Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Adding Value to the University of Oklahoma Libraries History of Science Collection through Digital Enhancement

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Adding Value to the University of Oklahoma Libraries History of Science Collection through Digital Enhancement

Article excerpt


Much of the focus of digital collections has been and continues to be on rare and unique materials, including monographs. A monograph may be made even rarer and more valuable by virtue of hand written marginalia. Using technology to enhance scans of unique books and make previously unreadable marginalia readable increases the value of a digital object to researchers. This article describes a case study of enhancing the marginalia in a rare book by Copernicus.

"In getting my books, I have been always solicitous of an ample margin; this not so much through any love of the thing itself however agreeable, as for the facility it affords me of penciling suggested thoughts, agreements and differences of opinion, or brief critical comments in general."

--Edgar Allan Poe


The University of Oklahoma Libraries History of Science Collections holds many rare books and other objects pertaining to the history of science. One of the rarest holdings is a copy of Nicolai Copernici Torinensis De revolvtionibvs orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres), libri VI, a book famous for Copernicus' revolutionary astronomical theory that rejected the Ptolemaic earth-centered universe and promoted a heliocentric, sun-centered model.

The History of Science Collections' copy of this manuscript contains notes added to the margins. Similar notes were made in eight different existing copies, and the astrophysicist Owen Gingerich determined that these notes were created by a group of astronomers in Paris known as the Offusius group. (1) The notes are of significant historical importance as they offer information on the initial reception of Copernicus' theories by the Catholic community. Having been created almost five hundred years ago in 1543, the handwriting is faded and the ink has absorbed into the paper.

Written in cursive script, the letters have merged as the ink has dispersed, adding to the difficulties inherent in reading these valuable annotations.

The book had previously been digitized, and while some of the margin notes were readable, many of the notes were barely visible. Therefore much of the value of the book was being lost in digital form. To rectify this situation the decision was made to enhance the marginalia. It was further decided that once the margin notes were enhanced, two digital representations of each page that contained notes would be included in the digital collection. One copy would present the main text in the most legible fashion (figure 1] and the second copy would highlight the marginalia and ensure that these margin notes were as legible as possible even if in doing so the readability of the main text was diminished (figure 2).

While creating a written transcript of the marginalia was considered and would have added some value to the digital object, this solution was rejected in favor of digital enhancement for the following reasons. Many of the notes contained corrections with lines drawn to the area of text that was being changed, or bracket numbers (figure 3). In addition, some of the notes are corrections of numbers or tables, so a transcript of the text would do little to demonstrate the writer's intentions in creating the margin note (figure 4).

Also, sometimes there was bleed through from the reverse page, further disrupting the clarity of the marginalia (figures 5 and 6). Therefore it was determined that making the notes more readable through digital enhancement would provide the collection's users with the most useful resource.

The book can be viewed in its entirety here:


"Modification of photographs to enhance or change their meaning is nothing new. However, the introduction of techniques for digitizing photographic images and the subsequent development of powerful image editing software has both broadened the possibilities for altering photographs and brought the means of doing so with the reach of anyone with imagination and patience. …

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