(Metaphorically) In the Trenches with 3D Tech in Tuscany

This post, by FSU Libraries’ Digital Scholarship Librarian Matthew Hunter, is a repost from the Immersive Scholarship blog at https://immersivescholarship.create.fsu.edu. For more information about the work the Immersive Scholarship team is performing, or to discuss project ideas, please visit their site. For more information about the Cosa project and other Classical archaeology projects, check out the FSU Classics Department site at https://classics.fsu.edu/

This past June, I traveled to Italy to contribute to the long-running archaeological excavations at the ancient Roman site of Cosa. Perched on a beautiful coastal promontory overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea about halfway between Rome and Florence, the ruins of the ancient colony are surrounded by the sleepy modern town of Ansedonia and provide hints at both Republican and Imperial urban planning and building techniques later deployed across the Roman world. The current, FSU-led excavations at Cosa have been focused on a bath complex located within the ancient town, and add to a program of study that has explored the site since the late 1940s. The current multi-institutional focus on the bath complex, directed by FSU Classics professor Dr. Andrea De Giorgi, is meant to illuminate a particular iteration of one of the hallmarks of a “proper” civilized Roman colony town, the bathhouse, which were hubs for social life in the Roman period. The baths at Cosa are particularly interesting as a case study in large part due to the lack of a natural water source at the site. As there were no wells, springs, lakes, rivers, or streams to provide potable water, all water used at the site would have been rainwater collected into large cisterns built around the site. Strategically doling out this rainwater for necessities such as cooking and drinking, and for leisurely comforts such as fountains and the baths, was the work of a sustainability-minded town.

A view of Cosa’s Arx, including the capitolium and basilica, with a modern installation art piece “Dal Giorno Alla Notte” by Felice Levini during the 2023 Hypermaremma art festival

The current FSU excavations at Cosa began in 2013 when Dr. De Giorgi and a team of FSU Classical Archaeology graduate students set out to add to a long-running series of excavations carried out under the behest of the American Academy at Rome. Prior excavations have outlined the general city plan, uncovered a forum and details of the village, explored the houses of the residents, investigated the religious locus of the town in detailing several temples on the “Arx (which is a Latin term for both the geographic summit of the site as well as its focal center), and investigated the long afterlife of the town’s settlement through the medieval period. The current exploration of the bath complex seeks to understand the extent of the town’s interaction with the larger Roman world as a center for maritime trade and commerce. Over the last decade, the FSU Cosa Excavations have produced a robust contribution to the understanding of Roman bath technology, Republican-era colonies, and more in various formats including edited volumes, articles, presentations, and dissertations – with the culmination of the project a slated entry into the series of major site reports under the University of Michigan Press imprint. 

Under the direction of the current FSU team, recent excavations at the bath are invested in performing not only vital archaeological excavations to better understand the built environment, but to also incorporate cutting-edge archaeological methods and modern technologies as part of their investigations. Among these are the use of drone-based aerial mapping, LIDAR topology scanning, and (most importantly to my work) photogrammetric and 3D scanned digital recreations of excavation trenches, artifacts, and site features. The production of these digital records is intended to help future researchers access the scholarly material of the excavations in a format that is most suitable and available to them, increasing the generation of knowledge about the site and of Roman history in general. By embracing these technologies and the more openly-accessible opportunities they present for sharing their research widely, the team hopes to invite new audiences into accessing their work and increase the impact of their scholarship beyond readership of the site reports and scholarly publications. 

As part of the university libraries’ partnership with the Cosa team, I have been assisting in these efforts by consulting on a digital database project and by working with the team to contribute to digitization efforts for the past several years. This has included, for the past two years, scanning artifacts with a high-resolution 3D scanner to create digital replicas for future study.  

FSU Libraries + Classics

Though I have a background in Classics, my contribution at the site is not intended to be as a subject-matter expert. There are far more competent Classicists and archaeologists on staff supervising the excavation, and a fantastic team of student archaeologists each summer contributing to the hard and sweaty work of excavation. My job, rather, is to create a digital record of select finds deemed important enough to capture for future analysis in highly accurate 3D models. This is important for the team’s broader efforts of analysis and communication, as the archaeological site itself is only open for excavation during the month of June each year. Thoroughly recording all aspects of the process along the way helps analysis during the other 11 months of the year, and the addition of accurate 3D models can provide an additional aspect of data that the standard documentation photographs may not. This results in a flurry of activity to document, photograph, identify, describe, and scan as many finds and features as quickly as possible. This past season, for example, I was able to scan 65 models in just two weeks, which will allow for further analysis throughout the year, and bring the total of objects scanned to 109. These scanned models are in addition to the documentary “photomodels” of each excavation trench generated by the team using photogrammetry.

