Saturday, December 11, 2010

Archive Raiders: Photographing Library and Archive Materials

Not long ago I was asked by someone if the VRC has a scanner that could be borrowed for a research trip, in order to scan materials in an archive. I do not have much experience photographing works housed in special collections or archives, but I do know that hauling a scanner around is likely not the best solution. Anyone who has tried to photograph archival materials knows that consistently sharp focus with a hand held camera is next to impossible. So what's a scholar to do when he or she needs to document materials but the facilities might charge too much for their photography services and provide no self-serve copy stands?

Konrad M. Lawson has authored a guest post over at ProfHacker in which he outlines his solution to this problem. With just a few relatively inexpensive components he bought on Amazon, he has come up with a clever set-up that is very portable and effective. It is important to note, as some of the comments on his post have, that archives and libraries often have explicit rules about what kinds of equipment may or may not be used. These policies are normally in place to protect the materials, and it's vital to respect their well-being for future users. Lawson describes the practice employed by some of using plexiglass to hold the pages of books flat. He does not mention it, but this is damaging to rare materials and should be avoided. Lawson has found a better solution. He operates a wired camera remote with his foot, leaving his hands free to hold the pages flat.

Image: Jeff Tabaco, Notes, 2006. Available from Flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Digital Imaging Standards: Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative (FADGI)

Ever wonder how the VRC arrives at its digital imaging standards? We look to technical guidelines from sources like the Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative (FADGI). This summer they released the latest version of their Technical Guidelines for Digitizing Cultural Heritage Materials: Creation of Raster Image Master Files (PDF). Intended for an audience that includes "archivists, librarians, curators, managers, and others, as well as practitioners directly involved in scanning and digital capture, such as technicians and photographers," these guidelines may be very useful for photographers and artists seeking standards for archiving images depicting their original artwork. However, they will be too technical for some. As state in the introduction, "a basic foundation in photography and imaging is essential. Generally, without a good technical foundation and experience for production staff, there can be no claim about achieving the appropriate level of quality as defined in these guidelines."

The Guidelines address the digitization of still images within the realm of historical, cultural, or archival materials. The document begins with a technical overview providing details on raster image characteristics (include spatial resolution, signal resolution, and color mode), the digitization environment, assessing scanner and camera performance, and reference targets, followed by in-depth sections on imaging workflow, digitization specifications, file format comparisons, various types of metadata, storage recommendations, and quality management.

If you are a member of the Department of Art and Art History, feel free to ask us about this and other digital imaging best practices documents. Lia Pileggi, our Digital Imaging and Technology Coordinator, is available by appointment to discuss the best digitization and archiving strategies for your project. And of course, we offer free scanning services to instructors in the department.

For more information about FADGI, see their web site. In addition to their Still Image Working Group FADGI has an Audio-Visual Working Group, which hasn't yet produced an analogous Guidelines document but currently hosts a page on audio-visual Resources and Industry Standards with a lot of very helpful links.

Image: Alan Vernon. Morant's Curve - Digitized Velvia Slide film. 2010. Available from Flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

ARTstor Mobile

Announcement from ARTstor:
"The ARTstor Digital Library is now accessible to registered ARTstor users through the iPad, iPhone, and the iPod Touch, providing read-only features such as searching and browsing, zooming, and viewing saved image groups. We are also introducing the Flashcard View for ARTstor Mobile, which allows users to test their knowledge by viewing the image without textual information, and then flipping the image to reveal the image record. This new view can be found under the “Views” menu as “Flashcard.” ARTstor Mobile is only available through the Safari browser, just go to from your mobile device. For more details, visit our Help page at"

Image: atmtx, The Future of Computing, 2010. Available from Flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License.