Here at the Digitization Centre we are fascinated and excited by the vast amount of primary-source material that our digitization work exposes us to.  Whether a document of historic significance, a beautiful illustration, or even a particularly fine typeface, we are frequently amazed by the materials we’re working to share with the world.  So much so, that not only will we crowd around to ogle a particularly interesting specimen, but we’ve started decorating our workplace with copies of some of our favorites.  But why stop there?  Surely, we can’t be the only ones geeky enough to appreciate such “gems” in our collections, and so we’ve decided to share them here with you.  Below you will find some of our favorites, hand-picked by staff from both existing and upcoming collections.  We hope you enjoy them as much as we do!   TIP: To view full resolution versions of the images on any size screen, click to enlarge and then right-click and select “open image in new tab.”

A decade of Discorder digitized!

Posted on February 16, 2015 @3:44 pm by Matthew Murray

A few months ago we let you know that we were going to start digitizing Discorder, the music magazine published by UBC’s community radio station CiTR.

Well, we’ve just about completed digitizing every issue from the 1980s (and might well be finished by the time you read this), so we figured now might be a good time to show you some of our favourite covers from that decade! Check them out.


(January, 1984.)

1984_05_0000(May, 1984.)


(December, 1985.)


(May, 1986.)


(August, 1986.)


(October, 1987.)


(May, 1988.)

1989_01_0001(January, 1989.)

We’re not sure when we’ll have this project finished and online, but it should be by the end of the year! To see what more recent issues of Discorder look like you can take a look on Issuu.


The Power of the Letter

Posted on June 24, 2014 @3:52 pm by Rob

Letter, Charles R. Darwin to John Burdon-Sanderson, August 15, 1873 - pg. 1

Letter, Charles R. Darwin to John Burdon-Sanderson, August 15, 1873 – pg. 1

Letters can provide insights in to the details of lives which have otherwise been documented in the extreme. Case in point, Charles Darwin, regarded as the progenitor of modern evolutionary theory. His work in this area is widely known but he also had many other interests including the study of insectivorous plants such as Drosera (sundews) and Dionaea (Venus flytrap). He worked in this area with the noted English physiologist Sir John Burdon-Sanderson to elucidate the mechanisms of their actions and published the results of the research in Insectivorous Plants. Above is the first page of a letter from Darwin to Burdon-Sanderson suggesting that he test for electrical charge in the leaves of Dionaea and offering to send specimens for the research. You can read the rest of this letter here and view the entire collection of letters held by the University of British Columbia Library here.

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Moving Spaces

Posted on June 17, 2014 @1:30 pm by Matthew Murray

As you might have heard we’ve been planning on expanding into a new space for several months. It finally happened on Friday, and we’re mostly moved in now!


Here’s the room we’re moving into. I wish we’d taken some photos when it was just a vast empty white room before the carpet was installed.



Here are the computers that we use with our ATIZ scanners. We took them off while moving things.


Here are the ATIZ scanners being prepared for the move. I had no idea they even folded down like this!


We put them on carts to move them.


Adjusting the tables in the new room.


And here they are with the scanners and computers set up!


We’re planning on having some more computers on the other side of the room, but so far there’s just the one.


So what’s going to go in the vast empty space that held the ATIZ scanners?


Our TTI scanner!


Putting dollies under the TTI so we can slowly roll it across the floor.


It barely fit between the pillar and the desks. We had one inch of space to spare!



It actually brushed against one of the lights. So close!




And done! There’s lots more space over on this side of the office now.


Plus we were able to move one of our scanners over to where the TTI was and install a white board on the wall. So many changes!

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Japanese Card Games

Posted on July 9, 2014 @2:10 pm by Matthew Murray

Later this year we’re starting a project in partnership with the UBC Asian Library and the UBC Department of Asian Studies to digitize some cool old Japanese game cards!