The process of scanning first requires the discovery of materials in the field by teams of students working under the direction of a team of trench supervisors with years of experience and graduate training in Classical Archaeology. When a potential artifact is discovered, the trench supervisor documents its location in the trench and its general characteristics, then sends it to the team working in the magazzino where it is classified and further recorded (including things like measurements and weight). Once the artifact is classified by the magazzino team, they work quickly to attempt an initial identification (i.e. type of pottery, type of coin, description of general sculptural features). They will then document this information and capture identification photos. Then, if the artifact is of particular noteworthiness or uniqueness, the team will set it aside for scanning, where it makes its way to my queue.

At this point, I use the library’s Artec Space Spider 3D to begin the process of scanning the object. This scanner uses a combination of structured light technology and real-time photogrammetry processing to capture surface topology and real-color images. Structured light scanning is a process by which a regular shape (usually a grid) of uniform dimension is projected onto a surface, then captured by a camera. Powerful software then analyzes the image to determine how that grid is altered by the surface of the object. When put together with enough other photographs of the deformed grid, the software can begin to triangulate features by comparing how the grid changes across the photo series.

Interested in Photogrammetry & 3D Capture?

Join the FSU Libraries Immersive Scholarship team this fall as we present our Photogrammetry Institute. For more details, check out the event schedule and prior event topics on our event page.

In addition to the structured light method, the 3D scanner I use also employs a trio of high-resolution digital cameras set at particular angles to capture an instantly-triangulated view of any object it is pointed at. By knowing the exact angle the three camera lenses are offset, the software that reconstructs the scan data can quickly patch together the surface and color information of a model in real-time. Paired with the higher-resolution structured-light approach, scans of objects ranging from coins all the way to statues can be captured in minutes with astounding detail. 

Once each object is scanned, there are a few processing tasks I need to perform on the models to clean them up for presentation and eventual upload. The software paired with the Artec scanner automates most of this workflow, but still requires some decent processing power and time. This usually means that for every 10 minutes I spend scanning an object, I also have to spend 20 or so minutes performing hands-on cleaning and editing, with an additional 20-30 total minutes of hands-off processing time required for the computer to run through the various merging and texturing algorithms to produce the final model.

Timelapse of the scanning process from 2022

When things run smoothly, it usually takes anywhere between 20 minutes to an hour to finish the entire process of digitizing an artifact – from scanning to exporting a finished digital model. Not accounting for any errors in scanning or processing, the whole procedure is rather smooth and almost meditative. Where things get tricky are with objects on the extremes of size. One of the major limitations of the structured-light approach is the set size of the projected light-grid. While this allows for great accuracy when surface features deflect the grid, any features smaller than the grid are easily lost or left unrecorded. This is most commonly a factor on very thin objects (like coins) where the edge between two faces only deflects a small portion of the grid at any one time. This presents a problem in that the scanner can sometimes interpret this minor deflection as merely incorrect data capture – or “noise” – rather than actual surface information. And as good as the software usually is at tracking where the object benign scanned is at all times, thin edges like this are usually where the scanner begins to get confused, which often breaks the model.

 However, once the model is scanned and processed, I then gather a set of important data about the object in a spreadsheet for upload into the Cosa team’s working database. The full database captures all aspects of the excavation and is a massive undertaking to organize and update throughout the year. My small portion of the database pulls the archaeological context for each digitized find, and adds data specific to the 3D modeling process. Eventually, the finalized information from this working database will be consolidated and uploaded to the FSU institutional repository, DigiNole for preservation and presentation.

Left image shows the various aligned scanned data points as brightly-colored triangles; the right image is the finalized, processed model with color and texture information added.

