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Using cameras and scanners at archives and libraries in Toronto

Capturing images of original documents at a library or archives has never been easier. There are so many choices of technology it is tough to keep up—for both researchers and the library and archives staff who make policies about their use.*

Next week, I’ll be leading Genealogy Summer Camp participants to archives and libraries around Toronto. To provide them with up-to-date information, I contacted each of the repositories we’ll be visiting for their current policies, which are summarized in the following chart. I asked them to consider two types of scanners—a “slide-across-the-document” scanner like the Magic Wand by VuPoint Solutions, and the portable “flat bed” scanner Flip-Pal.

I was very pleased to get prompt and carefully considered answers from all concerned. Libraries and archives strive to provide great access for researchers, but they have to balance that access with protecting their collections from potential damage—so the documents will be available for future researchers.

Here are a few factors mentioned by respondents behind their policies:

  • A high intensity light source must be used to capture the image and light damage is cumulative and permanent. When the institution makes a digital copy (either by scanning or photography) a copy can be saved for future access therefore preventing the need for multiple exposures to the high intensity light. If a personal scanner is used, a copy is not retained by the institution and thus each time a copy of the image is requested the object must be subjected to light again.
  • To capture an image the document must have direct contact with the surface of the scanner. This can cause damage to items that are creased when they are forced flat without humidification beforehand. When an archives make copies of items that are creased they are flattened by conservators beforehand to prevent tears and splits in the paper.
  • Wand-type scanners have the potential to damage the surface of old paper, photo emulsion, and to catch on fragile edges.

My little “study” covered only those Toronto venues we’ll visit during Summer Camp. Whenever and wherever you research, bear in mind that the rules at each repository may be different and they are bound to change from time to time. Please ask the staff on duty before you pull out your camera or scanner. If allowed, use your device carefully.

I know, if you’re reading this article, that you appreciate seeing the ink, the texture and tone of the paper, the hundred-year-old fingerprints, and the history woven into an old document. Let’s think of the future, too, and do everything we can to preserve it.

NOTE: Table has been updated to May 27, 2015.

Repository Digital cameras without flash Portable scanners Notes
Archives of Ontario Allowed Not allowed Researchers must read and sign the Self-Serve Digital Copy Service guide before taking photographs.
City of Toronto Archives Allowed Not allowed New book scanners are available in the Research Hall. Researchers can save images to a USB key.
Anglican Diocese of Toronto Archives Allowed with staff permission Not allowed Check with staff before using your camera.
Presbyterian Church of Canada Archives Allowed Not allowed No photos of registers more recent than:
95 years for baptisms
80 years for marriages
70 years for deaths/burials
Digital camera users are charged 25¢ per image.
Archdiocese of Toronto Archives (Roman Catholic) Allowed with staff permission Not allowed Digital photographs of the microfilm screen may be allowed with special permission on a case-by-case basis.
The United Church of Canada Archives Allowed with staff permission Not allowed No tripods. Researchers must fill out a request form listing items to be photographed.
North York Central Library—Canadiana Department Allowed Wand scanners are allowed for non-fragile material. Flat bed scanners are not allowed. Do not scan fragile books. Consult with staff if in doubt.
Toronto Reference Library Allowed Wand scanners are allowed for non-fragile material. Flat bed scanners are not allowed. Do not scan books that are marked “do not copy” or books that appear fragile. Consult with staff if in doubt. Staff may know of an alternate version that can be copied. Scanners may not be used to copy any Special Collections manuscripts, books, maps or photos, etc.

* Please note that while an archives or library may permit you to copy an item for your personal use and study, you must still obtain permission from the copyright holder to publish the image on paper or online. You should also request permission to use the image for a display or in a presentation.

1 comment to Using cameras and scanners at archives and libraries in Toronto

  • Lynda

    Sincere thanks Jane. I’m attending your Summer Camp and had planned on bringing my wand scanner. Now I know where I can and cannot use it, but more importantly the reasons/conditions behind the qualifiers.


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