Case study

Digitization experience of Esslingen District Archive is the model to follow

“High image quality is crucial for acceptance”

Esslingen District Archive has set itself the goal of making the valuable archive material of the district with its towns and municipalities available to a broad swathe of users. This is to be achieved by means of a digital historico-cultural portal. To implement this strategy, the District Archive can draw on valuable experience gained in digitizing its cadaster files.

The Esslingen District Archive is one of the most significant municipal archives in Baden-Württemberg. To date, its largely well-indexed material has not been accessible via the Internet. The District Archive is therefore planning to set up a digital, historico-cultural portal with the working title of “History and the Present in the District of Esslingen”.

“The aim is not just to create a research tool but an attractive, comprehensive information platform at district level, designed to be sustainable and continuously expanded in the future”, says Manfred Waßner, Head of the District Archive in the district administration of Esslingen, as he describes the ambitious project.

The quality of the digital image plays a crucial role in the technical realization of the project. “Only a uniformly high quality reproduction of the original will deliver the user acceptance needed”, Manfred Waßner explains.

Cadaster files as digitization blueprint

The Esslingen District Archive gained valuable insights from digitizing its cadaster files from the 19th century. The files show the position of every parcel, their boundaries and further attributes in relation to the parcel. Staff constantly look up the original files, e.g. to identify boundaries or carry out final road surveys.

“The digital version of the cadaster files enables fast access, making work more efficient. At the same time, the original files are protected”, says Manfred Waßner explaining the benefits. It is crucial for the success of the project that the digital image matches the original in every detail.

The total scope of the property cadaster is 3,500 volumes on 600 linear meters. The very thick, tightly bound volumes represented a challenge for the image quality, especially in the book fold.

Of 1,000 files, not a single one defective

The digitization partner for the project was Zeutschel from Tübingen. A key feature of the A2+ overhead scanner used is its Perfect Book technology. This technology straightens distorted letters in the book fold, thus ensuring that all the information on the pages is fully captured in the digital image.

Added to this is special lighting developed for digitizing cultural material that prevents shadows in the book fold. “The image quality achieved was consistently high”, Manfred Waßner confirms.

In order to guarantee the quality of the digital images, the District Archive established multi-stage quality control. During capture by the scan operator, subsequently by means of spot checks and later by the agent in charge when viewing the files.

The result speaks for itself as Manfred Waßner confirms: “Of 1,000 files, not a single one was defective.

OpenSource software individually adapted

The District Archive uses Kitodo to control the process and present its material. This open source software covers a wide variety of process steps in digitization projects – from the planning process to the importation of catalog data, meta data additions and the presentation of digital collections.

Some additional adjustments had to be made in Kitodo for the presentation of cadaster files on the intranet. Zeutschel took charge of making the necessary changes. The Tübingen company is a member of the Kitodo community and plays an active role in refining the software. For example, Zeutschel’s software developers optimized the rotation function of the image in Viewer.

Continuing to use proven methods

The digitization of the cadaster files has been successfully concluded. The positive experience gained motivated the District Archive to use the proven, strategic approach of “everything from a single source” for setting up the digital historico-cultural portal.

The open source software Kitodo is also being used for the entire digitization process. The District Archive of Esslingen also acquired a novel digitization system that combines a high-performance scanner and photo studio.

One system for all items

 “The material in the District Archive of Esslingen is very diverse. This relates to the sizes, formats, nature and condition of the material”, Manfred Waßner explains.

For example, the digitizing included parchments dating back to the 14th century but also several hundred medium format slides. But the material also includes leather-bound archives from the 16th to the 19th century in varying states of preservation, as well as extensive newspaper stocks, e.g. every issue of the Neuffener Talbote from 1830 to 1910.

The Zeutschel ScanStudio A1 is able to capture all these original items in the highest quality. This is largely down to a camera system with a high-resolution digital back and interchangeable lenses as well as ergonomic ErgoLED lighting that is gentle on the original. The Zeutschel ScanStudio therefore achieves an image quality that exceeds the digitization guidelines under FADGI, Metamorfoze and ISO-19264-1.

Easily interchangeable recording systems ensure maximum flexibility in terms of the originals. To meet the requirements of the District Archive of Esslingen, there is a scanning and transparency table with holders for slides, glass plate negatives or films, an A2 book cradle and a copyboard table for A1 formats.

Exemplary character for further districts

“We have excellent equipment and we have acquired extensive digitization expertise. We are therefore superbly prepared for the entire course of the project”, Manfred Waßner states optimistically.

The historico-cultural portal is due to be online by 2023, the year in which the district of Esslingen will be celebrating its 50th anniversary.

And the plans of the District Archive already extend further. “As important standards are observed in digitization and meta data, we are open to further partners and links to national, central portals.”

The mission of the portal to provide permanent access to the cultural heritage contained in municipal archives, museums and libraries, is also intended to inspire others. Manfred Waßner: “With this portal, we want to become a role model for further districts.”

Esslingen District Archive

The District Archive of Esslingen creates access to and secures the historical records of the district. At the same time, it ensures that the archive material is accessible to and can be used by the general public. The District Archive has very well-indexed archive material from the 15th century to the present amounting to around 4,000 linear meters. Esslingen’s District Archive is thus the central point of contact for all questions on the history of the district of Esslingen, its towns and municipalities.

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