If you’ve ever wondered how we add manuals to the AirCorps Library website, and make them look like they do, you’re not alone! Disclaimer – the process isn’t quick and easy! I’m not a digitizing wizard who can scan 30 manuals in a day and get them uploaded. While it might be impressive that I’m making that many manuals “live” everyday, there was a lot of work that happened over the past 2 years to make it possible. In the past several weeks I’ve been getting quite a few emails and Facebook messages with questions related to our process, but before I get into that, a word about the guy that made it all possible.
All the manuals that I have added in the last month (and will continue to add in the foreseeable future) are part of the Jay Wisler Collection. I’ve mentioned Jay in several emails to AirCorps Library subscribers, but never discussed him in a blog. Most people who have been involved with warbird restorations know Jay personally, or at the very least heard of him. He has helped countless individuals by providing parts, knowledge, and manuals to them when they needed it. Based in Tampa Bay FL, Jay has made his life’s work collecting aircraft, components, parts, and manuals.
In 2018 Jay was generous enough to allow us to digitize a large portion of his manual collection before it was sold. Jay’s collection was not small – during 2018 and 2019 I was spending almost 20 hours per week just scanning his manuals. After I finished, we were left with right around 4,500 digitized documents, aka my backlog. If you have any interest, Gary Norville of American Aero Services is the one selling the original versions of these manuals on EBay – CLICK HERE to check out the current items and manuals he has for sale.
Once the manuals from Jay’s collection were digitized, there was plenty of work to do editing, and saving them to our server, leaving a huge backlog of documents that needed to be added to the AirCorps Library website. This backlog is exactly what I have been plugging away at on a daily basis since I’ve been quarantined and working from home! So let’s dive in and pretend that I am scanning a single document from Jay’s collection, and completing the whole process of adding it to the website.
The first step when I receive a manual for scanning is to document it’s source. If you’ve ever donated anything to the site, you know that I ask everyone to sign a donor agreement indicating that you accept that it will be put on the AirCorps Library website, and available to the public. I consider it very important to connect a document to its donor, not only with this form, but for historical provenance. In addition, I am very careful to respect other organizations’ copyright and usage agreements. For example, if a manual originally came from an organization such as the Smithsonian, I know that I cannot make that manual available to the general public. Because of this, I can say with certainty that all the materials on the AirCorps Library site have been sourced from private individuals.
Once the donor agreement has been signed, I examine the structure of the manual so that I can determine what method of scanning will be appropriate. There are two main types of manuals: bound, and loose leaf. Loose leaf manuals are the most common, and are most commonly contained in ring or post binders that are easily disassembled so the pages can be removed. Once a loose leaf manual has been removed from its binder, I begin sorting through page by page. If there are any fold-out pages larger than the standard 8.5 x 11, or 2 pages still connected at the spine, I note this by turning them 90 degrees in the stack.
For scanning loose leaf manuals, we utilize a single pass scanner with an attached flatbed 11 x 17 module. This scanner allows me to scan different sized pages within a single manual when necessary. For example in a 20 page loose leaf manual with a foldout page located on page 11: I would use the single pass scanner to scan loose pages 1 through 10, and then scan larger 11 x 17 foldout (pages 11 and 12) on the flatbed scanner before returning to scan the remaining loose leaf pages (13 through 20) on the single pass scanner. The scanner software captures the pages in the order they are scanned, not by which scanner is utilized, so the resulting document pages are in the correct order, as long as they are scanned that way!
When scanning a book bound manual I utilize a cradle scanner that is gentle on the spine – never opening it farther than 90 degrees. The scanner uses a counterweight to press the manual under two panes of glass that are also in a 90 degree orientation, and uses multiple cameras to photograph each page. Occasionally, bound manuals contain foldout pages, and these must be scanned on the flatbed attachment of the scanner used for scanning loose leaf manuals. In this case, I would note the foldout page location by scanning a blank page into the file, and would add in the separately scanned pages into the appropriate place during the editing process.
Once a manual is scanned, I reassemble it if necessary, and in most cases return it to its original donor. We rarely acquire new manuals for our physical shop library unless they are of direct value to one of our restoration projects, or historically significant – there just isn’t enough space to keep everything. However, we have expanded quite a bit, our current physical library (and my office) used to be the conference room area before I came to work at AirCorps!
Once a manual has been scanned, the file must be reviewed and edited if necessary. Pages need to be rotated, and any pages scanned by a different scanner need to be inserted into their correct locations. Once a file is edited, I save it to our server for safekeeping. I have used the military tech order system to organize all the documents and manuals on our server so like information is grouped together. Because of this I have also standardized the file naming conventions for all manuals to include: document number, full title, manufacturer, latest revision date, and donor. With all this information in the document name, searching for manuals can be done using a variety of keywords and makes finding what we need much easier!
Following editing, the manual is uploaded to a cloud based system, and then processed into the correct format to be used on the website. The manual is broken down into individual pages, and thumbnails are created for each page. These thumbnails are the images you see when you are previewing a manual in a search result, or when you click the film icon in the manual viewer. There are a handful of other processes that occur during this step including optical character recognition (OCR), and a process that allows for increased resolution when you zoom in on a page!
Once a document has finished processing, it’s time to enter all the necessary information on the administrative side of the AirCorps Library website. During this step I create a specific placeholder within the structure of the site that details important details like document number, title, keywords, manufacturer, metadata, donor, sample pages, and more. When creating these pages, I try my utmost to enter any pertinent information that someone could use to find a given manual. I also have to make sure that the fields that are actively displayed to the public, such as title, revision date, document number, and donor are accurate and informative.
The final step of the uploading process is to place the manual in the specific unit where it belongs. This is the step that makes a manual “go live”, or in other words, viewable by a subscriber. Once I assign a manual to a unit (or sometimes multiple units), I open the public side of the site, find the document in its new home, and open it to make sure that everything is working properly. If the manual does not open, or if there is any kind of an error message, I reverse through the steps to see where the error occurred, and get it fixed.
While the process of uploading manuals is always the same, and quite repetitive, the fact remains that each manual is different and has unique information entered for it within AirCorps Library. The post processing step is perhaps the most important because it is where I enter the information that will allow a user to find the manual they are looking for.
AirCorps Library would not be where it is today without our fearless developer David Hatfield. David built the site from the ground up, and continues to make improvements and help me with day to day issues. As a pilot, aviation enthusiast, and of course computer programmer, David has been able to understand the unique needs of AirCorps Library users and create a website that is truly incredible!
From this explanation you have likely determined that if I was actually going through the whole process of scanning and uploading manuals in a single day, there would be a lot fewer additions each week. It is much more efficient to spend a block of time digitizing, and then upload manuals in batches. While the process is time consuming, I get a little thrill each time I add a new manual and make it live. We are currently at a total of almost 4,000 manuals on the site, and it’s sometimes hard to believe that we uploaded each one of them individually. With our daily goal of helping enthusiasts, mechanics, and operators do their best work to keep ‘em flying, each new manual added makes me feel pretty good!