Many libraries, archives, and museums have in their collections textual artifacts that can no longer be read. Now a multispectral imaging initiative is uncovering value that can’t be detected by the human eye in ways that were previously only available to the largest and most deeply resourced institutions, and without having to take fragile manuscripts offsite.
It’s called The Lazarus Project, and it’s designed to give small and medium-sized institutions and individual researchers access to the most cutting-edge digital imaging technology available. The project brings a traveling multispectral lab directly to participating institutions.
“We help librarians create value in their own holdings,” said Gregory Heyworth, the project’s director. Ancient and modern manuscripts that are damaged or otherwise illegible are imaged using multispectral imaging—technology that records manuscripts under a controlled spectrum of light. The images are then processed to reveal details that the naked eye cannot see.
Instead of exposing fragile materials to large amounts of damaging light, the Lazarus Project’s portable rig takes images with light that amounts to merely opening the manuscript. This minimizes damage and comforts conservators who worry about exposing their precious papers to even more harm.
The results are often surprising, as when the Lazarus Project team uncovered erased ownership signatures in Shakespeare folios at the Folger Shakespeare Library and what might be William Faulkner’s fingerprints on what may be poems by the author. With the help of the expert team, erased, illegible and damaged text becomes legible material.
Librarians and archivists who want the Lazarus Project to come to their institution will need a description of an object, its damage, and how multispectral imaging could help. Visit lazarusprojectimaging.com for details.
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