Tag Archives: digitization

A rebuttal to HP’s “Scan and share children’s artwork” blog post

Dear Hewlett Packard,

I love your scanners and printers. I really do. (Seriously, I own two of each.)

But please, for the love of God, stop throwing around tips about how to “archive…priceless works of art” or “scan like a pro” as though you have any idea what those tips should actually be — because you don’t.

Everyone knows that your blog posts full of “helpful tips” are really just a ploy to sell your products. And that’s all well and good; any idiot should realize that when a company tries to give you “hints” (or recipes or coupons), what they’re really doing is trying to sell you something.

And I’m not knocking the ideas, necessarily. I’ve seen some neat ideas – including HP’s “Scan and Share Children’s Artwork” article I’m about to rip apart. (And my chicken parm recipe came from the back of a spaghetti sauce jar, and it’s pretty darn good.)

But here’s a thought: don’t go around masquerading as a “pro” to people who don’t know any better.

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Dear People who are not Hewlett Packard, if you want to know how to scan and preserve your kids’ artwork, don’t ask HP, ask an archivist. And oh wait, I just happen to be one.

So here are some rebuttals to what HP suggests in “Scan and Share Children’s Artwork.” I don’t claim to have all the answers on this; I have never attempted to archive children’s artwork. But I’m pretty confident that anything I suggest is going to be better advice than what your scanner’s marketing department dreamed up.

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And now…the much-anticipated flaying of HP’s article “Scan and Share Children’s Artwork.” (And if there’s time, I’ll take a vicious stab at “Quick Tips for Scanning Photos,” too.)

First off : I don’t really see a problem with the idea of scanning your kids’ artwork, with several caveats:

If you intend to save the original “forever”, can you digitize (either scan or photograph) it without harming it? Will scanning this artwork harm your scanner? (I’m imagining friable media such as crayon flaking off on your scanner; sounds like a mess to me.) And can you even capture the true essence of that macaroni-made man they show in the article, with a flatbed scanner? It’s 3D!

Maybe you don’t care about keeping the original safe “forever”. Perhaps the whole point is that you want to make a digital facsimile so you can save physical space by discarding the originals. (I’m not necessarily recommending this. Even HP didn’t flat-out suggest throwing away the originals, although they plant the seed of this idea about three different ways with phrases like “reduce clutter,” “avoid throwing out favorites” [emphasis mine], and “free up more space in your home”.) But anyway, if you DID want to digitize the art so that you could feel better about throwing out the originals, wouldn’t you want to make sure you digitized at a high enough quality to achieve your goal of preserving as good a copy as possible? If yes, then HP’s guidelines are not strict enough.

OK, let’s just go ahead and get this out of the way now : I’m going to rag on the “Quick Tips for Scanning Photos” blog post after all. It’s one of my top three annoyances with this article. (The other two are: the casual way they throw around words like “preserve” and “archive” and the digital storage recommendations they make.)

I don’t like the way they casually suggest making corrections to color, fading, or blurriness, especially letting the scanner “auto correct” things. Maybe this is what “the pros” in other professions – like photography – might do. But when you are throwing “archive” into like every other paragraph, you are in my world now, and that’s now how we roll as digital archivists. You should be striving for a true representation of the thing you are digitizing. Hey, if you want to tweak the color or something on a secondary copy, that’s one thing, but I think it’s a bad idea to not keep a copy of what the original ACTUALLY looked like, especially if you are going to throw the original hard copy away to “free up more space in your home” (because guess what, HP, the only way to free up more space in your home is by actually removing things; I’m pretty sure it’s the law of conservation of mass that says that just rearranging stuff doesn’t change how much of it exists).

I’m pleased that they at least acknowledge that TIFF files are the archival format, and they suggest using TIFF “if you’re uncertain how you’ll use it in the future” (and may wish you had a higher quality file). But they blew it when making scan resolution recommendations. I’m not even going to justify the suggestion of 75-100 DPI for Web use with a response; and the recommendation of 300 DPI for “printing or archiving” kind of makes me want to punch them in the face. MAYBE if we’re talking about a REALLY big piece of art. But then, if it’s big enough to justify only scanning at 300 DPI, does HP even make a consumer-grade flatbed scanner big enough to do that? I’m pretty sure they don’t.

If you are scanning Junior’s artwork, and you want to do it “like a pro” — like a real archives pro, not like the imaginary slacker that HP is talking about — then you should be scanning at about 600 DPI, saving as TIFFs, and not muddling things up with any color correction or auto-correct (figure out how to turn all that crap OFF in your scanner software). And no whining about the file sizes either. If you want to do this, do it right. Go big or go home.