But for the 3D objects I have scanned, however, the process of inclusion in DigiNole will happen much sooner. Thanks to the hard work of the Web Development team at the FSU Libraries, a new feature in DigiNole will allow for users to view and interact with 3D objects natively, much in the same way that the platform already supports PDF and audio/visual materials. This new feature will allow users the ability to engage with the 3D-scanned Cosa objects starting as early as this Fall, while research is actively ongoing. This is an exciting development for the project, as it allows for the fruits of FSU research endeavors to be held and cared for in an appropriate context within an academic environment. This is especially important, as for the past several years, the Cosa team has been uploading their 3D models of excavation trenches and objects to the public 3D repository Sketchfab. While Sketchfab allows for easy interaction with 3D models by the general public, not all of its content is scholarly (nor is all of it family-friendly, posing other problems). And though Sketchfab has done a great job supporting the work of cultural heritage institutions working to digitize and share their collections in 3D, their preservation and archiving obligations are very different than academic institutions’. We are proud to begin offering digital repository storage for 3D objects in the near future, and look forward to partnering with other researchers across campus to begin filling our repository with high-quality, high-impact 3D scholarship.

If you are interested in learning more about 3D scanning or photogrammetry techniques, be sure to check out our upcoming event series this fall, the Photogrammetry Institute, where we will focus on hands-on workshops with campus partners. Likewise, you can check out the recordings of the Spring 2023 events on our site here. For more information on services the FSU Libraries’ Immersive Scholarship team provides, feel free to explore our site at https://immersivescholarship.create.fsu.edu.

3D scanning at Cosa with resident supervisor, “Amore” the cat.

Visit to the FSU Florence Study Center

Leah Sherman in Florence Study Center

In January 2023, Visual & Performing Arts Librarian Leah Sherman visited the FSU Florence Study Center as part of an extended research trip in Europe. In addition to her role at FSU Libraries, Leah is a current doctoral candidate in the Florida State Department of Art History and this spring semester she is on leave to conduct archival research toward her dissertation project.

As part of her fieldwork abroad, Leah visited archives and museums in Paris, France, and Genoa, Italy, and she was able to make a stop in Florence along the way. While visiting the study center, she met with several colleagues, including Florence Librarian Kate Dowling, and toured the spaces at the palazzo where the Study Center is newly located. Leah also offered a lecture on introductory Art History research skills to students in the Florence Study Center library.

Kate Dowling and Leah Sherman in Florence Study Center

Given Florence’s history as the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, the study of art history has long been a popular discipline among students studying abroad with FSU there, whether they intend to major in Art History or not. This talk was aimed at researchers for whom Art History as an area of study might be completely new, in hopes that they would go into their coursework informed about best practices in approaching research topics and materials that are unique to the history of art.

Leah visited the study center not only as the Arts Librarian from FSU, but also as a multigenerational alumnus of Florida State’s Florence study abroad program: she was a student there in spring of 2008, and her mother studied with FSU in Florence as well, earlier in the program’s history in spring 1969.

If you’re interested in studying abroad and experiencing all that FSU’s international campuses have to offer, check out FSU’s International Programs website.

This post was written by Leah Sherman, Visual and Performing Arts Librarian at FSU Libraries.

A Visit to Panama

By Lindsey Wharton, Extended Campus & Distance Services Librarian, & Michael Pritchard, Distance Services Library Associate

In February 2020, members of the FSU Libraries were hosted by the Florida State University – Panama campus in an effort to strengthen our partnership with the Panama students, faculty and staff. Our visit provided us the opportunity to promote library resources and services as well as learn about the teaching and learning experiences, both academic and culturally, of our students, staff, and faculty abroad. While Lindsey Wharton, the Extended Campus & Distance Services Librarian, had visited the Panama campus previously in 2014 and 2016, this was the first visit for both Michael Pritchard, Distance Library Services Specialist, and Dr. Gale Etschmaier, Dean of University Libraries. This campus visit marked an important occurrence for University Libraries and FSU Panama, as all were excited to reconnect with colleagues, work with the students, and introduce Dr. Etschmaier to the campus. 