(Ise monogatari utakaruta, from UBC Rare Books & Special Collections)

Karuta カルタ, is a borrowed Japanese term (from the Portugese carta) that refers to playing cards. Karuta became popular in the Edo (1600-1868) period, and included a number of different versions such as games matching hiragana characters, poems, proverbs, or drawings of monsters! A particularly popular game was uta-garuta (sometimes pronounced utakaruta), or poem cards. In uta-garuta, one person reads out the text on one card and the other player(s) have to find the matching card. [i]

Most of the cards we’ll be digitizing for the upcoming project will feature poems from Ogura hyakunin isshu, an anthology of poems by one hundred different writers. There are typically two hundred cards, one hundred reading cards and one hundred “grabbing” cards. The goal is to match the two halves of a poem. The reader reads out the first half of the poem, and the other players try to pick the correct matching card. The poems featured on these cards are generally waka poems that follow the 5-7-5-7-7 syllable format. The reading card has the first three lines, and the other card has the last two. [ii]

In the Ise monogatari uta-garuta set featured above, which is based on the classic Tales of Ise, there are over 400 cards to match. Knowing where the text came from does make it easier for people to learn to play the game, but it still doesn’t seem like a game that I could just casually play with friends!

We’ll be working with groups of students to help us transcribe and match these cards, and maybe one day you’ll be able to download them and play the game yourself.

Thanks to the UBC Asian Library and the UBC Department of Asian Studies for working with us on this project!

[i] “Karuta.” In Wikipedia.
[ii] “Uta-garuta.” In Wikipedia.

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Remembering the Empress

Posted on June 16, 2014 @3:07 pm by Laura Ferris

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Empress of Ireland, one of the worst naval disasters in Canadian history.


The Empress of Ireland, along with the Empress of Britain, was one of the first steamships that the Canadian Pacific Railway Company launched for its trans-Atlantic route in the early 1900s. Unfortunately, the Empress of Ireland did not have a very long career and met her tragic fate on May 29, 1914.


In the early hours of the morning, along the foggy St. Lawrence River, the Empress of Ireland collided with the Storstad, a Norwegian coal ship. The Empress quickly took on water and sank within a matter of minutes, taking with her 1,012 of the 1,477 passengers.

As part of the Chung Collection, we have some objects that were recovered from the wreckage, as well as some items from earlier voyages. We’ve been working hard at digitizing the Chung Collection and will be uploading new digital material in the near future!


For more information about the ship, disaster, or the commemoration, please visit The Empress of Ireland Commemoration website. The site has done a wonderful job collecting information and stories about the Empress of Ireland.


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New Release! Greater Vancouver Regional District Planning Department Land Use Maps

Posted on May 22, 2014 @1:50 pm by Rob

Map from the 1983 series showing in part the area occupied by the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre (our home!).

Map from the 1983 series showing in part the area occupied by the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre (our home!).

We have now completed the digitization, metadata creation and uploading of the Greater Vancouver Regional District Planning Department Land Use Maps collection. Go have a look!

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The Discoverer and other book destruction/digitization techniques

Posted on September 29, 2014 @1:22 pm by Matthew Murray

While we frequently post on this blog about the collections we’re digitizing (or about to digitize) we rarely talk about the various processes of digitizing that we use. To bring more light to our techniques I thought I’d show you a couple of the methods we use for getting books ready to digitize.

P1020680Last month we announced that we’d be digitizing a number of reports and other documents from TRIUMF, the Canadian laboratory for particle and nuclear physics located on UBC campus. Since TRIUMF had multiple copies of these reports we were given permission to cut the bindings off the ones we received in order to speed the digitization process.

P1020715For the thinner reports we can just use this paper cutter. It slices off the bindings easily!

P1020717Here’s Krista, one of our student digitizers, cutting the spine off a report.

P1020718The final product! Now the pages are ready to go into our Fujitsu document scanner, but more on that below. First I have to show you our other paper cutting machine, the one we  use for thicker books.

P1020681 We call it The Discoverer! In this case the “dis” in the name means to take apart (such as in disconnect), as we use the machine to remove the spines (and thus, the covers) from various bound volumes.


The Discoverer is a somewhat scary machine covered in warnings that say it is not to be used unless people have received the proper training. An important note: We don’t use this for every project! In fact, we use this for quite a small number of projects (this is the first time this year that it’s been used at all).

P1020682 This is what the Discoverer looks like once the plastic cover has been flipped up. You can see the raised blade in there. It can’t be brought down until the cover has been closed.

P1020683 After checking to see where the margins inside the book are like we line it up along the red line.

P1020723 The handle on the front moves the back of the machine forward or backwards so that everything stays straight.

P1020684 Then we screw down the top to hold everything in place.

P1020685 We close the lid, release the red lever, and pull the blade down, cutting the spine off the book. The blade is really sharp, but for thick books it can take a fair bit of force. (Here’s Derek, another of our student digitizers, demonstrating the proper technique.)


