ALA 2010 Program: Preservation Forensics and Document Optical Archaeology at the Library of Congress

The Library of Congress Preservation Research and Testing Division (PRTD) has developed methods of accessing information from documents that is otherwise invisible to the unaided eye.   Three presentations by LC research scientists Dr. Fenella France, Dr. Lynn Brostoff, and Dr. Jennifer Wade outlined methods of recovering lost information, revealing hidden writing on manuscripts, degradation mechanisms in film and CDs, and unheard sound on damaged audio recordings. Linking these techniques increases access through the creation of a “digital cultural object” that can be described as “scripto-spatial imaging” – a GIS system for documents and manuscripts. Examples range from “fingerprinting” analysis of the Gettysburg Address with hyperspectral imaging of obscured features, to E-SEM imaging of film and parchment, to quantifiable tracking the growth of blemishes on CDs, to scanning “phonautographs” with the IRENE machine.

Afterwards, the Preservation Research and Testing Division provided behind-the-scene tours of the upgraded laboratories where preservation forensic techniques are employed to access information from documents that’s invisible to the unaided eye. Participants toured the Optical Properties Lab and the Chemical and Physical Testing labs to learn more about methods that allow nondestructive analysis of fragile, singular documents such as the Gettysburg Address.

For more information about LC’s Preservation Research and Testing Division’s research agenda, visit the Research Projects Update.  Soon, recordings of similar lectures from LC’s research scientists will be made available through the website for the Preservation Directorate’s 50th TOPS (Topics in Preservation Series) program.

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