McGill’s digitized collections are now available in HathiTrust

This summer, the McGill Library is celebrating two major milestones in digitization:

HathiTrust: After many years of hard work and a collaborative effort between Collection Services and Digital Initiatives, the Library contributed 17,918 digitized volumes to HathiTrust. This marks a significant achievement of a long-held goal, to move our mass digitized collections from the IA into HathiTrust for increased preservation and access. Not only have we moved all our digitized volumes into HathiTrust, new workflows were also created to ingest digitized works on a regular basis using the Digital Projects Database (DPD). This incredible online tool was created by Elizabeth Thomson, (recently retired system analyst) at the Library’s in-house Application Development Team in Digital Initiatives.

HathiTrust is a partnership of academic and research institutions that offers millions of digitized titles from libraries around the world. During the pandemic while the Library was unavailable to onsite borrowers,  it continued to provide access to our print holdings.

In 2009-2010, HathiTrust started experimenting with ways to add support for ingesting content from the IA. This initiative enabled the Library to “batch upload” our first IA collection to HathiTrust: the popular Chapbook Collection that was published during the 18th and 19th centuries and contains over 900 British and American chapbooks. HathiTrust’s innovative approach of using existing high-resolution images from the IA saves an enormous amount of time since it is not necessary for the Library to restore archival images from its own preservation tape backups. Once the images are loaded, the HathiTrust record offers a similar experience to the IA with a full-text search component and a page-turner display option. More importantly, because of HathiTrust’s close collaboration with the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) to create a permanent bibliographic catalogue, our digitized content is discoverable in McGill’s discovery tool Sofia.

The Internet Archive: This past month, the Library reached the incredible milestone of 6 million views on the IA, a non-profit digital library that provides public access to millions of digitized items. Founded in 1996, the IA ( has collaborated with more 275 Canadian institutions in providing open access to their unique materials. The McGill Library began uploading to the IA eight years ago and our collection now numbers 18,973 digitized items. Currently, the McGill Library has the following eight collections in the internet Archive:

Here are some interesting facts about our IA collection that is growing by thousands of eBooks every year.

  • One of our most popular items is the Magic Cookbook with over 17,000 views. It describes how Magic Baking Powder is used in baking recipes.
  • The oldest digitized item in the collection is an Assyrian Medical Tablet ca. 700 BCE. It belonged to an ancient family of priests in the Temple of Aššur and it is on remedies for an eye disease that is itself unidentified in the tablet.
  • The IA collection contains items in over 50 languages, including several indigenous languages such as Cree, Mi’kmaq, and Inuktitut.
  • The size of the books in the collection range from a very large 3-foot atlas to a small chapbook measuring only 91 mm.
  • The IA now offers the Daisy Audio format of our digitized collection for print-disabled users using specialized devices or apps.

If you wish to stay informed of new additions to our digitized collection in the Internet Archive, please consider subscribing to our RSS feed.

A big thank you goes out to our colleagues who made these milestones possible: Megan Chellew, Elizabeth Thomson, Jessica Lange, Sarah Severson (U of A), Clara Turp, Andrew Senior, Mutugi Gathuri, Mehmood Khalid, Jenn Riley and the rest of the Application Development Team in Digital Initiatives.

2017 year in review: Digitization

As 2017 comes to a close, the McGill Library has become the forefront in digitization. Not only has the library embarked on more systematic digitization projects, it has also fulfilled a record number of scan requests and added over 1,500 new digitized books to the internet archives since 2016. It is interesting to reflect on a few of the other significant accomplishments in the Digitization Lab this past year.

One important achievement was the purchase and implementation of the Quartz Suprascan, a new planetary scanner specifically designed for large format digitization of rare material.  This new acquisition made it possible to consolidate all of our equipment into one space, replacing the Better Light system that was housed in the back room of Rare Books and Special Collections. Not only has the Quartz Suprascan increased productivity because of its speed and superior level of image quality, it has also made it easier to manage large format digitization becoming a central part of the Lab. Its other innovative features include the 1:1 scanning ratio, the relief enhancing lighting, and the glare control system that enables digitization of sealed drawings in glossy mylar without reflections.

Quartz scanner in the digitization lab

Quartz scanner in the digitization lab

Example of the 1:1 scanning ratio with some of our architectural drawings

Example of the 1:1 scanning ratio with some of our architectural drawings

Another area in which digitization has had a major impact is in digital exhibitions. The introduction of interactive touch tables in 2016 created a mini-boom for curated selections of digitized items. This innovative technology is ideal for showcasing digitized work by allowing users to zoom into the finer details with the push of a fingertip. Some recent examples include Vimy Ridge, an exhibit that commemorated the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge; an exhibition dedicated to the work of Robert Reid that featured over 250 pieces of his work; and the Montreal Maps exhibition, in which a hundred maps dating from between 1556 and 1946 were digitized to celebrate Montreal’s 375th anniversary.

At the start of the year, a new large-scale digitization initiative was started with the help of Collection Services. During cataloguing, any material that was published before 1896 and considered unique was brought to digitization ahead of being returned to Rare Books. This new and improved workflow opened the door to our collections and shared some incredible items from the McGill Library with the world. These items are from a range of collections including Islamic Manuscripts, Blacker-Wood, McGill Theses, and Voltaire.

Other notable digitization projects include:

Here’s looking forward to 2018 and the interesting and exciting projects that are on the horizon for the Digitization Lab.

