(Note: In the interest of long term access, we will occasionally post material to The Signal that was previously published only on our website. The following is an updated version of an article from our “Meeting the Challenge” series.)
Saving the nation’s cultural heritage is an increasingly important matter for government agencies that hold large amounts of material documenting the national record. While saving traditional printed archival materials continues to be important, the exponential growth of digitized material, and collections, has created a new set of challenges related to producing and preserving materials in digital format over the long term.
Individual government agencies are all digitizing different content, yet they share many of the same technical issues and concerns. Since 2007, the Library of Congress has been participating in a specialized collaboration – the “Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative“ – aimed at facilitating the sharing of information and tools for the digitizing of cultural heritage materials. In addition to the advantages for federal agencies, the hope is that other organizations and the public will also benefit.
At present, 18 federal agencies are involved, with two major working groups formed for specialized areas: the Still-Image Working Group , to focus on the scanning of text, maps, photographic prints and negatives, and the Audiovisual Working Group , to focus on the digitizing of sound recordings, video recordings, motion picture film, and born-digital content. (See this page for a complete list of agency participants.)
One highlight has been the major set of guidelines released last year by the Still Image group – the “Technical Guidelines for Digitizing Cultural Heritage Materials”. This document represents current, shared, best practices, and is meant to serve not only the agencies, but libraries in general, as well as digitization service providers, equipment manufacturers, and other technologists.
The products of the working groups are not considered to be static, but are continually updated and posted to the website. See this page for the current list of guidelines from both groups. And for specific updates on each of the working groups, see the recent blog posts about the Still Image Group and Audiovisual Group.
Although the Library of Congress served as convener during the formative stages, no one institution is a leader in this collaborative effort. “All the government agencies are in a similar situation; there are certain types of materials that you know exactly what to do with,” said Steve Puglia, Manager of Conversion Services at the Library of Congress. “In the still-imaging area, there are certain baseline approaches that already work well. One challenge we are currently facing is to create good procedures for quality assurance and quality control. Fixing things upfront in the process is really important, and will result in the best-quality final product.”
By combining forces, participating agencies are saving time and resources. James Mauldin, manager of the Office of Archival Management at the Government Printing Office, acknowledges the benefits of this effort for his agency. In addition to the document specifications already used by the GPO, Mauldin says that “working collaboratively with other agencies will provide greater coverage of all types of documents, such as maps, medical diagrams, and posters.”
There are also a number of related resources available through the website, including a glossary of more than 200 digitization-related terms, which covers common terminology such as “megapixel”, as well as the more arcane, such as “scotopic sensitivity”. A resources page contains links to relevant presentations, bibliographies and other documentation, and is updated periodically.
One of the major goals of this project all along has been to gather continuous feedback, and links for submitting comments appear throughout the site. By encouraging interaction with the public, manufacturers, libraries, other agencies and organizations, it is hoped that these materials will grow even more robust over time. As summed up by Puglia, “The more open the process, the more feedback we can get from all communities, then the better off we are going to be.”
Stay tuned to The Signal for periodic updates on this project.