Digitization of holdings or collections is an important step in their development.
It involves the development of a project setting a program, objectives taking into account several data:
- The heritage assessment of the ensemble(s) to be digitized, carried out upstream;
- The means at our disposal;
- The goals we’re looking for.
Heritage assessment must be based on a health status of the fund and knowledge of its legal environment, all of which are key factors in developing your digitization plan and priorities.
By digitizing, giving a complete picture of your fonds does not imply digitizing all the items that make it up. On the other hand, it is important to ensure that scanning does not distort objects. Digitization is not intended to interpret but to cite the object. The digitization must offer an image as close as possible to the object by taking into account the entire support, the polarity of the image (positive or negative), its chromatic range, its values, its tones and its contrasts.
- Why scan?
- What to scan?
- How to digitize?
- What to do with the original media after they have been scanned?
- Am I allowed to digitize everything?
- What to do before scanning?
- Outsourcing or internalizing digitization?
- How to name digital files?
- How to organize the storage of digital files?
- How to backup digital files?
Several objectives may be invoked which will determine the technical choices to be made:
- Keep the photographs;
- Facilitate scientific research;
- Provide visibility and accessibility of funds;
- Commercial distribution of funds.
The first driver of digitization is obviously the protection of the originals once the operation is completed. Viewing digital files limits the handling of originals. A plan for digitization of collections is therefore inseparable from the policy of conservation of funds. For institutions, the implementation of a digitization plan is often the moment of awareness, of the heritage they preserve and want to value, make known and make accessible. The objectives of digitisation must therefore be defined.
Digitizing to limit manipulation and thus better preserve is an engine but the economic legitimacy of digitization is rather related to the accessibility and dissemination of photographs. Digitization has a cost and requires human resources that sometimes require making choices, prioritizing needs. Defining objectives and priorities according to different criteria (unity of heritage, fragility of original media, obligation of presentation of works, etc.) is an essential step.
Making funds accessible and/or commercially available can justify the investment needed to digitize them.
A principle of digitisation must be defined beforehand in terms of the funds to be processed and the desired purpose of digitisation (conservation, editorial project, online posting, etc.)
For financial reasons and to meet specific needs, the digitization of a fund can be done in several steps. In the face of large or poorly informed holdings, it may be decided to digitize only a representative sample. This sample can be determined by the different stakeholders' views on the fund. It will also depend on the fund and its diversity.
At the Nicéphore Niépce Museum in Chalon sur Saône, three digitization plans have been put in place, according to the type of fonds preserved:
- The entire collection is digitized, in high definition, according to the protocol defined by the institution. This method is used if the fund’s asset value justifies it, if the fund is composed of few items and as part of a well-defined valuation project. This is the way to guarantee the best preservation of the originals and their dissemination. However, this treatment is long and costly.
- Only a representative sample is digitized in high definition. The value of the fund is established but the repetitive and poorly documented nature of the fund, as well as the large number of items, make full digitization in high definition unnecessary. This method allows a first approach to the fund, the rest of the digitization being carried out according to subsequent successive consultations. However, the consultation remains manual for the non digitized funds and the valuation is limited to what is digitized.
- The entire collection is digitized, in low definition, at the time of indexing for example. The institution creates a digital catalogue, which facilitates the full consultation of a fund and facilitates the identification of high definition digitisation priorities to be carried out. This method will be preferred when the fund is composed of a large number of items and no immediate valuation project is planned. This method facilitates consultation, research and cross-referencing. Digitization can be carried out in-house, without special training and allows simultaneous indexing. However, it makes any form of valuation impossible.
The resulting digital file cannot replace the original object.
Any project to digitize photographs requires the participation of specialists in conservation and manipulation. They will be able to indicate conservation measures to be integrated into the processing chain, specify how to handle fragile documents and participate in the selection of equipment to adapt it to the fragile nature of the originals.
An object may give rise to several digitizations: important information may appear on the original objects, in the margins of the negatives, on the back of the prints.
The nature of each item, its characteristics, its state of conservation must be taken into account when digitizing. For example, in the case of a negative, digitization without interpretation and without reframing of the object will be preferred. In the case of a test, the digitization of the test on free board (not overlapping margins) will be preferred. It is legitimate, according to the photographs, to ask whether we should take into account the image alone or the object? Some old prints are mounted on cartons in the manner of engravings. It can be interesting to digitize the whole object if we want to better avoid manipulations.
The idea of removing the original media after they have been digitized has come up repeatedly during the first digitization projects in the 1990s. The Florence Declaration (29-31 October 2009) was issued to alert and advocate for the conservation of silver holdings after their digitization.
In the absence of a regulatory framework for photographic backgrounds, this issue is regularly raised. Let us recall that the heritage revaluations of funds, collections, objects, are constant, in connection with the evolution of knowledge. They can be done over generations. Let us also recall, as we indicated earlier (question no. 52), that a digital file is only an image of the silver object and that it cannot replace it. Moreover, the durability of digital files and backup media is not acquired, it goes through successive and random migrations. Finally, digitization techniques are evolving, allowing for improved rendering. It is therefore important to keep the originals after digitization.
