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Edmon Low Library
image of Soil Erosion and Conservation on the Southern Plains

Soil Erosion and Conservation on the Southern Plains

About the Collection

The Dust Bowl was one of the worst man-made ecological disasters in US history. It ravaged the southern Great Plains for nearly eight years during the 1930s. Government agencies like the soil conservation service were dispatched to a drought-stricken farmers and ranchers.

Housed in Oklahoma State University Library’s Archives, is a collection of more than 500 images from the soil conservation service that document many aspects of the Dust Bowl. These images were captured on a lesser-known format called glass lantern slides.

When the soil conservation service was established in 1935, its agents started working with farmers to lessen the effects of soil erosion. Many of these agents documented their efforts on glass lantern slides.

Initially they mostly documented damage to illustrate the impact of continuing poor agricultural practices. Later they also began capturing images of improvements including the use of furrows to limit soil loss from winds and contours that curb erosion from water runoff. Through the collection, one can see a progression from the damage to dealing with it and then to the positive results from working with new best practices.

About the Digitization Process

Before the collection could be properly digitized, there was processing work to complete. The glass slides required cleaning and were then organized and placed in appropriate acid-free containers.

When it came time to begin scanning, the nature of the medium required a bit of finesse. Normally, the image being scanned sits directly on the scanner plate. With glass lantern slides, the image is actually a fraction of inch off the scanner bed. Staff made adjustments to the focus point of the scanner to ensure the highest quality scan possible.

Original scans are saved as .tiff files, which have a very large file size, but are the archival standard at the time. A quick-loading .jpg viewing copy is then produced for online display. Before the images could be placed online, curators had to examine each image and manually enter the descriptive metadata so the collection could be searchable.

Access the Physical Collection

The glass lantern slides are housed in the Archives. They can be consulted by appointment in the Archives office (2nd floor) of the Edmon Low Library at Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma. For more information please contact the Archives at 405-744-6311 libscua@okstate.edu.