Include these Museum Digitization Standards in Your Next Project

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

September 15, 2021

Last week we reviewed how digitization tools (equipment and software) are dictated by museum item type. This week we’ll review digitization standards pertaining to digitized file resolution and digitized file formats, as these standards should be intentionally thought of and committed to prior to any digitization project.

And, because we’ll be generating new digitized content, I’ll provide recommendations on electronic file naming conventions (the file of the digitized item).

Digitization Standards

Digitization resolution (quality) and file format standards is dictated by item type. The first table outlines the common museum item types you may be digitizing. The middle column stipulates the minimal quality resolution for that item type, and the final column identifies an ideal resolution for that item type.

Resolution Standards

Item Type

Minimal Quality

Ideal Quality

Documents

150 DPI

300+ DPI

Photographs

600 DPI

1200+ DPI

Slides and Negatives

1200 DPI

2400+ DPI

Audio

16-bits and 44.1 KHz

24-bits and 96 KHz

Video

1080P or 2 Megapixel

2K+ or 4 Megapixel

 

This second table outlines item types on the left with a recommended file format on the right. These file formats have been selected by preservationists in the field because of each format’s ability to remain intact and be accessed—agnostic of any proprietary software.

File Format Standards

Item Type:

File Format

Documents

PDF

Photographs

RAW or TIF

Slides and Negatives

RAW or TIF

Audio

MP3

Video

MP4

 

Choosing a standard for file quality and format for digital surrogates is a balance of file integrity, future file access (via a software program), and storage availability. The better the digitization quality, and the selection of a lossless over lossy file type, the larger the digitized file size will be. While it is admirable to aim for ideal digitization standards, we often have to balance those standards with the reality of how much digital storage we have access to. 

Electronic File Naming Convention

It’s best practice to identify a file naming convention ahead of a digitization project so that it can be applied consistently from the beginning. Typically, the file name should be able to identify the file as well as offer indication for where it belongs. If an electronic file is ever orphaned—as in removed from the CMS record or digital folder through user error or technology failure—it’s clear which collection it belongs to. For example: 

AAA_photographic_smith_box1_folder1_0001.jpg

As a convention, it uses the following information in this order: Museum name_collection area_collection name_box number_folder number_item number.file extentsion

Electronic file naming conventions have the following guidelines to help avoid user error and support file naming consistency:

  • Only use capital letters for the museum acronym, collection area, and collection name. The less capital letters the better in terms of maintaining user consistency.
  • Use underscores or “_” to denote a space versus using a space. Spaces are not visible and if a file name has not enough or too many it may not match with the records it’s intended to match with (if importing into a database), or may not come up in a search.
  • When at all possible, try and mimic the physical organization of the materials so that if an electronic file is ever viewed without related metadata it is possible to know which collection, box, and folder it came from.
  • When assigning the digitized item a number use enough placeholders “0”s so that the digitized materials can grow over time and maintain their file order without ever needing to renumber the electronic files.

For collections that may be digitized in a less systematic fashion where only a few items may be scanned at a time or the collection hasn’t been processed into its final physical organization, the naming convention can be simplified to:

AAA_photographic_smith_0001.jpg

This naming convention still captures the important collection name and allows flexibility for where the physical item may reside in the actual collection.

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

Expert Rachael Cristine Woody advises on museum strategies, collections management, and grant writing for a wide variety of clients. In addition to several titles published by Lucidea Press, Ms. Woody is a regular contributor to the Think Clearly blog and a popular presenter. Register here for her upcoming webinar, “How to Choose the Right Tools for Museum Digital Projects” on September 29, 2021. And learn about Lucidea’s Argus solution for powerful and innovative museum collections management.

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