Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Review of Digital Imaging: A Practical Handbook

Philip Hunter and Marieke Napier review Stuart Lee's 'Digital Imaging' handbook.

Digital Imaging: A Practical Handbook is very much a 'how to' guide for those about to embark on a digitisation project, and it offers a complete picture of the workflow process of a digital imaging project from its inception to the final maintenance and archiving of the end product. It is aimed at information professionals and librarians managing such a venture, but is also of value to researchers and students.

The Handbook’s five chapters, follow the model structure of an actual digitisation project. It begins by considering reasons for digitisation and covers the assessment and scoping of different collected works, resulting in selection of the most pertinent collection. After discussion of preparation techniques a detailed deconstruction of the whole digitisation process is given, with special regard for fragile materials. At this point the various digital image file formats and digitisation hardware available are discussed. The rest of the Handbook considers the steps carried out after digitisation.

Stuart Lee, author of the Handbook, is an expert in the digital imaging field, and is responsible for the prize-winning Wilfred Owen Multimedia Archive. He also conducted the Mellon Foundation scoping study which looked at prospective materials for digitization held by Oxford University. Digital Imaging: A Practical Handbook is the outcome of his personal experiences, and the experiences of others. Lee successfully provides us with a wealth of approaches, important insights and recommendations and does so in a consistently pragmatic way.

Lee also provides a number of excellent resources: real life and fictitious/utopian examples are consistently given to illustrate points, including the ambitious 'digitisation ready reckoner for time and costs' used for working out the cost of a project. Excellent decision matrices are included for guidance throughout the project and the appendix contains questionnaires for assessment of an institution's holdings and proposed collections. There is also a list of further reading material and URLs.

Although Lee spends considerable time on the actual digitization process it is in its dealing with the peripheries that this book excels. He gives excellent recommendations and assessment of areas such as benchmarking, copyright, funding, archiving, cataloguing and metadata. With regard to metadata Lee gives analysis and comparison of current developments such as Dublin Core (DC), Resource Description Framework (RDF), SGML and XML. It is suggested that in a full digitisation project, project metadata should satisfy the needs of cataloguers, users, technical experts, and project administrators. All will be involved in its creation, and all should be able to use it in the course of the project.

Lee also highlights the importance of cataloguing to digitization projects. He suggests, on the basis of earlier experience, that cataloguing and indexing can account for nearly a third of the overall cost of digitisation projects. This level of cost is inevitable if the user of a digital collection is to have a browsable or searchable catalogue available at the end of the day, and, equally importantly, for the administrators of a project to keep track of its progress, and, in appropriate cases, to facilitate sales of images. Working out how much time is required to catalogue items, and which level of cataloguing is appropriate, is acknowledged as a difficult task. But the point is rightly reinforced as an important one.

Although most acronyms are explained Lee does expect a certain level of understanding of the current technical climate. The writing is unusually clear for a publication dealing with such a complex and technical area, and could be recommended also as a model text for other authors.

Digital Imaging: A Practical Handbook belongs to a growing field of publications. Kenney and Chapman's Digital Imaging For Libraries and Archives (1996) and the more recent volume Moving Theory into Practice: Digital Imaging for Libraries and Archives (2000) by Kenney and Rieger are both available from the Research Libraries Group. Digital Imaging for Libraries and Archives, a collection of articles by a number of prominent authors, is referred to repeatedly throughout the Handbook, particularly for its formulae for costs and hands on case study material. There was also, way back in 1993, Peter Robinson’s The Digitization of Primary Textual Sources, which covered some of the same ground, and was similarly aimed at users intending to set up digitisation projects. However Lee's text is both up to date and affordable at £24.95, and a more comprehensive guide for those who do not have digitisation experience.

The book contains a useful list of further reading, much of which references sources available on the Web. This list includes both up-to-date references, and others which fill out the development of digitisation as a systematic procedure.

Stuart D Lee (October 2000) , Library Association Publishing. ISBN: 1-85604-353-3 Price: £24.95

[review published 01 Feb 2001]

Author Details

Marieke Napier
Philip Hunter
University of Bath