Large-scale high-end digitisation? Workflow optimisation!


Ex-libris of Archibald Corble Harrison in KU Leuven, BTAB, R4A1

Shortly after the 1940 burning of the Leuven University Library, the fencer and bibliophile Archibald Corble Harrison (1883-1944) donated his extensive collection of books on fencing to the University. The books and manuscripts of this collection, held by the KU Leuven Special Collections, are now the subject of a large-scale digitisation project.

The project is vast: with c. 1.900 items dating from as early as the 15th century to the 20th century, the Corble collection is one of the largest collections on swordmanship and related fields in the world. Books on legal and religious matters of dueling, on self-defense, on the handling, manufacturing and evolution of stabbing weapons and firearms as well as theatre, literary and musical works complement the core topic of the collection. Personal bindings and ex-libri reflect Corble’s – and previous owners’ – ownership and the many engravings, etchings and lithographs bring to life the history of fencing and duelling.


Gérard Thibault d’Anvers, Académie de l’espée (Leiden, 1628-); KU Leuven, BTAB R4D10, Tabula XIIII

Approximately 1.445 items from 1518 until the end of the 19th century will pass through the Imaging Lab, with an expected 175.000 images to be made available online through the University Library catalogue during the next few years.

Within the digitisation process, however, the actual imaging is only one aspect. Collection items and their digital surrogates go through the hands of various people and departments housed at different locations: collection curators, preservation specialists, transport people, metadata creators, imaging specialists, IT, …


Generic digitisation workflow

In order to reduce the margin of error within this complex environment and in search for a higher level of efficiency when project managing multiple large-scale projects without spending great cost and time on system development, several new aspects were introduced into our existing workflow. The extended size of the Corble project made it an ideal testing ground for these improvements.

The most important adjustments to the digitisation process are a batch-based organisation of the workflow and the implementation of a workflow management system (WMS). An estimated 1.450 books from the Corble collection will go through the digitisation workflow during the next couple of years. With the Imaging Lab creating up to 1.000 high-quality images (including image processing) per day and taking into account that collection items need to travel between various locations and departments, we decided to group the physical books into batches for digitisation.

Jacob Sutorius, New künstliches Fechtbuch (Frankfurt-am-Main, 1612); KU Leuven, BTAB R4A1345, p. 16-19.

During metadata creation, batches are made up of any number of books that will be captured into 3.000 tot 5.000 images. These books, and their digital surrogates, go through the entire workflow as an inseparable set: they will not continue to the next step in the process unless all items are ready to move on. The size of the batches varies between various project and depends on, amongst others, the project’s quality standard specifications: full Metamorfoze requires more time and temporary storage per image than the Metamorfoze light standard. A single batch should not take longer than 5 to 6 working days nor clog up the servers for temporary storage.

In order to follow the batches through the digitisation process, a WMS was implemented. All key process steps are listed in a single task list per batch. As each batch moves through the digitisation workflow, completed tasks generate notifications to the person responsible for the next steps. Key information is shared among all project collaborators, the project manager keeps track of the process overview, and the movement of library materials and digital files is tracked.


Key steps in the digitisation process translated into a WMS task list

The WMS set up for digitisation at the Leuven University Library of course is a far call from extended, all-integrated systems, but it allowed for a cost- and time-efficient transfer from standardised workflow-based but hard to manage digitisation processes into a well-coordinated and time-efficient project management.

–> For more information on Archibald Corble and his collection, see Hilde Peeters & Tom Vanleeuwe, Archibald Harrison Corble, 1883-1944 his biography and donation to the Catholic University of Leuven (Leuven, 1987).



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