24 May 2012

Guest post: DigCurV report and digitisation needs

Guest post by Giada Gelli, Assistant Librarian, Cataloguing and Digitisation at National Gallery of Ireland

How many of you still consider the practice of digitisation to be a new, unexplored frontier? And how many institutions, especially small ones and particularly in Ireland, are still struggling with the basics when it comes to digitisation projects or strategies?

Digitisation, meaning the creation of digital surrogates of existing physical materials (I will not include here the other even less explored area of preservation of born digital information) is not a new practice in libraries, archives and cultural institutions in general.

Digitisation of collections has been around for a couple of decades, countless journal articles and handbooks have been written on the subject, many workshops, seminars, conferences and symposia have been dedicated to it worldwide. Yet many institutions, small ones above all, seem to struggle with it still, while lack of knowledge and expertise on the matter seem to be constant barriers to the development of sound digitisation policies. But why is that? Why are the library, archive and cultural sectors not reaping the rewards of years of practice? DigCurV, the Digital Curator Vocational Education Europe Project, has just published a report on a survey conducted last year on the training needs in digital curation and preservation. The results are as much important as they are conspicuous. The main issues identified revolve around the usual suspects: lack of funding, (therefore) lack of training, (therefore) lack of expertise in-house and in the workforce at large.

‘In conclusion, the results of the research suggest a great demand for training in digital preservation and curation that arises from a severe lack of qualified staff in the field.’
 On one hand, it is true that anything that has to do with technology is so fast-paced and ever-evolving that there is a need for constant training and effective continuous professional development. It is also true that the area of digitisation is a very complex and particularly multi-faceted one. For example, take the skills that were individuated in this report as key for digitisation staff:
‘According to the participants, the skills and competences required for digital preservation and curation cover a broad spectrum that ranges from technical expertise, IT knowledge and digital preservation-specific skills to social skills, management skills, and knowledge of the organisation, the subject domain as well as library, archival or information science.’
Nonetheless, why is it so hard to establish a clear set of national guidelines that could be followed by all libraries, archives and heritage institutions? Despite the different nature of each individual special collection, the different types of materials that can be processed during a digitisation project (books, prints, paintings, slides, photos, objects etc.) and of course the different budgets and kinds of equipment available, there should be a unique framework for digitisation at national level. This set of guidelines promoted by an advisory body (be it academic, heritage or sector-specific like the Library Association of Ireland or the Irish Society for Archives) could advise institutions on gold standards and best practices for digitisation projects of all kinds. I wonder if such a body already exists in Ireland? And if not, should it exist?

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for your post, Giada. Minerva will serve you well.

    http://www.minervaeurope.org/guidelines.htm

    MINERVA is a network of Member States' Ministries to discuss, correlate and harmonise activities carried out in digitisation of cultural and scientific content for creating an agreed European common platform, recommendations and guidelines about digitisation, metadata, long-term accessibility and preservation.

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  2. Thanks also Giada. Also I imagine the DHO are possibly doing some work in this area?

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  3. Giada,

    Your entry demonstrates that training is desperately needed as you confuse two separate issues (digitisation and digital preservation). I quote:

    “For example, take the skills that were individuated in this report as key for digitisation staff:
    ‘According to the participants, the skills and competences required for digital preservation and curation cover a broad spectrum that ranges from technical expertise, IT knowledge and digital preservation-specific skills to social skills, management skills, and knowledge of the organisation, the subject domain as well as library, archival or information science.”

    The DigCurV survey results you quote here are regarding digital curation/preservation, and not skills needed for digitisation staff.

    While digitisation is the conversion of non-digital material into digital format, digital preservation/curation is the whole process from accessioning the digital object (which can be either a digital object from inception or a digital surrogate created through a digitisation process), to managing it through its life cycle as per retention policy i.e. digitisation can be seen as the publisher, while digital preservation is the library/archive into which the published item is stored, managed and made accessible to users.

    Proper digitisation policies can facilitate the process of preservation by e.g. the adoption of standard file formats and the incorporation of technical metadata relating to the digital item, but please note once digitisation is finished the job of digital curation/preservation is only starting.

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  4. Miss Waterloo, many thanks for your comment and drawing attention to the important differences and link-ups between digitisation and curation. Participation and critical reflection is one of the main motivators for the existence of this blog; that is, to encourage courteous and thoughtful discussion and learn from each other's experience, knowledge and expertise.

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  5. Alexander: thank you for pointing out the Minerva resource, I will definetely have a look at it.

    Michelle: I too would expect DHO to have some work done on the area, I will look into it. I think DRI (Digital Repository Ireland) are setting out to establish standards for the field at a national level.

    Miss Waterloo: thanks for pointing out unclear differences between digitisation and digital curation and preservation.

    As much as I understand where you're coming from, I do believe that when drafting a digitisation strategy for an institution all three aspects come together and are just distinct parts of a whole picture. Especially with regards to digitisation and digital preservation, as without a clear preservation strategy the process of digitisation would be a mere 'scanning job'.

    You are indeed right, there is a desperate need for training in this area. I hope that experienced and knowledgeable professionals such as yourself will try and impart their expertise to younger and inexperienced, but eager, professionals such as myself.

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  6. Giada,

    I would like to know what your interpretation of a digital preservation strategy is, as you say:

    ."....Especially with regards to digitisation and digital preservation, as without a clear preservation strategy the process of digitisation would be a mere 'scanning job'"

    All digitisation project have been completed in Ireland without a clear preservation strategy, because preservation takes place after the digital objects have been ingested by a repository system, and I cannot point to any cultural institution in Ireland that has a robust digital preservation policy and strategy in place. The set-up of the Digital Repository of Ireland (DRI), as a trusted digital repository, WILL have the function to preserve for the long-term any cultural data ingested into its system.

    Digitisation is in principle a mere scanning job, of which the actual capturing of the image is only one part of, to make the information more widely accessible. With every scanning job decisions will be made regarding file format (for archiving and uses), and accompanying data. (please note as well that archiving is not preservation in the long-term). The same principle can be applied for digital material from inception (or born-digital). The author will make decisions about file format i.e. Word, PDF, and what information (metadata) to add to the digital work, and how to publish it.

    It is so that digitisation is a distinct part of the whole picture because without it digital curation/preservation will not be an issue.

    You can also consider digitisation for preservation, but this is the action of converting material to digital format to preserve the original item, e.g. by reducing handling.

    I would also not assume that expertise comes with age or experience, as digital preservation is only a relatively recent discipline, which can be seen by the lack of official courses in the subject, which the DigcurV survey is meant to address. It is more a matter of awareness and interest.

    And I am glad to see that you have an interest :-)

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