A 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.