In a small corner of the Bizzell Memorial Library, OU’s digitization lab makes the university's rare and unique books available to people all across the world.
The lab features multiple scanners, cameras and computers that allow books to be scanned page by page and put on the internet, allowing easy access to selected books and documents. From the extensive works of Galileo to local Native American manuscripts, literature of the past is being brought forward into the modern age of technology.
Currently, the lab is working on digitizing archival documents from the Western History Collections, master theses and other important documents from the special collections section of the library. By putting the books online, the digitization lab is putting the information into the hands of not only students at OU but also students and scholars at various universities across the country.
By digitizing the Western History Collections, students can now read handwritten letters from Civil War soldiers or gaze at drawings made by a Sioux chief.
Barbara Laufersweiler, director of the digitization lab, said the lab allows the world to learn from the various books and documents OU has in its possession. It gives everyone access to first editions or one-of-a-kind maps and puts the information literally into their hands, Laufersweiler said.
“Digitizing (the books) doesn’t help people have it in front of them the same way,” Laufersweiler said. “It’s a different way, but it’s also really cool to be able to sit down with your laptop and be able to look at pages and zoom in and thumb through them virtually.”
The digitization lab is manned by a collection of OU students, including both undergraduates and graduate students. The lab also has several faculty members that serve in supervisory positions.
Laufersweiler said none of the lab’s work would be possible without its team of student workers who help with the digitization process. Students from all majors work in the lab, scanning documents and making minor corrections to the images for clarity.
Chemistry sophomore Sarah Croft works in the digitization lab and said the people and the atmosphere really contribute to making her feel like she has a special job in the OU community.
“I feel that it is a really important thing to digitize this stuff and make it available to everyone. That is what a library is supposed to do,” Croft said.
Alex Hecksher, industrial and systems engineering senior, is a learn and earn student that works as a manager assistant and coordinates various people and projects within the lab. OU’s Learn and Earn program allows Hecksher to gain hands-on experience in the field she wants to work in after graduation. She said the digitization lab really allows everyone to be able to see what the library has to offer on their own time.
“Sometimes, you can’t make it into the library, and it’s nice to be able to look at a book online, to do research at 2 a.m. when the library is about to close,” Hecksher said.