A Short Lesson from the Archives: Digitizing Negative Slides with a Scanner

Approximately three weeks ago, a discovery was made in the back stacks of the NMU Archives. Records Analyst Sara Kiszka was conducting a shelf read when she came across a collection emitting the slight aroma of apple cider vinegar. This collection contained a plethora of campus photographs taken in the late 50s and early 60s, and the photos were beginning to deteriorate, producing the friendly odor and subsequent temporary nickname: The Apple Cider Vinegar Collection.

The negative slides contained in the Apple Cider Vinegar Collection needed saving quickly, and the steadfast solution was to digitize these photographs. Though negative slide scanners exist for this purpose, it didn’t seem at all reasonable to purchase new equipment for this collection, especially when the Archives already owned a scanner and efficient photo-editing software. Thus, an incredibly simple but equally efficient technique was born:
scan 1
Here’s a negative slide to be scanned.

scan 2
If we scan our photo now, we won’t be able to see our negative slide because the background of our scanner is black.

scan 3
The solution: A white piece of paper placed behind the photo. Now we see all the detail!

scan 4

After scanning, the photo needs to be inverted. With a little bit of photo editing, we have successfully created a digitized photograph!

Digitizing these negatives is the best thing that could have happened to them. Not only will these photographs be preserved forever, their quality was improved, and they can be made available to patrons quickly from around the globe. Most importantly, perhaps, is that this collection can finally be stripped of its Apple Cider Vinegar nickname and given the more appropriate title: Historical University Negatives. Soon, these images will be available for viewing here.


Written by Kelley Kanon


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