Barnett Legacy Digitization Project

Published on October 11, 2018

In 1918, visionary bibliophile John Davis Barnett donated his personal collection of 40,000 books to further develop a nascent library at Western University. His only condition was that every page be available to "any earnest seeker of knowledge."

Today, Western Libraries continues to honour that century-old pledge by extending the reach of our collection further than Barnett could have ever imagined.

The Western Libraries Barnett Legacy Project provides donors with an opportunity to make a strategic investment in extending knowledge to anyone, anywhere, by facilitating the digitization of important elements of our storied collection.

John Davis Barnett While Western Libraries boasts an internationally recognized collection of rare books and other special collections, today most of these resources are available only to those who can access them in person. Our digitization plans aspire to make many of the most important items available online, thus increasing their discoverability and usability around the globe.

Having scholars use these items in their research will also help to provide a deeper understanding of the content and value of the manuscripts. Although many scholars will still want to consult the original copy for some types of research, many more will be satisfied with using the high-quality digital copy, which will decrease the stress on the original item.

Further, digitized materials can be even more useful to researchers through Optical Character Recognition (OCR), which allows scholars to search for key words or phrases in the text. OCR technology also makes the materials more accessible to those with visual or other access barriers.

As scholars use and cite these items in their research, Western's reputation as a major research destination will be enhanced. Our special collections donors will be reassured that in this increasingly digital world, their physical contributions will be used, valued, and appreciated for generations.

This project will also support our efforts over the next two years to create a Digital Scholarship Centre at the D.B. Weldon Library as part of our Space Master Plan.

Through this initiative, we want to accomplish three things:

  • Purchase a high-resolution rare book scanner that will allow us to digitize and make available our most valuable resources.
  • Launch our digitization program by digitizing three rare books, as prioritized by our Special Collections Librarian.
  • Provide a co-op opportunity for a student the Master of Library and Information Science program to gain important career experience while working under the guidance of librarians and archivists to make the newly digitized resources available.

The Right Tools

A high-resolution book scanner is an essential tool for our digitization program. We want to purchase a scanner that:

  • Has V-shaped cradle to protect spines of rare books and adjustable for thicker spines.
  • Employs dual DSLR cameras, each pointed at an angle to shoot the pages, with adjustable settings that capture the entire page at once.
  • Creates minimum 300 dots-per-inch images that are crisp and clear, allowing users of the final images to zoom in on the page.

Once a book is scanned, it needs to be made ready for use. We will use post-scan editing software to crop and sharpen images, adjust contrast, and remove background colours from faded pages. We then employ Optical Character Recognition software to make it possible for users to search and copy the text. Finally, we add metadata to make the item more discoverable online, and upload it to an open access forum.

Opening Access to our Treasures

Debbie Meert-Williston, Special Collections Librarian, has prioritized three initial titles for digitization. These three titles were purchased by John Davis Barnett, most likely between 1880-1910, and donated to Western in 1918. All three are unique hand written titles that do not exist anywhere else in the world.

  1. Bishop Hellmuth's personal library catalogue (mid to late nineteenth century)

    This is a hand written list of titles contained in Bishop Hellmuth's personal library. It was purchased by Barnett in 1895, at the sale of the Bishop's library, as stated in Barnett's inscription in the book.

  2. Patrick Crichton manuscript (1812)

    This is a hand written copy of a classic naval text, as well as other content, by a student at Christ's Hospital, one of the oldest boarding schools in England, founded in 1552. According to a scholar researching the history of the school, approximately 1000 of these manuscripts were created, all unique, and only about 60 are still known to be in existence worldwide.

  3. Jewish Antiquities (mid to late nineteenth century)

    This is a hand written, two volume set, that is likely a scholar's notes on his readings, lectures, and other thoughts and information on the area of Jewish Antiquities. It has been written in code, which appears to be a combination of Pitman short hand, Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and English.

Investing in a Future Librarian

As part of this project, a student from the Master of Library and Information Science program will gain access to a paid experiential learning experience with the benefit of being mentored by experienced staff. The student will work with our Digitization and Digital Preservation Librarian, and with our Special Collections Librarian, to complete the digitization of the three books identified above. The student can use the experience to support his or her future employment in a library or archival career.

Your Gift - Matched!

Western Libraries is seeking your support to advance Mr. Barnett's legacy into the 21st century. And now, thanks to the generosity of another visionary donor, your gift can be doubled. Joyce Garnett, University Librarian Emeritus, will match any gift of $500 or more to this project, up to $10,000.

In Recognition

Donors to this initiative will be recognized through Western's donor recognition program and through Western Libraries' bookplate program. Gifts of $1,000 or more will be highlighted on signage at Alumni Hall for one year following the gift.

Western Libraries' Bookplate Program. A digital bookplate offers a unique way to recognize gifts of $250 or more. The bookplate will reside on the Digital Bookplate virtual donor wall in Western Libraries' online catalogue. Bookplates are accessible online at any time, from anywhere in the world and serve as a permanent expression of your generosity. A special bookplate featuring John Davis Barnett has been created to recognize donations of $1000 or more.

Example of a Digital Bookplate

Reporting. All donors will receive updates on the project and the impact of your gifts.

To learn more about this initiative or other ways you can support learning and research, collections, and spaces at Western Libraries, please contact us.