Continue reading A Visit to Panama

Taking the Libraries #FSUGlobal: A Visit to London & Valencia

In August 2019, FSU Libraries once again had the opportunity to visit our international study centers as we travelled to London and Valencia to promote our library services and resources and learn more about the teaching, learning, and research experiences of our students and faculty abroad. While Mike Meth, Associate Dean for Research & Learning Services at FSU Libraries, and I had visited London and Florence in the summer of 2018, this was going to my first trip back to Valencia since 2015, and Mike’s first trip since he came to FSU in 2015. This trip was not going to be like any of our previous visits because we were going to experience the full excitement and vivacity of arrivals week. If you are unfamiliar with the workings of International Programs, Arrivals Week is when all the brand new freshman who are part of the First Year Abroad/First Semester Abroad first arrive on their respective campuses. During this week they are assigned flats, see the study center and the city for the first time, and get their first taste of FSU. 

My interest in experiencing Arrivals Week in-person went beyond just wanting to see this annual on-boarding live. I wanted to integrate an introduction to University Libraries and our online services and resources into the carefully planned orientation sessions. It was an opportunity to get students thinking critically about information and about academic research right from the onset of their college career.

London, 2019 Image by Mike Meth

We started our visit at the FSU London study center, a polished and statuesque set of townhouses in Bloomsbury, just a block away from the British Museum, it is an area bustling with tourists and locals alike. Our meetings here included updates and discussions with the entire London staff, brainstorming support strategies with the London Director and Associate Director, presentation and meeting with the London faculty, as well as time spent with the IT/Library Manager and staff. A good amount of our conversations focused on how the Libraries could support the textbook and course material needs of the faculty and students, giving us a chance to promote our Alternative Textbook Grants for International Programs program.. We were also able to speak to the students twice: a quick introduction to all the new students about FSU Libraries and then an orientation session where we were able to provide an hour long overview of University Libraries, our services at the  study center in London, and why using the Libraries is invaluable to students in their studies. It was a whirlwind of planning, exploring, collaborating, and teaching all in truly one of the most magical cities in the world.

Mike & Lindsey at FSU Valencia, 2019 Image by Mike Meth

We arrived in Valencia on a Thursday evening, and as soon as you step out of the airport, the warm, salty sea air transforms you. The study center is located next to one of the old city gates, and the remnants of the ancient city are everywhere, including the dorms, classrooms, and the offices of FSU Valencia. We were able to once again participate in the initial presentation meeting with the new students, and follow-up with a longer workshop for all the new freshman later in the week. Since we hadn’t visited in four years, the campus also organized a training session for the Valencia faculty in order to provide in-depth consultation on our resources and support services for teaching and learning. Mike and I also visited the libraries at the University of Valencia and the Polytechnic University of Valencia and toured the collections and facilities with the library staff. As all libraries become further interconnected and interdependent, exploring these connections and relationships abroad is an exciting new endeavor and we look forward to possible partnerships. FSU Valencia is unique to us because currently it is the only study center without a formal library space or designated library staff member. This requires thoughtful communication and outreach strategies so students and faculty are aware of the library services offered to them from FSU’s Tallahassee campus. 

Old city gate in Valencia, 2019 Image by Mike Meth

Our goal was to introduce students to all that theFSU Libraries have to offer, our hundreds of databases, millions of eBooks, our 24/5 chat service, and guidance for students as they embark on this scholarly journey. There are so many resources at our fingertips to further enrich the global experience. Study abroad transforms just as Florida State University transforms. FSU Libraries provides the foundation for our students’ growth into scholars so that they can use all they have learned to transform the future. 

Flamenco, 2019 Image by Mike Meth

These visits inspire me and my work as a librarian in so many ways. I am captivated by the work of the staff of the study centers – their passion, their long hours and careful planning, their care for the students, their ability to create a home away from home, while providing a taste of what Florida State University has to offer.  All this in a beautiful city. I am awed by the teaching and the faculty – how they use every aspect of the city to provide a completely unique and encompassing learning experience. And I am energized by the students – leaping out of their bubble and all the comforts of the known to embrace and open up to the unknown, growing as scholars, as learners, as people throughout their months abroad. As with any trip surrounded by these type of people, there were so many magical and unexpected moments: fiery flamenco in a small, packed bar, museums so big it makes art feel endless and unfathomable, experiencing the happenings of Brexit in real time, sailing on the perfect blue Mediterranean. But, that’s the point, isn’t it? To experience the things that transform us.

