Few technologies have offered as much potential to change research
and teaching in the arts and humanities as digital imaging.
The possibility of examining rare and unique objects outside the
secure, climate-controlled environments of museums and archives liberates
collections for study and enjoyment. The ability to display and link
collections from around the world breaks down physical barriers to
access, and the potential of reaching audiences across social and
economic boundaries blurs the distinction between the privileged
few and the general public. Like any technology, however, digital
imaging is a tool that should be used judiciously and with forethought.
In the earliest stages of the digital era, most digital imaging
projects were ad hoc, experimental in nature, and relatively small
in scope. The result was a series of idiosyncratic and disconnected
projects that died with their creators' tenure or with their storage
media, demonstrating that one of the requirements for the establishment
of useful, sustainable, and scalable digital image collectionscollections
that are interoperable with broader information systemswas
the development and implementation of data and technology standards.
The line that formerly divided everyday analog or traditional
activities and specialized digital projects has eroded, and the creation
of digital image collections is now an integral and expected part
of the workflow of museums and other cultural heritage organizations.
Unfortunately, the world of imaging has not necessarily become easier
to navigate on that account. A plethora of differing image format and documentation or metadata standards
has emerged, and a wide variety of hardware and software designed
to create, manage, and store such collections has become available.
Not only must collection managers choose between the different hardware,
software, and metadata options, but because digital entities differ
in fundamental ways from their analog counterparts, the management
of hybrid collections (which encompass both digital and analog objects)
also requires the development of new and different skill sets and
even staff positions. It may also prompt the reappraisal of work
processes and protocols within an institution.
In short, the establishment and maintenance of digital image collections
are complicated and challenging undertakings that require a long-term
commitment. There is no single best practice, best software, or best
system for the task, but there are some basic premises and guidelines
that can help institutions make the decisions that best fit their
own priorities, environment, and budget.
Introduction to Imaging is designed to help curators, librarians,
collection managers, administrators, scholars, and students better
understand the basic technology and processes involved in building
a deep and cohesive set of digital images and linking those images
to the information required to access, preserve, and manage them.
It identifies the major issues that arise in the process of creating
an image collection and outlines some of the options available and
choices that must be made. Areas of particular concern include integration and
interoperability with other information resources and activities;
the development of a strategy that does not limit or foreclose future
options and that offers a likely upgrade path; and ensuring the longevity
of digital assets.
Our discussion begins with a brief review of some key concepts and
terms basic to an understanding of digital imaging. A digital
image is understood here as a raster or bitmapped representation
of an analog work of art or artifact. Vector graphics, geometrical
objects such as those created by drawing software or CAD (computer-aided
design) systems, and other works that are "born digital" are
not specifically dealt with here, nor are images made with different
light-wave lengths, such as X-radiographs. However, much of the information
on the importance of metadata, standards, and preservation is
relevant to all digital files of whatever type and provenance.
For those planning a digital image collection, this overview is
merely a beginning. Other resources are outlined, and additional
sources of information are included in the bibliography. Acronyms
and jargon abound in the digital imaging and the digital library
universes. Every effort has been made here to avoid these when possible
and to explain them where they are unavoidable.
Howard Besser and Sally Hubbard