Before the next museum fire, make 4K video of all your documents
Many of you will have read of the tragic fire which destroyed the National Museum of Brazil. Many of the artifacts and documents in the museum were not photographed or backed up, and so are destroyed forever.
This includes things like language research notes -- the only remaining documents on now extinct human languages. Gone.
I hope this means that museums and collections around the world are now scrambling to make sure they have digital backups. This leads me to post a reminder of my article on Digitizing your papers for the future with 4K video. The idea there is simple. Get your papers and quickly go through them while being recorded by a 4K video camera. There is no software today to turn that video into a document. But there will be. And you can manually pull out any page by going through the video.
If you know people who work at a museum that doesn't have digital images of its archives, pass this note along!
The goal is to make it as fast an easy as possible so that there is no excuse. Museums, like the one in Brazil, don't digitize the collections because they don't have any funding for it, and the idea of making scans you can't immediately use is hard to get around.
As my article details, you just need a 4K camera (which is almost any nice point and shoot or digital high end camera) on a mount looking at your table. Set it up with the right exposure and light it as brightly as you can. The bright light will make the images much sharper, and set a short exposure. This is stuff almost every person, let alone every museum, already has.
This means you can now just quickly lay down pages in a pile at high speed. You might even be able to just flick through a book if you can be sure to do it one page at a time.
You'll get the data. You can check the video to be sure it worked. Then, of course, store it off-site! If the worst happens, not all will be lost.
Some day, people will write software to extract the pages from these videos and OCR them or turn them into a PDF. They just need a motive.
Today, there are some things that could be written to help with this. For example, while full extraction is hard, one could probably build a tool that detects pages and tries to find page numbers. That tool could tell you if you missed any pages going through a book, and which pages to go and make sure are in the video. Another tool could see if any pages never had a sharp image and warn you about that. As you flip through pages, it's possible you might never have one sit still for the 30th of a second needed to get a video frame of it. If you get the exposure up very fast with very bright light and a small aperture for large depth of field, it should be easy to get a sharp image of every page.
It could even be possible to "fan" through a bound volume. This will miss a lot of pages, but software might be able to provide a list of what was missed after two fans through the pages. The unique documents at a museum will not be bound books (unless super rare) but rather will be notebooks and loosely bound volumes.
Museums could also do this with artifacts, though there still photography is probably best. Just a photographer with a nice bright flash rig shooting every artifact, fast as they can. Just in case it burns.
For artifacts, take pictures around it in a circle -- again, bright light, such as off camera flash. Or as long as it doesn't risk breaking it, put it on a small turntable and spin it, taking as many pictures as you can, like 36 in a circle. Software is already there to make a very good 3-D model from that. However, if it's easier to just take a 4K video as you walk around it or spin it, do that. What matters is whatever gets you there fastest, until you have the budget to do it all more slowly.