From Alice to the Wonderland of Digitisation

When the Victorian mathematician and author Charles Dodgson photographed Alice Liddell, he captured a moment in the life of a little girl who inspired him to put to paper a story that would make them both well-known all around the world. A portrait that would seize her image in time, keeping her forever a child in the collective imagination of the readers of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass.

One and a half centuries later, in Christ Church Library, the very place where Dodgson would oversee the Deanery Garden where Alice was playing with her sisters from the window of his office, a totally different kind of photography is being carried out. Second only to the Bodleian Library in terms of the quality of the equipment used and number of images produced, Christ Church Library’s photographic studio is nowadays digitising priceless treasures. The studio and process of digitisation were initiated thanks to the College's assistance and due to the vision and support of a generous benefactor and friend of the Library to whom we are immensely grateful. It is not hard to imagine then the reason I consider myself one of the luckiest people in the world to work here.

The process is time-consuming and expensive. The “Grazer cradle”, a highly complex system, is “holding” the book to be photographed. “Hosting” might be a better way to define the way volumes are held in place on this rather spectacular looking “conservation book support” made in Graz, Austria. Constructed specifically to enable us to protect manuscripts and rare books when digitising them, the cradle is made up of mobile parts that can move up and down, allowing the book to be opened just as much as the spine permits it. A vacuum bar keeps the edge of the page in place, with minimal strain. The focus of the Phase One Camera is achieved by using a laser beam. The Capture One image software is very complex, enabling us to process the very high quality raw images taken with the camera. Once processed and saved both as TIFF and JPEG files, the images are then sent to the Bodleian Library to be migrated on the Digital.Bodleian platform. And from that moment on, a new journey begins for each and every document. They are all offered free of charge so that scholars and the general public alike can see and study them in great detail.

Thus, like the Victorian image of Alice which immortalised a glimpse in a girl's life, digitised books and manuscripts will continue to open doors to moments in time, bringing back to life rich layers of cultural and historical heritage, disseminating them all over the world at a click of a button.

Alina Nachescu
Photographic and Special Collections Assistant