Treating Digitization Information Overload: A True Story

The literature and guidelines published by various organizations is immensely helpful and incredibly confusing when faced with the logistics of digitizing objects, whether it be written documents, objects, photos, audio files, etc.

Adventures in Digitizing Photos

In musicology, it is tempting to forego the effort to include high resolution images in our presentations and articles when we have phones that can snap a pic quickly. However, in learning from my art history colleagues, it is clear that the images are just as important as the text and music – after all, if it is worth including, it must be significant, yes? And though we may not be drawing our whole research process on the image, utilizing imagery is still an essential aspect of disseminating research. Especially if images are being included within interactive mapping and digital methods in musicology, adding information to the metadata in particular is also important.

Just in the process of trying to digitize a printed photo, extra efforts to ensure good quality can help with displaying research digitally. The photo below was digitally uploaded on a Xerox scanner and edited in Adobe bridge and Photoshop, with metadata added in Tropy. Using methods like these ensure that spots in photos may be removed, metadata can be altered and added, and that photos are of at least decent quality, depending on our research needs.

Image uploaded via Xerox scanner and edited in Photoshop, via New York and Company Fall 2019 Catalog.

Digitization How – to guides

The task of putting in this extra effort does seem daunting. However, there are various guidelines out there that provide users with tips on how to achieve the best quality of digitization standards. The best thing about these is that they are all available online. The Getty introduction to imaging provides a comprehensive guide with thorough explanations of not only methods and information about the digitization process, but also includes much information on the why of digitization and why each method and procedural step is integral to the process. Likewise, Cohen and Rosenzweig’s Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web is structured in textbook fashion, offering chapters with extensive explanations regarding the impetus behind decisions in digitization. The Federal Agencies Digital Guidelines Initiative has published the Technical Guidelines for Digitizing Cultural Heritage Materials, which provides details for digital imaging in many short bulletpoints and paragraphs. This guide does provide useful information, though it can be overwhelming when taken at first (or second or third) perusal. Finally, the Reccomended Formats Statement from the Library of Congress has bulletpoint lists which offer straightforward reccomendations for file formats. This is helpful if you do not want to do the reading behind the “why” of it all and are easily overwhelmed by too much information (though I’d reccomend reading the first two sources at some point). In a pinch, all of these could be helpful when trying to get through the digitization process. Take it slow, actually utilize the methods, and you will avoid the information overload.

Many software basics such as Adobe suite and Photoshop get you fairly far, as Adobe PDF’s have an OCR option, and Photoshop (obviously) in consistently a fan favorite.

Drawbacks of Digitization How-to Guides

The guidelines published by the aforementioned groups are useful, yet lack essential aspects of actually engaging with technology, particularly technology with which one is unfamiliar. Directions and explanations can’t offer alternate explanations worded differently if you can’t find any descriptions that break a process down for you the way you need to understand. An explanation of what JSON is does not help you understand which specific new software on your computer can save in that format. The ability to ask people and to utilize the directions as much as possible, to physically go through the motions to find questions, concerns, and problems is an essential aspect of reading these guidelines. Reading them without using them or doing them does not help you really understand their utilization, especially when all sorts of information is being thrown at you rapid fire.

Digitization can be frustrating, but with patience, these guides, and perhaps some googling, it is definitely worth the effort.

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One Reply to “Treating Digitization Information Overload: A True Story”

  1. Hi Emily! Thank you for your post and great thoughts on digitization. I too feel like a door has opened in regards to my thinking of why and how digitization should and could be included in my own projects. Because having a phone so quick at hand, trying to catch quick moments has been more at focus, rather than how it can be presented in the best way online. I agree with you that the lack of technological explanations is difficult and for us new to the field, the attempt to understand and find information/guides regarding that is difficult to find and often daunting. The texts provided for this week, thinking especially of the Cohen and Rosenzweig, it still has the quality of being a useful guide into the subject of digitization because they have chosen not to focus on the technological part of it, since that would not have made the text stand the test of time so to speak.
    I wonder what your main concerns or pitfalls were when you digitized yourself for this week? What did you learn from doing the digitization?

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