Digitization Basics for Archivists

Margot Note

Margot Note

February 06, 2023

Archival repositories can generate surrogates for various purposes, such as PDFs for print reproduction, JPEGs for online display, and TIFFs for storage. 

The hundredth copy of a digital image is indistinguishable from its progenitors. Electronic copies suffer no degradation through the duplication process, unlike other forms of copying, such as facsimiles. A copy of a digital image is indistinguishable from its source, while the original can lose its meaning in this electronic world. 

Depending on the collection, different approaches to digitizing may be used. In some cases, institutions may only be interested in the information the material conveys, and the medium of expression is irrelevant. However, in most collections, creating a digital representation of the information within the materials and the visual aspects, such as color, type, formatting, layout, or condition, is desirable. 

Archivists embrace the digital world as they transform their physical holdings into electronic records. Digitization projects bring broad issues and technological nuances into sharper relief. Archivists consider the physical size, nature, and condition of records of enduring value as they affect the characteristics of the desired product. They must likewise address whether available conversion methods can satisfy expectations for the result. From the beginning of a project, archivists must understand the basics of digitization. 

Understanding Fundamental Concepts

Depending on their collections and resources, institutions should use the best cameras and scanners they can afford with the greatest dynamic range and highest resolution. Digitization is often outsourced to a vendor, making it unnecessary to purchase equipment. However, archivists do benefit from an understanding of the technology involved.

Digital cameras differ from traditional cameras because a light-sensitive silicon chip called an image sensor replaces film. Photosensitive diodes on the sensor’s surface convert light passing through the lens into electrical impulses, measured and converted into a number; the more light, the greater the impulse. A grid of picture elements known as pixels compose the final image. Each pixel records color and brightness measurements, which holds instructions for recreating the pixel. A device built into the camera or removable card stores the information, and software programs translate the data and display it on a screen.

Most scanners move a scanning head across the item. A flatbed scanner has a glass plate on which archivists can scan the record. Film scanners are flatbed scanners with a light source that transmits light through the film to the sensors. Many flatbed scanners claim to be slide scanners, as one can use templates to fix the slides for scanning. However, the resolution may be poor, worsened by the fact that the slide is removed, albeit fractionally, from the surface of the glass. 

With color negatives, scanners separate tonalities compressed in the shadows. Density is low, so transmission is high; the scanner sensors work with bright light. In addition, they neutralize the orange tone in color-negative materials to obtain lifelike colors. 

In contrast, color transparencies have high densities and tonal subtleties that the scanner must sense. As a result, scanners need large dynamic ranges and high bit depths to scan both materials. Consequently, film scanners produce better results than flatbed scanners converted to scan film. 

Deeper Study through Digitized Materials

Archivists implement different techniques and methods to protect and ensure the maximum usage of archival material. Digitization is one of these techniques. It provides maximum usage and protection of the archival material as well. However, besides the advantages of digitization, it is a technical process. Thus, experts should preplan and carry out digitization, and should consider factors like archival material and users.

Digital images act as surrogates of the archival originals and allow for deeper study than their analog counterparts since scholars can view unseen details. However, with digitized images, users risk losing information that enables them to understand context and physicality over time. 

Margot Note

Margot Note

If you’re interested in this topic and eager to learn more, please join us for Digitization Fundamentals”, the second in Margot Note’s latest free webinar series. It’s on Wednesday, February 22, 2023 at 11 a.m. Pacific, 2 p.m. Eastern. (Can’t make it? Register anyway and we’ll send you a link to the recording and slides afterwards). Register now or call 604-278-6717.

Similar Posts

Leave a Comment

Comments are reviewed and must adhere to our comments policy.


Pin It on Pinterest

Share This