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Hardware Ergonomics

Digitization Program Planning

When digitization expands beyond small quantities, it becomes very important to consider the ergonomics of repetition. A mass digitization program and a factory assembly line have much in common, including the potential peril of prolonged poor ergonomics. Many technicians will use digitization hardware more than a thousand hours each year, so ergonomics can have a profound impact on both their personal well being and the quality and consistency of their work product.

Types of Releases, Triggers & Actuators

Anything the technician repeatedly clutches or pushes needs to be examined. Repeated motions which require even modest strain should be avoided wherever possible. If there is a locking or lifting mechanism, it needs to open/close with minimal force. When possible, a foot pedal should take the place of hand-operated triggers/switches, as this improves ergonomics, encourages active posture, and frees the hands for object handling and other mechanically complex tasks. When using hand triggers, it is preferable to use the base of the palm rather than a clutching or grabbing motion, as this is a lower tension activity and is less likely to cause repetitive stress discomfort or injuries. When any repetitive lifting must be accomplished (e.g. to raise/lower a glass platen), it is far preferable in long-term use to utilize a system that has power-assisted movements rather than rely on the manual force of the technician. This is an obvious consideration for heavy items as the consequences are quickly manifest, but it is also true for light loads (e.g. small platens) over long term use.


If a technician sits during digitization, their chair is of paramount importance. In particular DTDCH has found the HAG Capisco Ergonomic Chair to be especially useful in a mixed digitization environment, as it can be used forward or backward. The armrests provided in the backward position can be conducive to a resting position for some types of digitization. However, there is no ‘golden’ chair that is perfect for everyone. The right chair for any given technician is the one they find comfortable while maintaining good posture and low strain during the movements required by their role in the digitization process.

“Ergonomics is incredibly important. The biggest impact to us is the chairs we use. We like the Trooper task chair (armless) high back TR-HAM and mid-back TR-MAM.”
Marge Thompson, Manager of Digital Photographic Services, Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska


Standing vs. Sitting Desks

Some institutions have begun experimenting in recent years with standing desks, usually with models which allow conversion between a standing height and a sitting height. This allows the technician to vary their posture, and may help some technicians avoid fatigue, back pain, and boredom. Program Managers for mass digitization efforts should consider the minor added cost of a standing desk, as comfort of the technician (and injury/fatigue) is paramount in maintaining consistent preservation-grade results.

“The staging area at our large-format workstation is just over 14″ high (editor’s note: this is not a DTDCH station), which is an unbelievably awkward height for working on just about anything. It also necessitates the need to be up on one’s feet, so bending over to look at a screen between shots adds insult to injury. The Assistant Director of our department sent over a standing desk that wasn’t being used, which gave us an opportunity to test out the ergonomic impact before going all in. Needless to say, our Collections Photographer loved the new desk. We ended up ordering 3 more, settling on The Uplift 900 from The Human Solution. I’m sure there are many other comparable solutions out there, but we liked the design/impact/simplicity to price ratio. I have since had the opportunity myself to work with the desk and our ridiculously low large-format staging area, and I enjoy the combination quite a bit. CH Imaging is much more enjoyable on one’s feet and with a little music on.”

Eric Shows, Assistant Manager, Digital Imaging Unit, New York Public Library


Flash vs. Continuous Lighting

Digitization programs vary wildly in number of captures in a day. For special collections, such as rare and fragile paintings, it may only be possible to make a handful of total captures. In such cases, a flash-based solution is entirely non-problematic. On the other end of the spectrum, a digitization program consisting of bound materials using a DT BC100 Book Capture System might reasonably create 3,000 captures per day; digitizing homogeneous 4x6 photo prints might reasonably create 6,000 captures per day. In such high-volume scenarios, the use of strobe lighting will strain the technician.
There is no hard limit to the number of flashes per day that is still considered comfortable for the operator. It will vary greatly based on the person, the brightness of the strobe, the ambient illumination, and where the light is relative to the technician. As a general rule of thumb,continuous lighting should be strongly considered anytime a technician will be expected to produce more than a few hundred captures in a shift. Since the technician plays a considerable role in this equation, we suggest they be included in the decision making process. We also advise selecting a modular digitization system that allows for switching between strobes and ambient light; the needs and limitations of the technician and the institution may change and such flexibility means the lighting can be changed rather than requiring switching to an entirely different digitization system.


Light Shielding

Whether using continuous or flash illumination, it is preferable to set up the lighting and physical space in a way that allows the technician to be largely shielded from looking directly into a bright light. Solutions for this can include dedicated hardware ranging from as high-end grid accessories to a simple flag made of gaffer tape and black matteboard. Alternatively, a hat or visor may reduce eye stress when the light source is positioned above the technician.

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