I’m Francine Millard and I work in the Official Publications Unit at the National Library of Scotland. I have been the Digitisation Manager for the Medical History of British India Project for 3 and a half years. That’s me steering my way through the choppy waters of digitisation. And still smiling….!
The project began in 2005 when my colleagues bid for money from the Wellcome Trust to digitise some medical material from the India Papers collection. The first phase was made into a free web feature and concentrates on 4 diseases – leprosy, cholera, plague and malaria, mainly dated mid to late 19th century. In 2007, when further medical material was identified and a second bid was successful I was appointed as a full time project manager to add more items to the web site. You can see that the project has grown to include more items. The Vaccination reports are next – I will start on them next spring.
It was decided that the NLS would outsource the microfilming and digitisation due to the larger number of items to be converted. Because the cost of work was over £10,000 I would have to seek a vendor to do the work via competitive tendering. I had never done this before and fortunately had guidance from a colleague in Estates. I had to identify potential companies and write a full project specification. I used the RLG guidelines and JISC digital site (which was TASI). I also gathered information from NLS colleagues. This took longer than I thought – around 3 months. NLS requires preservation standard outputs (microfilm and tif images), so the fast scanning companies weren’t suitable. There aren’t many companies who do archival work. Since 2007 Estates have produced navigation documents to guide NLS staff who need to procure goods and services. Most – if not all- procurement is now via Public Contracts Scotland portal. Procurement is audited each year and must be fair and transparent.
Organising paperwork is crucial. I have folders for each project and each batch and book has its own tracking sheet. I start with a batch workflow and some vendors produce their own GANTT type charts, which is useful. The books are wrapped in bubble paper and packed into skips in line with library policy. They are locked and well marked.
I allow 6 weeks per batch of around 4,000 pages to microfilm, digitise the film and crop the images. I have done batches of around 8,000 pages, but found it unwieldy. 4,000 is fine for the way I work. I allow plenty of time to do the metadata and preparation for the next batch. Preparation can involve creating microfilm targets, lists of items and pages, and condition reports.
While most items are pretty sturdy for their age, the books are rare and have brittle pages. Some have been rebound which allows them to be opened nicely for filming. Many have large foldout maps and these can be problematic as they have to be filmed in bits. Under no circumstances are they allowed to be fed through a scanner. Site visits are essential and are part of the procurement process. Material is well packed and inspected on both sides.
Since I began I have produced almost 80,000 records in the Digital Object Database. It is an NLS bespoke Access database which works on a hierarchy system, so you have collection, sub-collections, series, book, then down to individual page. Based on Dublin Core, there are tags for dates, places, people etc but I don’t need to fill these in for each page. Granularity is key here, or else when the user searches you can return too many records at page level (3,000 pages) instead of say 1 book. It forms the Digital Archive which is available to the public on the NLS website. I made up my own schema within the DOD, but it has to fit in with the way books are presented on the Digital Archive. The Library has staff working on the DOD to ensure consistency and good records. Keywords, place and people names come from controlled thesauri like LCNA, TGM and AAT. There are people like me who use it a lot and who are called “DOD Champions”. This means inspecting groups of records before they go online, which I do anyway for my project.
I then export the data from Access into an Excel sheet like this, via Visual Basic. I print it out for the operator. Their version is a bit cleaner than this. This is my master sheet which enables me to match up metadata records to tif image numbers.
I check samples of film and images to see whether the vendor is achieving NLS standards as laid out in the spec. I check that all the tif images match the metadata record number and then I rename them to that number. I use a free programme called The Renamer and record my work on the Excel sheet. This can be tricky if things don’t match, if images or records are duplicated or missing. Or both!
To make the tif images searchable they are sent away to undergo Optical Character Recognition. After a tender for this work, the files ironically go to India. India does the cheapest OCR, but even so prices can vary widely. OCR can add much to the cost of a project and can take a good while for the vendor to produce. But it is worth it. A pdf version of the tif is produced and underneath lies a htm file coded in xhtml. This text-backed pdf is fully searchable. The htm is also used as a transcription page which displays on the web feature. It is imperative that due to the medical terminology and Indian names that accuracy is high.
I became very absorbed in medical history because the material is fascinating to me. I have researched over the past 3 years so I can present talks. I can put the material in context of scientific discovery and colonial medicine and I can expand on topics within the collection. I have been lucky to travel around doing talks. Last year I went to Australia to promote the project to medical librarians from 44 countries.
I also supervise students who are using the material, for example an intern who was writing some web text for the feature, a PhD student who is doing a Veterinary history thesis, and medical students from Dundee who are learning about international health. I have also written an article in the NLS magazine and some web text for when the feature is updated. I am working with the web team to get this online as soon as possible. This has been slow progress as there are many digital projects in the NLS. Also as my technical knowledge stops at the web stage, things are often more complex than I think and takes 3 or 4 staff to do one task.
