization studio of Beinecke, on the right a picture taken by myself using my iPhone in combination with Evernote. The differences are too obvious to point out. Note the thin plastic strip on the right of the left photo; this is how they keep the page open.

Conclusion

Beinecke offers superb pictures of their holdings (not all of them). Their “Zoom view” provides the most detailed pictures. One wonders why this quality is not offered with the PDF download. For most purposes, however, the quality of the pictures within the automatically generated PDFs is more than sufficient. The web interface can be improved in some aspects, but is already highly usable. Overall, then, the quality of Beinecke’s pictures and the way they offer them is the best I have seen so far.

 

 

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