How to Copy a Book in an Archive

Photograph Books at an Archive

When you visit libraries and archives, you often face a dilemma when you discover information about your ancestors. How do you make a copy of the books you find from the shelves.

Many libraries won’t let you bring a scanner or even use a copy machine. Some will let you photograph a book, only if you use a camera with no flash. In these libraries, these limitations can be overcome with a dSLR camera.

In the Ohio State Archives, I wanted to have digitized copies of pages in the Franklin County Cemetery books.

Map of Walnut Grove as found in the 
Combined Index for Franklin County, Ohio Cemeteries

For each page I found, I ‘copied’ them with my digital camera. I used the following settings with great success:

  • AV Priority Mode
  • macro setting
  • auto white balance
  • f/2.8, exposure 1/60, ISO 100

  The only struggles I had were keeping the pages flat. I wish I had a tripod so I didn’t have as many blurry pictures. Or, I wish I had a second person helping me keep the book flat so I could control my breathing to decrease the blur. Basically, if you let out a deep breath and then press the shutter release button on your camera after you hold your breath, you have less shake when you’re photographing still objects.   I found a GREAT map in this book. Though it was primarily used to showcase where the cemeteries were located, I thought the map was wonderful to orient a non-Ohio native to the area. It was more of a sketch and included minimal information, yet just want I needed. I will use this for further research to understand where people lived and the relation it had to other areas simply within the county.  

Franklin County Map as found in the 
Combined Index for Franklin County, Ohio Cemeteries

  I wish I had checked this out before I went to some cemeteries as it had SECTIONS listed. That might have helped me out in places like Obetz cemetery.  

Obetz Cemetery Section Map as found in the 
Combined Index for Franklin County, Ohio Cemeteries

  Now, with subpar lighting conditions in the libraries and archives, you’ll have to learn how to do level adjustments in photo editing programs. But, if you have access to a dSLR, you can make fine tune adjustments that will help you capture great images without breaking any library copying rules.

If you need to research in an archive, here are a few tips to copy that book.#genealogy #archives
Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee is passionate about capturing and preserving family stories so no one alive today has to be researched, or forgotten, tomorrow. She has authored 6 how-to books, a memoir, two published family history biographies, and over 60 family scrapbooks. She's an enthusiastic speaker who energizes, encourages, and educates at the same time.

2 thoughts on “How to Copy a Book in an Archive

  1. I use a camera to copy book pages as well. A few comments:

    (1) An advanced compact camera can work as well as a DSLR for this, while being a bit more discrete.
    (2) You are missing out on the capability of your camera by using ISO 100. This is the slowest, least sensitive setting on most cameras. By setting your ISO to automatic, or, say, 800 or 1600, you can solve the "struggles" you mention. With a higher ISO, you can use a faster shutter speed to prevent blur from camera shake. You can also use a smaller aperture, say f/4 or f/6.3 to make it more likely that the entire page is in focus, even if it doesn't lie flat. For close-up macro photography the depth of field is often smaller than you would like, probably less than an inch for f/2.8.

    The only drawback of increased ISO is increased noise in the photo. This might be a factor if you are trying to win an art photography prize, but is no problem at all when photographing text and line drawings. The noise introduced is less than that from, say, a copy machine.

    (3) Take a photo of the cover or title page so you can record the source of your discoveries.

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