Of course, when I decided to video us cutting the spine off the book we discovered that the recent increased usage has dulled the blade somewhat, and it’s considerably harder to cut through thicker books. We’re fixing that imminently.


Here’s what a book looks like once its had its spine cut off in The Discoverer.

P1020727 Once we’ve cut off the spine (and ensured that none of the pages are stuck together) we can put the pages into one of our Fujitsu document scanners. These are great machines that allow us to scan unbound or disbound material incredibly quickly. It can even scan both sides of a document at once! Right now we’re keeping all of the documents after we’ve scanned them, and we’re not sure if we’ll return them to TRIUMF (in folders) or just recycle them once the project is complete.

P1020688 Here’s what the spines look like once they’ve been cut off. We haven’t even gotten to the really thick ones yet!


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We’ve joined The Flickr Commons

Posted on June 13, 2014 @9:58 am by Matthew Murray

We’re very pleased to announce that we’ve successfully joined The Commons on Flickr! You can check out the announcement on their blog.

Screen Shot 2014-05-13 at 4.31.57 PMThe Commons is a group of libraries, museums, and other institutions from around the world who have placed all or parts of their digital image collections on Flickr. While joining this group is exciting enough, the one thing that marks this as different from other groups is that there are no known copyright restrictions for any of the images available in The Commons. All images shared on The Commons are in the public domain!

If you look any of the images on our Flickr account (or the accounts of other groups in The Commons) you’ll see this notification in the right hand bar.

Untitled-1 (Well, it’ll be much smaller than that, but you get the idea.)

This means that you can do whatever you want with the images! (Though we’d love it if you link back or otherwise credit us.)

commons1 We joined Flickr last year so as to better show off some of the amazing images we’ve digitized. We hoped that by putting our photos on Flickr we’d reach new audiences and experience greater interaction. We had already succeeded in making our collections more visible, but joining The Commons will allow us to extend the reach of our collections.

We add new photos to our Flickr stream every weekday, and at most recent count had almost 900 images uploaded! That’s a far cry from the 21,000 images that The Library of Congress or the over one million (!) images that the British Library have in The Commons, but they did have a several year head start on us.

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Uno Langmann Collection

Posted on May 7, 2014 @3:50 pm by Matthew Murray

You may have recently heard that Uno Langmann, a well known local art dealer, donated more than 18,000 photographs, apparently worth $1.2 million, to UBC! The photos stretch back to the 1850s and go all the way up to the 1970s. While we probably won’t be able to digitize all of the photos (due to copyright restraints) we are excited that we’ll soon begin digitizing many of the earlier ones.

Here’s an example of one of the photo albums we’ll be digitizing. (And don’t worry, our actual scans will be much higher quality than this!)






Of course, the collection isn’t just traditional photographs, there are also postcards, stereographs, menus, and other material that people in the late 19th or early 20th centuries choose to paste into photo albums.

For more on the collection you can check out these articles, this page, or watch the video below!

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Epigraphic Squeezes

Posted on July 4, 2014 @4:06 pm by Matthew Murray

If you’ve never heard of epigraphic squeezes I wouldn’t be surprised as they’re not commonly known, they don’t even have a Wikipedia entry!

Epigraphic squeezes are created when a soft, wet material, such as paper or plaster, is pressed into inscriptions made in stone. When the material dries it is removed and becomes a mirrored 3D version of the original text.


Decretum de Minervae Victoriae Sacerdote Temploque (II)
(Decree of Victory Priest Temple of Minerva )

The squeezes can prove to be incredibly valuable as sources for researchers and scholars investigating Greek and Roman antiquity. UBC’s Department of Classical, Near Eastern and Religious Studies has a collection of over 1000 squeezes, and they asked us to help them digitize them.


Civitatis Foederatae Laudes
(Praises of the Federated States)

It might not seem immediately obvious, but getting high quality images made from this source material is harder than it looks! It took us quite a bit of testing to find the best way to work with this material, but we eventually figured it out and we’re excited that we’ll soon begin using our TTI Repro-Graphic workstation to create high quality images of this entire collection!


 De Proxenis

For more information you can check out the Department of Classical, Near Eastern, and Religious Studies’ blog From Stone to Screen that is tracking the creation of these images. You can also take a look at the entire test collection here, but be warned: there isn’t much content right now.

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