Bessie Rischbieth's letters: Part 3

Bessie Rischbieth's letters: Part 3
The process of creating better access to collections on Women’s Suffrage
17 May 2017

Digitising Bessie's letters

Digitisation involves the digital capture and storage of journals, newspaper, and any other kinds of documents you can imagine.

Bessie Rischbieth’s papers in particular encompass a huge variety of material, including but not limited to books, pamphlets, travel paraphernalia, suffragist-themed cards and envelopes, 100-year-old photographs, posters, newspaper clippings, and a ton of letters hand-written on seemingly any scrap of paper she could get her hands on.

Image: Digital capture of correspondence from the Bessie Rischbieth collection using the overhead camera station.

Because of the wide diversity of the material and the fragility of some of the items, we use a Hassleblad SLR camera to capture the images rather than a scanner. As you can see in the photo, the camera is attached to a stand that can move up and down, and is positioned on an evenly lit table where the documents are placed. The camera can then be activated via the computer, and when a snapshot is taken, the image can be viewed on the monitor and checked for accuracy. Once all of the documents have been photographed, they are edited (cropped, rotated etc) and uploaded to the digital image database and published across to Trove, where they can be viewed by anyone.

Image: Reviewing the capture.

I’ve been so lucky to work on the digitisation of Rischbieth’s collection. I am a strong feminist and supporter of women’s equality, and although I was aware of the suffragist movement. It wasn’t until I began working on this collection, and reading through Bessie’s articles and letters as I processed them, that I understood that it’s thanks to the unbelievable strength, bravery and intellect of early suffragists like Rischbieth that women are able to live in the way we now can.

I like to think that Rischbieth and her peers would be happy to see a strong, diverse, nearly all-female team working on digitising her papers for all to see.

I find it interesting to view the Suffrage project through the lens of my other role at the Library, which is to perform quality assurance on newspapers ranging from the 1880s to the 1950s. These papers are littered with instances of suffragists fighting for equality, refusing to pay tax and even blowing up the odd mailbox! It is nice to have some historical context for Rischbieth’s papers, and to know that the wider population was really taking notice.

Image: News of suffragette activities in the Macleay Argus, 7 March 1913.

Image: Other means of activism (non-militant) reported in the Casino and Kyogle Courier and North Coast Advertiser, 30 September 1905.

Once the digitisation is complete, I hope the women and men who view this collection will be just as empowered by it as I was.

The digital images of the first four series of the Papers and Object of Bessie Rischbieth are being progressively published across to the Finding Aid, for viewing in Trove. View it at MS 2004. Read more about the finding aid work and the preservation work done to the collection in Part 1 and Part 2 of this blog series. 

The Suffrage Project has been made possible by donations from National Library Patrons and Supporters.