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Scanning the Noted Hymnal at Laurier Archives and Special Collections

History MA Student Katrina Van Der Ahe describes her experience digitizing a manuscript in Laurier Archives and Special Collections:

In July of 2023, I began work on the Cantus project, Cantus is a searchable online database of Latin chants in manuscripts and incunables largely from medieval Europe. It includes inventories of main sources for music which is sung in the Latin liturgical office. My job was to scanning the Laurier Hymnal. The Hymnal is a Franciscan Breviary from the fifteenth century of 240 folios that measure 150 by 70 millimetres. It includes a hymnal, processional antiphons for a feast of the purification of the blessed virgin Mary, mass for the dead, masses of the common saints, hymns for Saints Peter and Paul, and Four Seasonal Hymns. It was purchased by the University in 2008.  

One key element of the work for the Cantus project was determining how to use the Opus Free Flow Bookeye 4 Scanner. This process involved learning how to use the scanner, including configuring DPI, brightness, and other settings. This process involved a lot of trial and error based on what worked well with the manuscript, given its size, material and the colours used within it. One key element was where and how to place the manuscript on the scanner in relation to the colour bar/ruler. After that was set, the scans needed to fit the quality expected for the project and what the project required to be included. This part of the process was tricky and involved a lot of back and forth to understand the necessary values and setup required.  

After understanding what was needed regarding lighting and colour, I began scanning. There was still troubleshooting, with one specific issue: protecting the manuscript while getting good-quality scans. This was a prevalent issue given the small size of the manuscript and the fact that the spine could not be fully bent open. Another issue came up when scanning the recto side of folios. To get a high-quality image, the book needed to be turned upside down to avoid having a large shadow cast on the folio during scanning. 

Overhead scanner attached to a computer. The Noted Hymnal is placed on a book cradle underneath the overhead scanner.

My goal and the project's goal were to create a high-quality digital reproduction of the manuscript. Throughout this project, the need for clear communication and innovation was required. The project was a collaboration between Dalhousie, the University of Waterloo, and Wilfrid Laurier University. I needed to understand what the Laurier Archives and Special Collections needed me to do to keep the manuscript safe and for the Professors at the Cantus project to tell me clearly what guidelines they wanted followed. Without maintaining clear and continued communication throughout the project, the scanning would not have succeeded. Innovation was also a key element, as issues arose throughout the project, especially given the small size of the manuscript and problems with shadows and capturing the entirety of the folio along with the surrounding details. As such, it was essential to experiment with the scanner and the positioning of the manuscript to capture the highest quality images.

This project was a wonderful experience that demonstrated how complicated and fascinating the process of digitizing one manuscript could be. I am so thankful for the opportunity I had to scan this manuscript and work at the Laurier Archives and Special Collections.  

Katrina Van Der Ahe is currently a History MA Student at Wilfrid Laurier University, writing a thesis: What Trace Did They Leave?: Three "Conventional" Women's Varied Involvement with Books on English nuns and laywomen’s continued direct or indirect involvement in book production in the late Middle Ages and Early Modern Period.

Digitization of the Noted Hymnal was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Grant Number: 895-2023-1002. Please contact Laurier Archives and Special Collections to view the Noted Hymnal or the digital images.