Optical Imaging Project Links Spain to Southern California

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Five hundred years after Columbus, the world of history and optical disc storage technology have come together for a celebration of the explorer's (in)famous voyage to America.

In one of the largest, multimillion dollar optical storage projects ever undertaken anywhere in the world, millions of pages of documents and artwork related to Spain's national heritage are being scanned and stored onto optical discs, which are then being made accessible to the general public. The project budget is estimated at around one thousand million pesetas ($10 million).

The computer-based archiving system is housed in the Archivo General de Indias, the headquarters for documents on the history of the discovery of the New World and Spanish administration in America. The Archivo's maps, correspondence, documents, and other artifacts are priceless treasures that have been collected since the research museum was established by King Charles III in 1785.

A temporary satellite link from the research center, located in Seville, Span, to the Huntington Library in Southern California is enabling visitors and researchers to access the scanned images in the United States. The satellite linkup is part of the Christopher Columbus Quincentenary commemorative exhibit running through October 1992, at the Huntingtbn Library.

"Spain in the Americas, 1492-1600: What is the legacy?" features approximately fifty rare books, maps, and manuscripts from this period in history (a small fraction of the total scanned). The program provides a wealth of information related to the Spanish exploration and will make many historically valuable documents available to the public that normally could not have been accessed without travelling to Spain.

Among the items featured is the oldest known text of a memorial letter written by Columbus to his son; one of the oldest surviving maps showing the Americas, possibly drawn by Amerigo Vespucci; and letters, treatises, and other writings expressing varied points of view -- pro and con -- on the Spanish conquest.

This scanning and digital storage project will help conserve the museum's materials and make them more accessible. In 1987, over 81,500 requests were made for access to the orignal materials. Now that the materials are on computers, the original documents need not be physically handled.

The computer enables researchers to locate materials quickly, using cross-indexed databases. Computer programs enable users to enlarge and enhance images, making them easier to study. Researchers can obtain a printout of desired materials.

Token Ring Network in Spain

The core of the system, located in Spain, comprises a token ring network, divided into several individual rings. The secondary rings are connected to a series of image servers, including about twenty Reflection Systems' WORM (write-once read-many) optical) disc drives. An AS/400 computer is located at the central ring, where database and user management servers reside.

Also connected to the network are high-end PS/2 computer workstations equipped with high-resolution (1600 x 1200 dots) displays for document viewing. Access to any document is possible from any workstation on the network, and users can search for documents using a variety of indexes, including document headings, origin, and assigned reference numbers.

A major part of the operation includes a separate document scanning room where double-shift scanning is carried out on a bank of fifteen scanners by a specially trained staff.

Visitors to the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, will have access to over nine million pages of scanned maps and documents via workstations that are linked to the project in Spain. …