If any photograph is a priori Digitizable in the respect of copyright, any photograph is not of fact diffusable without confirmation by a preliminary study of its legal status.
Any reproduction of a photograph must be distributed in compliance with all the provisions of the intellectual property code. The provisions of the gift, deposit or acquisition contracts must also be followed. If the provisions for the use and distribution of these funds appear unclear, it is important to seek the opinion of the rights holders and possibly to draft an amendment that frames the use of the images in particular with respect to moral law.
The technical modalities of the digitization will be adapted to the specificity of the support and its technique. Several operations precede the sending of original works for digitization.
Some key steps to consider:
- Carry out an assessment of the physical condition of the photographs and, if necessary, provide for a reconditioning, cleaning and possibly restoration phase before starting the digitization;
- Estimate the volume of collections to be digitized and identify their specificities in order to evaluate the technical constraints imposed by the manipulation of items (media, formats, montages, bindings or any particular presentation mode, etc.) This preliminary study is important, In particular, it will make it possible to specify the time required and the means to be used in the context of subcontracting this operation. It will best describe the nature of the work requested of the claimant. Its precision will make it possible to optimise the demand placed on the service provider, it will condition the guarantees that will be issued in the handling of the parts entrusted and will influence the duration of digitization and the technical and visual quality of the digital files that will be obtained;
- If the scan is not completed in situ, provide for the transport of works in compliance with preventive conservation standards and ask the service provider to specify the guarantees it offers for the conservation of the objects entrusted.
- Establish a detailed inventory of the items to be scanned (prefer an easily exportable format such as excel or xml);
- Reflect on file usage in order to properly size requests to service providers;
- Implement a naming plan (metadata associated with the files provided) so that newly created files can then be uploaded to your institution’s information system. On the metadata you can consult:
- Provide the desired scanning protocol for the objects.
In the event that this digitization is to be subcontracted, these initial assessments and observations will make it possible to draw up the tender specifications more precisely. It is very important to ensure the precise drafting of these specifications in order to allow the service provider to best meet the request and the needs formulated, in order to also avoid any litigation.
Examples of specifications for scanning still images.
The question may arise. Either your institution has the right hardware and software, facilities dedicated to photography or digitization, and trained staff, so the answer to this question is irrelevant or it is not and the question remains open.
The nature of the backgrounds, the volumes to be processed, the preciousness or fragility of the works can lead you to carry out in-house digital reproduction either by shooting or by direct scanning by scanner.
The budget needed for these operations must be evaluated and anticipated.
In this case you will have to plan to acquire the necessary equipment and adapted to your needs, to dedicate staff to this task, to train it if necessary.
In case you outsource the scanning to a provider, you can ask them to move around the premises, which will allow you to better control the work, to accompany it and to avoid manipulations and thermohygrometric variations that could be detrimental to the good preservation of the items.
To help you, you can consult:
- Initiate and drive a digitization campaign
- Information on digitization providers
- Information on technical aspects
There are several possibilities. Be careful to respect, during this operation, the recommendations of the national digitization plan of the Ministry of Culture where only are allowed as registration, the letters not accented, the figures from 0 to 9 and the hyphens.
It will be preferable to indicate the technical elements related to the reproduction of the original in the metadata attached to the file which are also called IPTC fields (author, date, type of material, copyright, etc.) This information is directly integrated into the digital file and is inseparable from the image. They guarantee the identification of the broadcast image and its producer.
The choice of naming mode must be thought of according to the intended uses for the files. Once the naming mode is implemented, it is very difficult to go back and it is, more or less, final. If the scan is outsourced, you will need to provide the vendor with the naming principle you have chosen prior to the scan campaign.
Example of the Nicéphore Niépce museum in the complete vade-mecum available for download on this page.
The first step will be to define and specify your classification plan. File storage and organization must not duplicate the physical classification of the holdings. An alphanumeric classification of files will be preferred to facilitate access, unlike any logic system of a single person. It may be tempting to classify files according to a thematic or technical logic of the original, but there is no guarantee that this method is suitable for all or is satisfactory over time. A more neutral classification will allow better monitoring of the organisation of the files.
It is essential to have at least one copy of the produced files at all times, the best being that this digital copy be kept in a separate place from the original files (in case of natural disaster).
There is no perfect system. The costs of saving files vary from one solution to another. We will adapt according to the available means. We will avoid as much as possible the storage of files (native or backup) on CD or DVD. Experience shows that these supports are not sustainable (physical degradation) and are no longer readable by current technologies. The easiest way to make a backup is to use an external hard drive. But if it is well suited for temporary storage, the external hard drive is not recommended for long-term data retention. The acquisition of a dedicated server with DLT tape backups is a better solution, even if it requires more organization and investment. If the structure depends on a community, the Community Information Systems Directorate (ISB) can host the service’s native digital production and manage backups (replication to another server, DLT tape backups, etc.) It will be important to keep the digitized data alive by ensuring its regular transfer and combating the obsolescence of both backup media and reading methods.