Publication of Archival Library and Museum Materials
Publication of Archival Library and Museum Materials
Publication of Archival Library and Museum Materials
The Literature For Children Collection

Color Management

  • Color in Literature for Children
  • Color Management Strategies

Color In Literature For Children

Images from: Little Sarah. (Boston : W. J. Reynolds & Co., [1851?])

One of the ways to gauge the place of color in children's literature is to consider not only its denotative value but also, and perhaps more importantly, its connotative influence on readers. John Cech, author of studies on children's literature, in support of this project, has noted:

"aesthetically, color illustration offered the artist a new, wider vocabulary for representation, thus contributing dramatically to an expansion of the emotional meaning and other visual information … in a given work".

In Myth, Magic, and Mystery : One Hundred Years of American Children's Book Illustration (Boulder, CO : Roberts Rinehart Publishers, 1996), Michael Patrick Hearn quoted James Johnson Sweeney, former director of the Museum of Modern Art as follows:

"… children's book illustration should never be seen as merely a vessel for the conveyance of information. Its real role is that played by a Gothic stained glass window in the Middle Ages, or a mosaic in the apse of a Romanesque church."

Although not specifically stating the nature of the illustrations (i.e., color and/or black and white) it is very clear from the two examples that he gives, that he has color in mind: Gothic stained glass and Romanesque mosaics were rather seldom done in anything other than color. In the same vein, Lucy Rollin, another author of studies on children's literature, in support of this project, wrote:

"Our culture creates, uses, and responds to literature, even what might be considered ephemeral, for it is in the ephemera, really, that a culture truly reveals itself; such artifacts are its unguarded moments."

Through the end of the 18th century only a very small portion of book illustrations were colored, and then only by hand. Such extra effort was expensive, and therefore available only to the privileged few who could afford to present their children with more realistic representations of the world about them. With the full-blown implementation and acceptance of mechanical color printing during the 19th century, such "natural" representations of the real world - and indeed of the fantastic world of the imagination - moved from the privileged few to the mass market. Peter Hunt, in his Children's Literature, an Illustrated History (Oxford, England : Oxford University Press, 1995), provides the locus for explanation:

"For most of the early nineteenth century, colour book illustrations had meant colouring by hand, but the development of mechanical colour printing, especially by Edmund Evans, brought an immense improvement in coloured picture-books for children in the last quarter of the century."

Coloring By Hand

Image from: A B C of games. (London : Pubd. by A. Park, [ca. 1855])
Image from variant states of: Jingles & jokes for little folks. (New York : McLoughlin Bros., c1869.)


Image from: Field, Louise A. Peter Rabit and His Ma. (Chicago, IL : Saafield Pulbishing, 1917))

To understand just how "immense" such an improvement in producing children's books with color illustrations was in the last quarter of the 19th century is only possible by examining those decades in which the process actually advanced.

In support of the need for preservation of color information in addition to that conveyed through black and white surrogates, Michael Patrick Hearn indirectly provided an additional rational for such work. He noted that "the purpose of an illustration is to be reproduced, not displayed, and artists have employed certain short cuts that have not always added to the life of the art. They often scrimped on material. Papers discolor or disintegrate, colors fade, glues dry out." It is likely that very few examples of the original artwork for the color illustration of children's books during the second half of the nineteenth century survive beyond their published versions. Conservation surveys, completed in the University of Florida's Baldwin Library of Historical Children's Literature, found that published material is now seriously in danger of self-destruction.

Images from: Little Sarah. (Boston : W. J. Reynolds & Co., [1851?])

Color Management Strategies

While microfilm remains the only currently accepted medium for preservation reprography, preservation microfilm is an inadequate means of preserving color information. Because a sizable percentage of children's literature contains color in some format: illustration, frontispiece, title page information, book cover(s), the Literature for Children's organizers considered four color management strategies.

An optimal color management strategy must affordably preserve color, with reasonable maintenance requirements, and provide timely access to color content together with the monochromatic information accompanying it.

Monochrome And Continuous Tone Microphotography

This traditional method of preservation microfilming does not provide a functional response to the needs addressed above. Because monochrome and continuous tone microphotography reduces all information to shades of gray, such an approach implies an acceptance of color loss, and because there is no capture of the color information contained in children's books, it is an inadequate strategy for overall intellectual color management.


Images from: The dogs' grand dinner party. (New York : McLoughlin Brothers, c1869.)
Images from: Edgeworth, Maria, 1767-1849. The bracelets, or, Amiability and industry rewarded. (Philadelphia : Geo. S. Appleton, 1850.)

