Source: Digitization Basics: Reflections on some Early Projects


Earlier in my work in libraries and museums, and before this course, which I consider to be my formal introduction to learning about and engaging with Digital Art History texts and projects, I participated in a few digitization projects undertaken by Arts and Humanities organizations. I will summarize my duties and lessons learned in this post, and try to square these experiences with some points in this week’s readings, which include Besser and Hubbard’s Introduction to Imaging from the Getty Research Institute[1], Cohen and Rosenzweig’s “Becoming Digital”[2], and a selection of helpful online guidelines and recommendations for digitization and format specifications.

As part of my job as a paid Advocacy Intern with the Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts in 2008, I completed a photo-documentation project recording significant architectural changes to storefronts, apartment buildings, hotels, places of worship, museums, and other building types on and around Madison Avenue. The project was completed in part by my walking around on Fall mornings, snapping photos on a digital camera of a long list of historic buildings (yes, it was a dream). I would then come back to the office and start comparing my new photos to those based of slides from the 1970’s. This was a small-scale digitization project in the sense that I assisted in getting images from slides scanned digitally, but the project remained a resource for internal use, so the accessibility factor that is often the impetus for mass digitization was not at play here. The project served (and I hope serves still!) as a quick reference for staff and volunteers who would then use the information gathered on walking tours of the neighborhoods.

My next experience with digitization was as a Curatorial Fellow at the Asheville Art Museum in a 2-year position federally funded by the National Endowment for the Arts/Institute of Museum and Library Services. The digitization aspect of this position included loading TIFF images from the Museum’s internal database to a digital gallery in a newly created Word Press site that highlighted the Museum’s Black Mountain College Collection. I cleaned up existing metadata and/or generated new descriptive material for this publicly accessible site.[3] The digitization aspect was one of many outcomes of my work there, which also included organizing or co-organizing exhibitions and a speaker series, and digitization in this context was all for the purpose of accessibility to the work and visibility of the Museum’s impressive Black Mountain College collecting area.

My most recent experience with digitization was a more comprehensive learning experience. I started working at the Digital Production Center at Wilson Library last summer as a part-time Temporary Research Assistant. The Digital Production Center operates under the Preservation Department, and takes on the task of digitizing Wilson Library’s Special Collections holdings: The Southern Historical Collection, the Rare Books Collection, the Southern Folklife Collection, The North Carolina Collection, and University Archives. There are so many collections under each of these major Special Collection groups being digitized that a priority system was set up so that researchers, instructors, and other patrons could receive the digitized papers requested in a timely fashion, and in the relative downtime entire collections could be digitized in batches here and there as time allowed.

On my first day on the job, I was able to scan manuscripts from a Civil War-era collection on the Zeutschel, a top of the line digital scanner. After a few hours scanning, cropping and correcting on Photoshop, and running a quick script to create a metadata file, I was first exposed to the CONTENTdm digital management system and its metadata standard – the Dublin Core.  As we discussed in class last week, the Dublin Core is a fine standard for many Digital Humanities projects that deal with text, but lacks the flexibility to accommodate the image-based new digital Art History projects.

The image files we dealt in at the DPC, and that I uploaded to the web portal at the Asheville Art Museum were TIFFS, whereas (if my memory serves me correctly!), they were not necessarily the image file format for the early project I describe above – a JPEG seems more likely and also adequate for the scope of that project.

Besser and Hubbard state that “one of the requirements for the establishment of useful, sustainable, and scalable digital image collections – collections that are interoperable with broader information systems – was the development and implementation of data and technology standards.”[4] I hope and expect that interoperability is an ideal for the near-future of digital collections, with the exciting possibilities of linked data and the semantic web of overwhelming interest to all information fields, including Digital Humanities and Art History. However, it is still often a worthwhile endeavor to simply get material digitized and accessible to a larger audience than it was before, even if the database and metadata used to make that happen is not yet as standardized as it possibly could be.

As I mentioned in a peer response to my classmate Erin Dickey’s blog post about her personal experiences with digitization projects, I found that understanding the scope of work in its size and timeline is essential to success with digitization projects large and small across a wide variety of organizations. The impulse to digitize everything over a short period of time is very real, but a plan to prioritize and make the digitization project relevant to the mission of the organization is imperative, as is well-outlined workflow that includes a Quality Control phase is is necessary to ensure accuracy and probably save time making corrections in the long-run.




[1] Besser, Howard and Hubbard, Sally, eds. Introduction to Imaging. Getty Research Institute Publications, Revised 2003. Accessed January 25, 2016.

[2] Cohen, Daniel J. and Rosenzweig, Roy. “Becoming Digital.” Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web, 2006. Accessed January 25, 2016. http://chnm.gmu/digitalhistory/digitizing/

[3] “Black Mountain College Collection – Asheville Art Museum.” Accessed January 25, 2016.

[4] Besser & Hubbard