image of filmstrip, by Bill Nikolai

A Picture is Worth...

But can you dig it?

The Digital Age

Digital imaging has been around at least since the mid-1960s, when NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory used digital technology to convey images of the moon from Ranger 7 back to earth (Woodfill). Digital images are now being produced by the millions, everyday, mostly in the form of born images that originate from cameras. Digital technology has moved from space age to contemporary culture in a few short decades. Whereas digital imagery used to be exclusively in the realm - literally - of rocket scientists, today even children can create and manipulate pixels (Guide to Kids Digital Camera). The web and photo sharing sites such as Flickr have made the digital image ubiquitous and part of our daily lives.

From Papyrus to Pixels

Image of papyrus letter

<- Papyrus letter - Duke Papyrus Archive
(Van Minnen)

Since the mid 1990s, there has been increasing use of digital technology to render existing analogue materials into digital image form. By turning extant traditional paper (yes, even papyrus - see APIS), glass and film documents and photos into pixels that can be stored on computers, tremendous possibilities have opened up to organize and make accessible information that until recently resided only behind locked doors. Not only are there implications for access, but for preservation also (both of the fragile analogue original and ephemeral digital copy).

Push to Produce

The motivation for an organization to digitize collections can come from several directions and in a variety of forms. From the standpoint of a college or university, there may be pressure from teaching faculty and researchers to create surrogates and organize them in order to facilitate instruction and other academic endeavors. Likewise, students may want better access to materials (through digital representation) that, by their unique nature, may only be available to one person at a time.

image of photo CD, by Bill Nikolai

Public institutions such as libraries may be experiencing the pressure of raised expectations. Once people realize that there are treasure troves of history hidden in the dark recesses of libraries' Special Collections divisions the clamor will slowly but surely increase to make these artifacts of bygone days available. At the same time, it's not in the nature of public libraries to hide their light under a bushel.

Two Can Tango

The aim of this site is to highlight a few of the issues connected to digitizing of collections through a brief discussion of the rationale (Why Digitize?) and then a look at how one university curator (Michael Mao, University of British Columbia) and one public librarian (Kate Russell, Vancouver Public Library) are meeting the challenges of image digitization.