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Project to Digitize Korean Rare Books Nearly Complete

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A detail from the Taedong yŏjido, or Complete Map of the Great East, showing the Korean capital.

 

May 13, 2010 – Considered by many to be one of the most comprehensive and accurate hand-drawn maps ever created, the Taedong yŏjido, or Complete Map of the Great East, completed in 1861, represents the life’s work of legendary Korean cartographer Chŏng-ho Kim. Created over nearly 40 years in which Kim surveyed the entire Korean peninsula on foot, the map was so accurate it was used for more than 20 years as the standard map of Korea.

Until recently, however, Kim’s masterwork was never seen in its entirety. In part to its enormous – 17-by-23.5-foot – dimensions, the map was split in 22 accordion-fold volumes, each of which details a section of the Korean peninsula. As part of a joint project between Harvard-Yenching Library and the National Library of Korea, however, the map was recently digitized, and the map’s separate volumes digitally “stitched” together to form a single massive image. The digital image offers scholars the chance to view and study the map as a single item for the first time.

“This is a remarkable achievement,” Mikyung Kang, Librarian for the Korean Collection said, of the map. “I’m looking forward to seeing it as a whole. A project like this doesn’t just benefit Harvard scholars, but those outside of Harvard, particularly in Korea, because these materials are now more widely available.”

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Creating the enormous map took nearly two full days – one to digitize the map’s 22 volumes, and another to “stitch” the individual pages into a single digital image. The challenge, said Julia Featheringill, Assistant Manager, Digital Imaging and Photography, came in manipulating a digital file which grew exponentially as the images were combined. At nearly 8 gigabytes, the final map image was so large that the image had to be scaled down for depositing in the Digitial Repository Service, which provides storage for Harvard’s digital collections.  

“This was the biggest thing we’ve ever had to stitch together,” Featheringill said. “It was exciting to see how each new piece fit in, and to think that this map had never been seen in this way before being digitized.”

“Considering the dimensions of the final image, it would be almost impossible to lay this map out and use or study it,” said Imaging Services Head Bill Comstock. “While there are other examples of where digitization has helped patrons use materials which are difficult to access – like large rubbings, photograph negatives, or atlases – this is just an extreme example. Digitization is a powerful tool – for items like books it allows greater access and preservation – for some items, it is transformative. In this case, it allows patrons to access the material in a way that would be impossible if we hadn’t digitized it.” 

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The Taedong yŏjido, or Complete Map of the Great East, was digitized and "stitched" together by HCL Imaging Services. The project represents the first time the map has ever been seen in its entirety.

In addition to the map, 473 rare Korean books, held in nearly 1,000 volumes, have been digitized as part of the three-year project, which will come to a close this June. Items digitized as part of the project range from literary works to maps to early government records. The idea for the project originated with Harvard-Yenching staff members, who approached the National Library of Korea staff with the idea for a joint digitization project, which would focus on digitizing material that is not available in Korea. The National Library has also undertaken similar projects with Columbia University and the Library of Congress.

Because of the varying ages of the materials, Weissman Preservation Center staff inspected each volume before digitization, said Kang. In some cases, volumes were unbound to allow for digitization and later rebound. All the digitization work was completed at the Digital Imaging Lab in Widener Library. The digitized material is cataloged in HOLLIS, Harvard’s online library catalog.

“I believe it is important for Harvard College Library to take part in these types of international projects,” said James Cheng, Librarian for Harvard-Yenching Library. “We have many excellent collections, and are willing to share these materials with national libraries in Asia, including the National Library of Korea and the National Library of China. I believe it’s a good thing that we share our intellectual properties with libraries abroad.”