This unique job is very demanding as it is one deadline after another and the pace can be relentless at times. The best part has been the sheer variety of tasks and learning from colleagues in other departments. Their expertise has been invaluable.
The other wonderful part is the amazing world I have discovered. The British Raj kept meticulous records and dry-looking reports are often full of juicy anecdotes and astonishing accounts.
The world of sex, drugs and nasty disease includes: Doctors who sailed to India to work in a daunting tropical environment. The tropics were known as “the white man’s grave” even though the UK wasn’t exactly disease free in the 19th century. Many medical men came from Scottish Quaker families and they could work in India without a full medical degree. In India they had increased freedom to investigate diseases and discover new germs. But some perished from the diseases they were studying or were invalided back to Britain. For example, Francis William Cragg, working with louse-borne diseases from 1905, succumbed to the typhus he was studying and was described as “a fearless investigator, never hesitating to expose himself to infection. His loss is irreparable, as there are so few workers in this branch of zoology who may be considered such all-round experts as Cragg.” These books are a testament to the hard work of these and many other unsung heroes of the early days of the germ theory of disease.
Probably the weirdest discovery I made was The Bowel Gang. This was in fact a group of unfortunate inmates in a prison who had been segregated because they had dysentery. “They were given suitable work in their own enclosures (what work could you give them?) and were not allowed to mix with the rest of the convicts.” This is an example of the segregation technique that colonists used to control disease. The same applied to lepers and plague sufferers, which has raised many questions about the impact on the lives of indigenous people.
Reports from Calcutta medical institutions detail horrible surgical operations. There were three main medical discoveries which meant that surgery could save lives rather than take them. Effective anaesthesia, staunching blood loss and antiseptics. Bone scraping, boil tapping, amputations and abscess removal - the list of operations and subsequent results are compelling. Patients dying from extreme prostration, as seen here, means patients perished from sheer exhaustion. Don’t forget that anaesthetics and pain relief were basic and risky.
The work of the Lunatic Asylums and treatment of insanes. In the 1860’s mental illness wasn’t treated - patients were managed through diet, exercise and occupation. Sometimes patients were dosed with sedatives like opium, as psychotropic drugs weren’t used until 1950s. Kindness to patients was preferred to cruel restraints. Patients made mats and clothes which were sold to generate income and they were often taken out on picnics and outings.
The Lock Hospital system of providing prostitutes to soldiers encapsulates colonial medicine. The women were examined for venereal disease and locked up if they had it. Women were segregated into regimental brothels and only allowed to ply their trade there. They were, however, seen as vectors of the disease and not the victims. Referred to in the reports as “ugly broken down hags” they often turned to prostitution to avoid starvation. British men were seldom blamed even though they got drunk and liaised with diseased women. W. Curran, in 1877 remarked, “The British soldier is, as we all know, not very particular in the distribution of his amorous patronage. He selects his partners, without fear or favour in the darkness of the night, as well as under the shadow of a tree or within the shelter of a corn-field.” The indigenous population were viewed as the source of disease and something to be controlled by the authorities to protect the white soldier. This picture shows the woman as a danger to men and not the other way round. In an 1878 report I found this by C. Planck: “It is said that many soldiers did not know with whom they had co-habited, being under the influence of drink. It is recorded that sexual intercourse was effected in the hospital ward and in the soldiers&apos; dining hall; and that a woman, believed to have been a source of much mischief, was found in the lines, living in a rum-barrel.”
Diseases like these are still with us (PASS ROUND FURRY GERMS) - malaria, syphilis, rabies and plague. These old reports tell of the colonists’ struggle to control their environment and survive in it utilising the latest scientific knowledge. They show how western medicine was introduced and implemented in India and the attitudes of the Imperialists to traditional Indian medicine. How efficacious colonial medicine was beyond the European army is debated by academics. How epidemics of cholera and plague were dealt with and the impact on local populations is also discussed. Our material, available for free, will be of great value to those researching colonial medicine and the legacy of the British in India.
Links to JISC, Digital Preservation Coalition and the Public Contracts Scotland Portal.
Keep calm and carry on
Keep Calm and Carry On :
managing a digitisation project
Francine Millard, Digitisation Manager for
the Medical History of British India Project,
National Library of Scotland
Medical History of British India
2005 - 44 volumes
2007 – 126 further
2008 -135 Veterinary
2009- 46 Lunatic
2011 – Vaccination
The P word
Doing the work
Timings – 6
weeks per 4,000
Time allowed for