FSU Libraries Abroad: A Visit to Florence & London

Ponte Vecchio in Florence

In April 2018, Lindsey Wharton (Extended Campus and Distance Services Librarian) and Mike Meth (Associate Dean of Research and Learning Services) travelled to FSU’s international campuses in Florence and London. The goal of our visit was to familiarize ourselves with the the libraries and study centers there, meet the students and faculty, and strategize about library services and support for students and faculty studying abroad. The timing of our trip was fortuitous as it coincided with the conclusion of the spring semester and much of our experience was shaped by seeing students who had spent either their last semester or their whole first year abroad.

The FSU Florence study center is located on a quiet street within the city center, only about a ten minute walk from the duomo (photo below) or the ponte vecchio (photo above). Located within a renaissance palazzo, the building is everything you would expect from Florentine architecture, including vaulted ceilings decorated with historic frescos. The library and computer lab is hidden within a quiet courtyard, two doors over from the study center, and up a flight of stairs. Although not in the same building, the library is well used and also includes a faculty lounge. As we toured the library space with Amy (our iSchool intern in Florence), students were busy studying for finals with the same intensity we all expect in our main campuses libraries. Books line library walls from floor to ceiling, with individual and group study spaces dispersed throughout the four rooms. The Florence library intern works with the help of student workers to curate the book collection, assist students with textbooks on reserve and research questions. She also works with faculty to teach information literacy lessons and orient students to library services. During our visit, we heard numerous compliments about the work she was doing and how valued her contributions are.

FSU London is located on a beautiful street in Covent Garden, just a block away from the monumental British Museum. The study center is situated in a set of seven historic row houses, a remarkable fresco embellishing the ceiling of the main building. In the basement of the main building, sits the library which houses about 9,000 volumes. Students in the London study center have easy access to the library, as the student accommodations and classrooms are all accessible through maze-like hallways in the basement that connect the seven row houses. The London library is comparable in size and feel to a school library. The library has a front room where the staff and student workers sit in an open area, and where textbooks for short-term loan can be borrowed. The collection is in the larger room with shelves full of historic and modern titles and a large cabinet of DVDs. The London library is managed by the study center IT team, Lloyd and Dan, who focus on ordering materials, checking out the textbooks on reserve, and assisting patrons with a multitude of technology issues.

During our visit in both study centers, we spent time with the leadership of the centers, faculty and students. Throughout our conversations, we explored a wide range of topics, ranging from Aleph implementation to staffing and training. Since neither library has a full time librarian, we will continue working with the study centers to provide services from Tallahassee and to train the staff in both locations. While FSU students studying at our campuses abroad do not have access to our main campus libraries, we still want them to have a fulfilling library experience and provide them with the support and resources they need to succeed. From our 24/5 Ask A Librarian chat service to our citation management software, many of our services and resources are equally useful as whether you are studying in Strozier or in your Florence apartment.

For more information about the Florence Study Center, visit http://www.florence.fsu.edu/.
For more information about the London Study Center, visit https://international.fsu.edu/london/.

Here are some photos from our summer adventure.

Duomo in Florence

Gelato in Florence

Fresco in FSU London Study Center

Mike at British Library

Lindsey and Mike Outside FSU London Study Center


The Contested Future of the Book, Part 1

*This post is from Abby Scheel, one of our three humanities librarians.

A couple weeks ago I was fortunate enough to represent FSU Libraries at two meetings near Dupont Circle in Washington, DC.  Both meetings dealt in different ways with one of the most contested issues for academic libraries and scholars: the scholarly monograph.  There is so much to share from both meetings that I’m going to break this report-back into two parts.  Today is the Association of Research Libraries Fall Forum: Wanted Dead or Alive – The Scholarly Monograph.

The ARL Fall Forum addressed the future of the book directly and with maximum controversy (see title above). Based on a title like that you might think this is yet another session extolling the demise of the book and the dawn of the age of all things digital. Yes and no. The scholarly monograph is still king in humanities disciplines because of its connection with promotion and tenure. But it’s time to stop privileging the monograph published in print by an academic press over other means of disseminating the “long-form argument.” How to and why do this? What are the ramifications of this move? This was what the presenters all addressed during the daylong forum that included points of view from all sides of the issue, from faculty, librarians, and publishers in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia. Here are a few of the highlights of the day in my own words: Continue reading The Contested Future of the Book, Part 1