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Germanisches Nationalmuseum

Project background

Germanisches Nationalmuseum
  • Customer Germanisches Nationalmuseum
  • Date 2019
  • Country Nuremberg, Germany
  • Fields of application Cultural Heritage DIgitization
  • Work performed Digitization of documents

Interview with Dr. Frank P. Bar, Head of Photographic Services at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum
Please introduce yourself and the museum briefly.


My name is Dr. Frank P. Bar. I am Head of the Music Instruments Collection, the Research Service Program Area and Photographic Services at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum. The Germanisches Nationalmuseum is the largest museum devoted to the cultural history of the German-speaking world. It was founded in 1852, and today the collections include about 1.4 million objects, including the library. The museum also has archives with hundreds of meters of shelves. Our collections range in time from prehistory and early history to the present, and include just about everything that can provide us with information about our culture.

What technologies have you used for digitization so far?


There are two major aspects to digitization. One is the metadata or, for us, the research data on the objects. We enter that data by hand. Since we are talking about the scanner, however, you are probably more interested in image digitization. The imaging processing we have been quite strong in for decades is photography. Switching from analog to digital photography represented the first wave of digitization. The flatbed scanners available at the time were initially not used due to conservation reasons. However, with the advent of modern scanning solutions, the library and archives were equipped accordingly. We have acquired a special photo station for our collection of coins and medals, which comprises around 150,000 objects. We digitize Ektachrome and glass plates on a transparency scanner. However, images – which included around 350,000 prints – continued to be shot in the photo studio with medium-format cameras. The quality was excellent here, but there was still room for improvement in terms of speed, despite all the hard work of our photographers. What bothered me the most was the fact that our master photographers ended up expending quite a lot of effort to reproduce something a modern machine can do just as well.  It was important to me that they apply their expertise to three-dimensional objects, where a machine just cannot replace the eye of trained photographer. After a long period of market analysis, informational events, training courses and visits to other institutions and manufacturers, we decided on the i2s SupraScan 2A0 and set up a dedicated room for it.

What advantages does the new large format scanner offer for your work?


The speed is the first thing, along with the size of the scanning field. We can place several prints on the scanner at the same time. After the scanning process, which takes less than a minute, we can then save the individual prints very quickly. Another advantage is the consistent quality, which we document by scanning Munsell gray wedges at the same time. Unlike setups in a photo studio, the scanner is ready to go in the morning after just a few minutes, and we can start work right away. Finally, after setting up appropriate workflows, we have standardized the work on the device to the point where it can be done by a colleague who is not from the world of photography.
What has your experience been so far with the large format scanner?
The device has operated flawlessly, apart from a single problem that was due to a major Windows update. The two scan operators are very dedicated to their work, and our print collection, and they not to mention me, are extremely pleased with the quality and throughput. The huge scanning table, which is 1.8 m long, has even proved to be too small a few times: we needed to digitize a very long, folded print, and ended up scanning it in two parts. It was quick work to stitch them together in a photo editing program because the scanner does not cause distortions.

What plans do you have for digitization in the future?


The large format scanner was the final building block in the digitization infrastructure for our materials. We are now equipped to handle the full range of objects held in our collections. However, despite the increases in speed, we would like to have the museum’s entire holdings on the Internet as soon as possible, rather than in 50 years. That is why, during the coronavirus museum closure in spring, we developed three mobile digitization stations as a pilot project, where even non-professional photographers can produce decent quality photos for the photo documentation of objects. The project was so successful that we will make it permanent. This will give our digitization work an additional impetus.
We are also experimenting in the area of extremely high resolution 3D digitization. We are still optimizing things here, but what we will soon exhibit on the Internet is very good.


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