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Digitising historic Christmas Books

Cambridge University Press has digitised its celebrated Christmas Books

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The Cambridge University Press has detailed the digitisation on its website via photos and videos

The Cambridge University Press, a global publisher of a variety of books and information, has created a digital archive of its historic Christmas Books.

The original books started in the early 1930s as a way of University printer Walter Lewis showcasing the capabilities of the Press. The books continued for many years to come after gaining a great reputation amongst those in the print and publishing communities.

The decision to digitise the works come after the Press managed to find and collect together all 34 editions of the annual Christmas book for the first time. 

The digitisation of the books was undertaken by the Digital Content Team at the Cambridge University Library, which houses the Press archives. 

Johanna Ward, a member of the Digital Content Team, says the process involved taking archive-quality photographs of both the books and the intricate slip cases.

Ward adds: “The majority are robust enough to be digitised on a book cradle, which supports the book to allow for the high-resolution digitisation of two pages at once, while not applying much pressure to its structure.”

In regard to preserving the texts, and highlighting the quality of the prints, Ward explains: “Extra padding is added to support the boards and spine. This allows us to present the volume at its best and ensure we are creating photographs that meet digital preservation standards.

The Press never had its own set of the Books so colleagues and friends began a dedicated search of the 34 editions 

“Archival photography is based on specific colour calibration methods to faithfully reproduce the book as seen. We are also digitising at a ratio of 1:1 and so the image should also be a faithful reproduction of the size of the book, so if you’re thinking the file isn’t very big, it’s because the book isn’t very big!”

The Christmas Books were originally published between 1930 and 1973 (only interrupted by World War II) and were limited edition volumes that demonstrated the craftsmanship and skills of its designers and printers. 

The books would be given as gifts and covered a range of topics largely related to Cambridge and the print/publishing industry.

“The process is repetitive to a degree but there is still room for interpretation to show the book off to its best. Lighting is there to show the texture and the shape and all of the imperfections synonymous with print culture that might be there.”

Cambridge University Press archivist Ros Grooms, says: “Great care was taken over the books but their secret was really in the experience and skill of the Press’ compositors and printers. People were chosen to work on the books in recognition of their skill and they worked together to produce something really special. 

"It is that skill as well as the books themselves that we hope to preserve for posterity through creating a digital archive to sit alongside the physical collection.”

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