Over 13,500 digitized books added to the Internet Archive

McGill University Library has recently attained an important milestone: Over the course of the past 6 months, over 13,500 digitized books have been uploaded to the Internet Archive (IA). With over 8,000,000 fully accessible eBooks and texts, the Internet Archive has become the foremost resource for accessing digitized material. IA’s close collaboration with over 1,100 Library institutions enables the collection to be available to a vast network of researchers. Furthermore, the Internet Archive allows our collection to be harvested into HathiTrust, a digital partnership between major research institutions and libraries.

The McGill University Library Internet Archive collection consists of digitized materials from different branches of the McGill Library, ranging from Rare Books and Special collections to notable collections such as Chapbooks and the McGill Student Publications. Our digital collection is growing steadily every week. Because most of the digitized items originated as patron digitization requests, the focus of our online collection is curated around user centric needs. Our collection can be searched and browsed using a variety of topics and categories. Below is a screenshot of our Internet Archive Library home page.

The McGill University Library Internet Archive collection

The McGill University Library Internet Archive collection

Books uploaded to the Internet Archive are full-text searchable and can be read online with the Internet Archive’s built-in book reader or downloaded as a PDF. IA also provides mobile device-friendly formats including EPUB and Kindle. Below is an example of a book as viewed from the built-in Internet Archive book reader.

The Marquis of Carabas' picture book : containing Puss in Boots, Old Mother Hubbard, Valentine and Orson, the absurd ABC

Example of a book as viewed from the built-in Internet Archive book reader.

This initiative could not have been done without the help and support of Sarah Severson, Megan Chellew, Dan Romano and Elizabeth Thomson. A special thanks to Elizabeth who worked diligently to create the necessary tools to batch load digitized material and records into IA and HathiTrust.

You can find newly digitized McGill materials by clicking on this RSS feed link or visiting the McGill University Library Internet Archive page.

The McGill Retro Thesis Digitization Project

thesis_0A proposal was made in the summer of 2011 to digitize all retro McGill theses. The goal was an ambitious one: to digitize all archival theses from Rare Books and Special collections that did not already exist on microfilm from the National Library of Canada. The period would span over 80 years, from 1881 all the way to 1966.  A project launch date set for spring 2012.

The equipment consisted of two high-production auto-feed scanners for loose sheet pages and a large-format scanner for over-sized material such as maps, commonly found in geographic papers. Bound theses would be digitized on the APT2400, the auto page turner that was purchased several years before and was best-suited for digitizing hardcover books.

Not only were theses digitized and processed, meta-data were entered and PDFs were uploaded for each thesis record in eScholarship@McGill, the digital repository that stores electronic theses and other student publications.

To date  – two years since the project was launched – two decades of material have been digitized and uploaded, including a record 5000 theses and over 712,000 digitized pages for the period between 1946-66.

Most of the theses were scanned as sequences of full-colour raw images. After a quality check was done for missing pages, the raw images were processed and cropped into derivative files and assembled into a text searchable PDF. Text pages were converted to bitonal, while photos, illustrations, and diagrams were kept in full-colour. Many challenges were encountered during the digitization, including detached photos, fragile paper, faded text, and ink that left a powdery residue on the scanner. Despite these issues, we have managed to digitize every thesis and ensure the best reproduction possible. The process is continuing with the plan to complete all of the digitization up to the year 1881.

APT book scanner

The Automatic Page turner (APT2400) digitization system.

Figure after p206. John T. Copp. 1962. The Canadian general election of 1908. http://digitool.Library.McGill.CA:80/R/-?func=dbin-jump-full&object_id=113604&silo_library=GEN01

Figure after p206. John T. Copp. 1962. The Canadian general election of 1908. http://digitool.Library.McGill.CA:80/R/-?func=dbin-jump-full&object_id=113604&silo_library=GEN01

The McGill Library website banner: St. Jerome from a Book of Hours.

The library website migration to the WMS (Drupal) system was a significant achievement in 2011. Not only was it a success from the standpoint of site organization, it also featured an improved redesign that included many graphical elements. One highlight of the redesign was to refresh the prominent site banner.

McGill Library website banner

After considering numerous banner concepts and reviewing feedback from library staff, the idea was proposed to focus on Rare Books and its collection. The web services librarian in charge of the website and migration, Ed Bilodeau, thought it would be a great opportunity to photograph a rare and unique manuscript. Several unique manuscripts were chosen by the Head of Rare Books and Special Collections, Dr. Richard Virr and these were photographed in a professionally-lit camera room at the back of RBSC.

Although each of the manuscripts was beautifully ornate and interesting in its own right, one image stood out from the rest: the image of St. Jerome examining the pages of a book, much like a visitor to the McGill library would do today. It is from a Book of Hours, Use of Sarum, Flemish or English, c.1450. This image has become emblematic of the McGill library’s incredible collection and is now a signature image on many of its promotional items. The Book of Hours is considered to be from the atelier of Willem Vrelant and is a gift of Sir Thomas and Lady Roddick, 1923.MS 98, Rare Books and Special Collections. Photographing each manuscript was a wonderful and memorable experience. One can easily appreciate the level of detail that can be captured through a lens.

The original, unedited photograph of a Book of Hours, Use of Sarum, Flemish or English, c.1450.

The original, unedited photograph of a Book of Hours, Use of Sarum, Flemish or English, c.1450.

L’Architettura di Marco Vitruvio Pollio. --.Manuscript from Rare Books and Special CollectionsManuscript from Rare Books and Special CollectionsManuscript from Rare Books and Special CollectionsManuscript from Rare Books and Special CollectionsAnnæi Senecæ tum rhetoris tum philosophi

Other manuscripts from Rare Books and Special Collections that were selected to be photographed.