DHASA2017 – Abstract

Digitising photographic collections in the Western Cape, South Africa – Key issues affecting image quality and digital quality management for preservation purposes.

Carstens, Antenie
National Library of South Africa

This information for the oral presentation, formed part of a recent Master’s study completed at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.

This study deals with the pitfalls and standards associated with the digitisation of photographic artefacts in formal collections. The popularity of the digital medium caused a rapid increase in the demand for converting images into digital files. The need for equipment capable of executing the task successfully, the pressure on collection managers to display their collections to the world and the demand for knowledge needed by managers and operators created pressure to perform optimally and often in great haste.

As a result of the rush to create digital image files to be displayed and to be preserved, the decisions that are being made may be questionable. The best choice of file formats for longevity, setting and maintaining standards to guarantee quality digital files and consultation with experts in the field of digitisation as well as attention to best practices are important aspects which must be considered.

In order to determine the state of affairs in countries with an advanced knowledge and experience in the field of digitisation, a comprehensive literature study was done. It was found that enough information exists to enable collection managers in South Africa to make well informed decisions to ensure a high quality of digital collection.

By means of questionnaires, a survey was undertaken amongst selected Western Cape image preservation institutions to determine the level of knowledge of the managers who are required to make informed decisions. The questionnaire was designed to give insight into choices being made regarding the technical quality, workflow and best practice aspects of digitisation. Comparing the outcome of the questionnaires with best practices and recommended standards in countries with an advanced level of experience it was found that not enough of this experience and knowledge is used by local collection managers although readily available. In some cases standards are disregarded completely.

The study also investigated by means of questionnaires the perception of the digital preservation of image files by fulltime photographic students and volunteer members of the Photographic Society of South Africa. It was found that uncertainty exist within both groups with regard to file longevity and access to files in five to ten year’s time.
Digitisation standards are set and maintained by the use of specially designed targets which enable digitising managers to maintain control over the quality of the digital content as well as monitoring of equipment performance. The use of these targets to set standards were investigated and found to be an accurate and easy method of maintaining control over the standard and quality of digital files.

Suppliers of digitising equipment very often market their equipment as being of a high quality and being able to fulfil the required digitisation tasks. Testing selected digitising equipment by means of specially designed targets proved however that potential buyers of equipment in the high cost range should be very cautious about suppliers’ claims without proof of performance. Using targets to verify performance should be a routine check before any purchase.