The Free Library's New Center for Digitization | Sharing Treasures Through Technology

By Iryna G. RSS Mon, November 25, 2019

"If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday"
Pearl S. Buck


Putting the contents of libraries and museums on the web makes wonderful, hidden art accessible. The Free Library of Philadelphia has digitized over 51,340 items from our extensive collections and is constantly adding more every day.

Here, at the Center for Digitization, we are eager to provide digital surrogacy, often surpassing in-person viewing. Our goal is to do more than merely creating a record...

Imagine exploring a 17th-century rare book from Special Collections up close without leaving your chair at home.

Imagine transcribing a handwritten note from your favorite poet.

Imagine zooming into the tiniest detail on a fragile photograph.

Whether it is a medieval manuscript or a diary, a rare print or an early photograph, mixed scrapbook or a hundred-year-old map – research material can turn up anywhere. Digitization enhances faded content, expands public access to our holdings, and shows detail that would otherwise be easily missed. Converting analog materials into a digital form requires time (some digitization projects could last for years) and collective effort. 

Prior to publishing collections online, we take into account different steps: the selection of materials, condition evaluation, cataloging, metadata creation, quality review, archiving, and the digitization itself. The requirements for color accuracy are extremely stringent and the material itself can be priceless. This requires a diverse set of skills including but not limited to conservation handling, preservation image quality, and production speed. It is truly a balancing act, as each part needs to be designed to work with the other and function at the same capacity. If designed and implemented properly, digitization can be a smooth and efficient process. 

Just recently, our new digitization center was equipped with an amazing state-of-art Phase One camera.

This new system allows us to provide preservation image quality with a fast and efficient workflow. What may have taken years to digitize can today be processed in a much shorter period. The capture rate is limited only by the condition of the material and how quickly it can be handled.

All you need to explore our collections is a WiFi connection as strong as espresso, which is available at all neighborhood libraries with your library card and PIN.

This digitization system acquisition was made possible by the generosity of John McFadden and Lisa Kabnick.

Have a question for Free Library staff? Please submit it to our Ask a Librarian page and receive a response within two business days.

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