Journal 2 – Digitization Fundamentals

Our second day of class in Digitization Fundamentals covered images, data file formats, HTML and CSS. One of the instructors, Robin Davies, discussed how libraries were increasingly advertising for positions that included DH skills, such as Digital Preservation Librarian. This job description called for the management of “emerging digital preservation practices,” and also for expertise with “all phases of the life cycle of digital content with the aim of long-term retention and access.” Important here is not only the requirement for preexisting skills with digital artifacts, but the idea that digital practices change often, and digital humanists must stay ahead of the curve to ensure that DH projects stand the test of time.

Digitizing materials must occur in such a way that the digital capture is as true to the original as possible. This means, of course, that no photo filters should be used, or other aesthetic tools so common in social media. However, there’s also the possibility that some tweaking of the device’s default settings might be necessary to create a digital file that’s true to the original. For example, if a page of text is black ink on white paper, scanning this with black and white settings might seem appropriate. If the text has faded a bit though, and the paper is no longer bright white but yellowish or greenish, a color scan or photograph would more accurately convey the age and texture of the document.

We had an interesting conversation about the difference between a scan and a photograph. The class really had a tough time drawing a solid line between the two, as there was much overlap between the processes. Book scanning can be especially difficult. The spine of the book should remain unharmed and unbroken, making flat-bed scanners problematic. Using an apparatus with two cameras pointing at each page from an angle can help retain the shape of the book, while also enabling digitization. But is this a scan, or a photograph? Does the file format, whether pdf or jpg, shape the definition? And are higher resolutions always necessary, and which process might produce the most faithful digital artifact? These questions are difficult to answer, and perhaps the best practice is to use the methods most fit according to time, materials, and resources.

Non-destructive apparatus at DIY Book Scanner. A scanner like this was described in the book, Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore, which we discussed in class.