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Planets align for digital project

For the first time at Lehigh, Library and Technology Services (LTS) has joined forces with undergraduate professors to use the library’s rare books collection in a new, high-tech way.

Alex Levine, professor of philosophy, and Gary DeLeo, professor of physics, designed a seminar around an original copy of famed astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus’ “On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres,” which was published in 1543. And with LTS’ help, students taking the seminar “The Problem of the Planets”—and those interested in astronomy around the world—can access the rare book online.

There are at most only a few hundred original copies of this work in existence today, and Linderman Library’s rare book collection has one. Acquired by the university in 1879, its age and rarity have made it unavailable for use outside the Bayer Galleria.
But thanks to LTS’ newest digital project, it’s now available in a digitized version. This is the third such digital project that LTS has completed since it began digitizing rare books several years ago, but the first project to be undertaken with a class in mind.

Happy birthday, Copernicus
Susan Cady, director of administration and planning for the LTS Leadership Group, says LTS was “looking for a way to put special collections to wider use.” Levine and DeLeo found that way and, together with LTS, are paving the way for digitized books to be used in classrooms of the future.

According to the class’ syllabus, this unique course “will explore the scientific, historical and philosophical implications of Copernicus’ proposal with special emphasis on his solution to the age old problem of planetary motion.” In addition, the class will use a digitized form of Tycho Brahe’s 1602 publication, “Instruments for the Restoration of Astronomy.” Brahe is thought to be the premier inventor and builder of astronomical tools of his time, until the invention of the telescope by Galileo.

Both digitized works are part of the LTS project, which is set up as a web page with links that access the literature. In addition to original copies of the works, the project web page also includes links to translation of the texts and notes on typography of the time period.

For enthusiasts, for whom the digital project is simply not enough, there is an exhibit where visitors can see the actual rare texts, as well as some from Galileo, Kepler and other astronomers from the time period. The exhibit is in the Bayer Galleria in Linderman Library through March 15. Hours are from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays or by appointment. To celebrate Copernicus’ birthday on February 19, students from the seminar will throw a birthday party on February 18 in Bayer Galleria in his honor.

Scanning from above
“Copernicus, Brahe: Problem of the Planets” joins two others--“Digital Bridges” and “LV Geology: Digital Works”--as the three digital projects LTS has completed so far. All three use a special type of scanner and software to make digital viewing possible.

The scanner is special in that it is an overhead scanner which prevents damage to such aged and sometimes fragile works. A normal scanner would require the book to be placed face down with the scanner’s lid closing over the open book, much like a copy machine. The overhead scanner allows the book to be placed open, on a tray, with the pages facing upward.

The scanning lens is suspended directly over the open book from a vertical rod connected to the tray. By using this design there is no lid creating pressure on the binding of the book. The book simply rests open, on the tray, under its own weight, without any outside pressure.

The software employed in these projects is quite sophisticated. The ContentDM software has many interesting scanning capabilities. Each scanned image is a page of the book. ContentDM compiles these images in such a way that the pages can be easily kept in order, searched and modified so that notes or descriptive info can be added to each page.

A Lehigh-designed interface enables the user to zoom in or out for a preferred view of the image. Both the software and the scanner were purchased fairly recently with money from a grant.

So far, more than 30 books have been digitized and LTS plans to keep adding more. With the astronomy project just finished, LTS has several other projects in development, and hopes that, as with the astronomy project, some will be designed in conjunction with a class so that Lehigh’s extensive special collections can continue to seek wider audiences.

Posted on Wednesday, February 18, 2004

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