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Stop laughing--this is serious! Digitising Stan Cross cartoons the clever way.



Stan Cross (1888-1977), the son of British-born parents who moved from Los Angeles to Perth in 1892, was an imposing, tall man with a pencil-thin moustache, spectacles and a birthmark on his left cheek. According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, he was 'loquacious and enjoyed being funny in company as well as on paper. Regarded by his colleagues as proud, and by himself as energetic (in spurts), he acknowledged that he had a temper which needed to be kept under control.'

This formidable character is arguably one of Australia's most famous cartoonists, known for his 'Wally and the Major' and 'The Potts' cartoon strips. The National Library of Australia holds 4900 pen-and-ink cartoons by Cross published between 1912 and 1974. Over 2900 of them can be viewed online. The remainder will be digitised by the end of June 2010 by the Library's Digitisation and Photography (DAP) Branch.

The DAP Branch commenced digitising the Library's Cross collection in March 2008. As many of the cartoons are large (25.3 x 68.9 cm) they could not be digitised using a flatbed scanner. Initially, image capture was done using a scanning-back camera (Better Light Super10K-HS), in the same way we digitise most maps: with items placed on a suction board to hold them in place during scanning. However, this is a slow process and minimal progress was made in the first eight months.

In October 2008, a different method was trialled using an overhead capture-back camera (Sinarback eVolution 75H). While the image capture was quick, the process was obstructed by having to use a glass sheet to flatten each drawing during capture. This was both time consuming and physically difficult--two people were required, one to handle the glass sheet safely and another to place the item underneath. Safety issues also arose with this workflow and there were some sore backs afterwards.

We soon realised that we needed a table with a semi-automated glass-top 'lid' that operated on gas struts. A local company was engaged to manufacture a table to our specifications and the prototype arrived in April 2009.

The result has been a great success. The new process can be performed by one person and the table can be placed at standing height to avoid bending, thereby increasing occupational health and safety. Using the new table, the team was able to digitise 1353 cartoons in April and May, with an impressive 970 processed in May alone. The efficiencies in the capture process have been so great that the DAP Branch exceeded the annual target by 449 items.

With all of its advantages, the new capture process has had a positive effect on staff morale. One could say that Stan Cross has lifted spirits again! DAP Branch staff members now look forward to digitising the rest of the collection, including Cross' famous 1933 cartoon For Gor' Sake, Stop Laughing: This is Serious!.

Fiona Ash Relf, Martina van Veen, Greg Power and Barbara Rozmus Digitisation and Photography Branch
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Title Annotation:National Library of Australia
Author:Relf, Fiona Ash; van Veen, Martina; Power, Greg; Rozmus, Barbara
Publication:National Library of Australia Gateways
Date:Aug 1, 2009
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