The Photographs of Dr. Cook: 
From Albums in the Attic to Digital CD


By Laura J. Kissel/Polar Curator
The Ohio State University
Byrd Polar Research Center Archival Program

The Background for the project

It is a well-known fact among Cook scholars that Dr. Cook was an excellent photographer. The Cook Collection housed at The Ohio State University Archives (OSUA) is rich in photographic resources. However, the Polar Collections as a whole are not typically used by the University community, but rather by patrons not located near the Archives. This situation necessitates a process in which we can provide a viewing copy of images for patrons so that they can make selection decisions. To improve this process, over the past year we have been busy scanning selected categories of images from the Frederick A. Cook Society (FACS) Collection.

Mt. McKinley, 1903, 1906

'Snow above 20,000 ft. was packed hard'

On the west ridge in 1903


Barrill with flag in 1906, ..
Cook's summit photo.. 

Cutting ice steps during the climb


Issues to Consider

What are the benefits of scanning the images to CD-ROM? The major benefit of the CD-ROM is the enhanced access to the collection. Prior to the availability of the CD (and currently for unscanned collections), when a patron requests images from the collection (and does not visit us here to view the collection in person), the images are photocopied. We then either fax or mail the photocopies to the patron for selection. This process is subjective, based on what I select to send to the patron. For example, if a patron wanted to see all of the Mt. McKinley 1906 images, it would be necessary for them to narrow their request, based on the sheer number of images. The CD-ROM allows us to send the entire scanned collection of images to the patron for a nominal price of $25.00. Selection decisions are then based on a much broader range of images.

Another benefit is that the CD-ROM makes the process of reproducing images for patrons easier and faster. We currently use two processes for photographic print reproduction. The traditional method involves printing the image from a negative in our on-campus lab. Turn-around time at the lab can range anywhere from 5-25 working days, depending on the work load at the lab. The availability of scanned images on CD-ROM enables us to print them in house. Using a Kodak printer with photographic quality paper enables us to produce beautiful images. We are finding that patrons are requesting digital copies of the images more and more. During the scanning process, the images were first scanned at high resolution and saved and then bumped down to a low resolution image and saved. We have retained the high resolution images here, so we can respond quickly to patron requests. The image has been scanned and handled one time to provide both electronic scans. This will reduce wear and tear on the collection, since future prints/scans can be copied from the master CD-ROM.

Finally, one of the chief benefits of the CD-ROM is to provide a record for the Frederick A. Cook Society. Since the Cook photograph collection is split between OSU and the Library of Congress, the CD-ROM is a valuable tool in keeping track of what images are housed in which repository.

What images should be scanned? We decided what should be scanned based purely on past usage of the collection. The scanning process is too laborious to scan images that are never or little used. Therefore, we determined that we would scan all of Dr. Cook's expeditionary photographs and the historical personal/portrait images. Categories of images that we decided not to scan at this time include categories of images such as photographs of Cook Society meetings, Dr. Cook's travel photographs, and images of subjects only tangentally related to the collection (such as Helene Vetter's family pets, etc.). Should there ever become a demand for these images, we could later go back and scan them.

What resolution should be used? As mentioned previously, the images on the CD-ROM that we provide to patrons are scanned at low resolution. We were concerned with maintaining control over the collection, so we did not want to provide a CD with high resolution images that could easily be used in publication (both digital and traditional), without our knowledge and permission. Publishers must give proper credit when using any of our images. The CD, therefore, is to be used as a reference tool for selecting images. Once selections have been made, permission forms completed, and proper fees paid, we can provide a print or higher resolution digital image.

Are there any disadvantages of the CD? In order to use the CD effectively, one must have a copy of the FACS finding aid. The file names on the CD correspond directly to the box and folder number where the original image is housed in the collection. This makes it convenient for us to look up original images, if necessary. However, it makes the CD difficult to use as a stand-alone item.

I have had some comments concerning the size of images on the computer monitor. Some software programs are displaying the images in a very tiny size, based on the low resolution of the images. Essentially, the software is trying to display the image clearly, but the low resolution causes the image size to be reduced. The software used to produce the CD was Adobe Photoshop. This program has settings that can be changed to view the image in a larger format. Other image programs may have similar settings.

Another apparent disadvantage is the lack of caption information. However, many images in the collection are not captioned anyway. The best practice here would be to contact me concerning particular images and I can look at the original to see if there is, in fact, a caption.

The 'Kite', 1901

Northern Greenland shoreline near Smith Sound

On the glacier

The Bowdoin, the expedition's ship

Some of the crew

Bottom to top:
Herbert Bern, Prof. Limond Stone, Louis Berment, Clarence Wyckoff & Alfred Church`

Captain Moses Bartlett on the lookout

What's Next

Over all, I believe that the CD-ROM product has been successful, and is a valuable resource. The CD is especially useful for projects where a large number of images is desired. However, for those who prefer the old fashioned way, I am still happy to provide photocopies of images for selection purposes. I am very interested in feedback about the CD, so those of you who have copies, please contact me with your comments. Anyone who wishes to purchase a copy of the CD can contact me at The Ohio State University Archives by phone (614-688-8173) or e-mail (

Copyright 2005 - The Frederick A. Cook Society