32" x 40" of Collaboration and Information Sharing

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32" x 40" of Collaboration and Information Sharing

2009-12-10 18:22



32” x 40” poster titled "Pixels to Purpose: Transforming a Rights & Reproductions Department to Support a Sustainable Digital Collection"

It seems like only yesterday I was schlepping my luggage and 32” x 40” poster around 103-degree Austin, Texas. Alas, four months have passed since I attended the 2009 Society of American Archivists conference! This year, I arrived a couple days before sessions began so I could take part in the annual pre-conference Research Forum, where I presented my poster—in all its 32” x 40” glory—titled, Pixels to Purpose: Transforming a Rights & Reproductions Department to Support a Sustainable Digital Collection. The experience was indeed a positive one. I received some great feedback from colleagues whose digital collections were in similar states of disarray. By taking part in the Research Forum, particularly the poster session, it occurred to me that no archivist is ever alone. For every challenge we, as individuals, face, there are countless others in the field who are experiencing the same problems at their respective institutions. And through collaboration, networking, and various outlets (such as this blog), we can help one another. Solidarity, friends!

The SAA conference theme this year was sustainable archives (redundant, I know), but it’s certainly all the buzz with digital media. As many of you know, part of my role as Digital Collections Archivist at HSP is to manage our ever-growing digital image collection. When I began working at HSP in October 2008, I immediately identified HSP’s legacy digital image collection (i.e., all the digitized images that had been created years before I arrived) as my biggest hurdle. The legacy collection was a beast of epic proportions: out of about 5,000 images, only 30% had decent metadata and were easy to locate; the rest of the images were a complete mystery, especially the 3,000 strewn about our file server and elsewhere without any standardization or file structure. My poster specifically addressed how I assessed these 3,000 random images (thanks to the incomparable help of the Digital Center for Americana's Digital Imaging Technician, Elsa Varela) to determine what was usable. In the spirit of collaboration and information sharing, below is a link to my poster (downloadable in PDF), along with my poster abstract. I welcome your feedback, particularly if and how your institution is tackling such problems.


As with most underfunded cultural institutions, particularly in our present economic climate, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s (HSP) staff members often are required to perform the duties of two or more employees—sometimes even of two or more departments. Such is the case with HSP’s Rights & Reproductions (R&R) Department, which recently has evolved from exclusively fulfilling image reproduction orders and licensing image usage rights, to additionally managing a rapidly growing, sustainable digital surrogate collection.

Having transitioned from film photography to digital imaging in 2006, the R&R department did not initially regard the amassing digital files as having much potential beyond fulfilling individual reproduction requests. This has posed the biggest challenge in developing a sustainable digital collection, as approximately 3,000 legacy digital images were scattered among a number of network folders and employee hard drives—all exhibiting sparse metadata and inconsistent image quality, file names, and file formats. In greater depth, my poster details the steps taken to assess HSP’s legacy digital collection, uncovering the true extent of its size and systematically determining what is usable. What makes this assessment unique is the need to strike a balance between what is “appropriate” quality for continuing to fulfill ongoing R&R orders (likewise continuing to generate a much-needed revenue stream) and what is “ideal” quality for building a sustainable digital collection. My research into archival-quality digital image standards, HSP’s own R&R order statistics, as well as print, Web, and exhibit image quality requirements are reflected in this poster. Also described are the next steps necessary to further develop and sustain HSP’s growing digital collection.

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