Three-color Process Microphotography

The three-color process is a traditional, if rarely used, method of monochrome microphotography that would produce film that meets the requirements of preservation microfilming. The process is the analog equivalent of separating a digital image into component color channels. For any single source-document page, three exposures are created. The first exposure is made with standard white lighting, followed by reshoots with, respectively, a yellow filter and a blue filter. Each exposure is committed to preservation microfilm per RLG preservation microfilming guidelines.

The split color components (red, green, & blue), below, of the digital image are roughly comparable to the color-filtered images of the Three-Color Process

Images from: The dogs' grand dinner party. (New York : McLoughlin Brothers, c1869.)
Images from: Edgeworth, Maria, 1767-1849. The bracelets, or, Amiability and industry rewarded. (Philadelphia : Geo. S. Appleton, 1850.)

Color is restored through an on-demand process of additional color filtering and amalgamation of the filtered separations into one color offprint. The multiple exposures would adversely affect project cost; and color restoration, when necessary, would be prohibitively expensive. Three-color process microphotography, at best, is an oblique strategy for color management.

Color Microphotography

Color microfilming would immediately and simply meet the requirement for color image capture. Color microfilm, however, does not meet the requirements for preservation microfilming as recognized by RLG preservation microfilming guidelines. Nonetheless, the Commission on Preservation and Access (CPA), reviewing the findings of its commissioned study of color microphotography, found Ilfochrome Classic (formerly, Ilford's Cibachrome) microfilm to be an acceptable method for preserving color illustration. Ilfochrome Classsics' Azo dyes are legendary for their longevity (i.e., light fastness) in dark, cold storage to AIIM standard (IT9.11).

But, the reasons for not electing color microphotography as a color management strategy are several; each is a factor of time and cost. CPA's report points to the difficulties of Ilfochrome Classic in the production environment. "With respect to sensitometry, Cibachrome film is slower and has higher contrast making it somewhat more difficult to work with," the report concludes. Instructions for the film's MRD camera controller unit illustrate the detail of care that must be taken. Exposure time is nominally 5% greater than that required for standard monochrome microfilm. And, the report continues, "local environmental laws may make processing Cibachrome film difficult;" a reference to the climate controls that must be taken both during exposure and developing, as well as, in storage of the film.

The word "environmental" might be substituted with the word, "economical". The cost of Ilfochrome Classic compares negatively to that of a hybrid procedure involving standard microfilming for preservation followed by controlled digitization of color content. "Finally," the report concludes, "in the case of service and use copies of [Ilfochrome Classic] film, handling damage may nullify any longevity benefit gained". In its more extensive report, "Preserving the Illustrated Text", also dated 1992, the authors describe Ilfochrome Classic as an "intermediate technology". Indeed, the report calls for use of "mixed" technologies of standard microfilming for preservation and digitization of images for color illustrations.

Images from: The dogs' grand dinner party. (New York : McLoughlin Brothers, c1869.)
Images from: Edgeworth, Maria, 1767-1849. The bracelets, or, Amiability and industry rewarded. (Philadelphia : Geo. S. Appleton, 1850.)

Hybrid Monochrome Microtogrophy With Color Digitization

Color digitization converts color information to a digital stream of zeros and ones; any given combination may represent one of twenty-four million colors. Calibrated scans generate "true" colors. And, assuming calibrated monitors, displayed color information is as faithfully as it was when captured. Digital color when optimally maintained and migrated, is stable within active use, storage and across generations as it migrates forward. And, color information can be made readily and universally available via the Internet, in contrast to the dull and limited capacity of the three color process.

But, like color microphotography, digitization is not a recognized means of preservation. In a community traditionally focused upon media life expectancy, digital media, hardware and software each are relatively short-lived. Monitoring industry trends and digital assets requires more attentiveness if not more skill than maintaining a color film archive. Standards and methods for digital image creation, archiving, and migration are not fully agreed upon or well tested. But, access to storage facilities and the availability of experienced staff for the support of digital images, in contrast to that for color film, is good. A hybrid method, microfilming for preservation and digitizing for access, efficiently designed, is optimal.

This project proposes to use the hybrid method; and the particular method adopted by this project is exactly as recommended by the Commission on Preservation and Access' report on "Preserving the Illustrated Text". Monochrome microphotography is not truly a color management strategy. Both the three-color process and color microphotography are neither sound or fiscally justifiable strategies. To mitigate the extensive storage requirements that would result from 24-bit scanning of whole volumes with limited amounts of color, all volumes initially will be preservation microfilmed. Subsequently, the microfilm will be converted into digital surrogates in 8-bit gray-scale. Pages with color information, scanned from the source document by either flatbed scanner or digital camera, will replace the page images from the converted microfilms.

Images from: The dogs' grand dinner party. (New York : McLoughlin Brothers, c1869.)
Images from: Edgeworth, Maria, 1767-1849. The bracelets, or, Amiability and industry rewarded. (Philadelphia : Geo. S. Appleton, 1850.)