May 18, 2022

Robots and Digitization: "Digitizing a Visual History of Baltimore"

From the The Gazette (Johns Hopkins University):

More DIY than R2D2, a student-invented robot will help preserve and archive 115 years of photographic black history in Baltimore, and could soon be made available to museums and archives around the country.

Thomas Smith, creator of the robot named Gado, spent a good portion of his senior year at Johns Hopkins tinkering on the machine, an open source robotic scanner designed for sensitive archival materials. He enjoyed the project so much, he never left.

Smith, who graduated last May with a degree in cognitive science and anthropology, conceived of the device following a visit to Baltimore’s Afro-American newspaper in spring 2010. He hoped to add visual elements to an oral history project he was working on with the Johns Hopkins Center for Africana Studies’ Diaspora Pathways Project.


Historical images such as those on file at The Afro are sought after by other news publications, documentary filmmakers and historians. A historical image license can be sold for between $200 and $700, depending on the medium.

Smith said he anticipates that Gado 2, once completed, will scan 20,000 more images this year, enough to launch a licensing website. He also wants to sign an agreement with at least one other archive or museum.

Moira Hinderer, an archivist with the Sheridan Libraries and a lecturer in the History Department and the Center for Africana Studies, said, “The Afro’s collection is just such an incredibly rich visual resource in African-American history. It will keep scholars busy for years. It’s my hope that Tom’s efforts will bring these photographs before a much broader audience,” she said. “Certainly this could be a wonderful resource for local educators and students.”

Much More in the Complete Story

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.