Okay…now back to “Scan and Share Children’s Artwork.”

Here’s some food for thought : In most cases, a digital copy is never going to be as good as the original.

The only exception I can think of it is if your kid made a collage of newspaper clippings: if you scan it today while it’s new, that scanned newsprint is likely to look a whole lot better than the original in 10 or 20 years.

But oh wait, the only way you’ll ever know that for sure is if your digital copy (and the original) both survive for the next 10-20+ years so you can compare them. (Unless you have the equipment & know-how to conduct one of those artificial aging experiments – you know, the one that “proved” that microfilm should last 500 years.)

So, how are you going to make sure the digitized version of your kids’ artwork is safe?  Well, once they are digitized, I recommend following something along the lines of what I suggested in my “Save your digital photos” series (parts 1, 2, and 3) [June 2012].

HP recommends burning the image files to DVD and to “make two discs: one for archival purposes, and one to share with Grandma or other friends or family.” OK, I will give them credit for sneaking in the concepts of LOCKSS (lots of copies keeps stuff safe) AND geographic dispersal, whether they knew it or not, BUT I would still take this a little further. I don’t like optical media (CDs, DVDs) because they seem to go bad faster than real hard drives, even if you don’t use them. But they are easy to label and store. If you want to go that DVD route, make two copies FOR YOU and store them separately, AND give that third copy to Grandma (who hopefully lives in another state and not just across town?). I would also recommend backing up online using something like Dropbox, Carbonite, Smugmug, Shutterfly, or Snapfish (no I’m not selling these, they’re just ones I thought of). [There’s more about this in the “Save your digital photos” blog posts I referenced earlier.]

Finally, the one last statement that really ticked me off about this article: “Digital files or prints of your children’s art pieces last longer than the pieces themselves.” Uh…there’s a statement that requires some qualification, if I ever saw one. The digital files MIGHT last longer than the original IF you follow an appropriate regimen of file storage and backup. And I think it bears mentioning that any archivist will tell you that the original is always better than a digital copy, because you can’t get a truer representation of the original than THE ORIGINAL.

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While there are many things about these articles that really pushed my buttons (clearly), I would like to end on a positive note.

I reiterate : in theory, the suggestion of digitizing your kids’ artwork is a good one. (You know, assuming you don’t damage the original or your scanner in the process.) I like the idea, and I hadn’t really thought of it before (maybe because I don’t have children so this hasn’t come up in my personal life).

I really like the suggestions they made for why you might want to do it:

  • To share one piece of art with multiple people, such as self, both sets of grandparents, etc. (in Archivist-Speak: increased access);
  • To “ensure the original won’t be worn and torn after show and tell” (in Archivist-Speak: to reduce handling on the original while still allowing access – welcome concepts in Archivist Land); and even
  • To reduce clutter — this one I can get on board with, because if it means you can take 50 drawings off the fridge and put them neatly in a box somewhere, instead showing them off in a photo frame or on Facebook (thus still placating your kid that you are proud of their accomplishments – does Facebook Wall count as a virtual refrigerator door now in that sense?), then I think that’s fine.

I love that they reminded people to “write down as much information as you can about each piece” (in Archivist-Speak: YAY METADATA!), such as title of work, date of completion, and other anecdotal information (in Archivist-Speak: YAY PROVENANCE!).

Those other ideas about making a photo book, tee shirt, or thank you notes (to name a few) were also pretty awesome. Great ideas.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is : The idea of scanning kids’ artwork is basically good, in my opinion. What I disagree with (heartily) are the recommended specifications for the project’s implementation.

Okay, I’m going to go put my soapbox away now.

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Show us what you got

Recently, I was invited to participate on a panel of guest speakers in the Introduction to Public History course at my alma mater, Wright State University. After we three panelists had given our talks about our educational and career backgrounds, and answered questions, the course professor posed the following wrap-up question to all three of us:

What has been your most satisfying experience as an archivist?

I responded that, in general, I am most satisfied when a researcher contacts us in the Local History Room about any of our one-of-a-kind items or collections. The fact that this person was able to locate an item of interest in our collections tells me that we must be doing something right.

I’m always curious how people find us when they come calling with a specific archival material already in mind. Did they find us on WorldCat, the library web site, a search engine hit, the OhioLINK EAD Finding Aid Repository, or somewhere else? On at least two occasions that I’m aware of, I have received reference inquiries that stemmed directly from something the person read on this very blog (*happy dance*) because the blog entries show up on Google search results.

So, yes, I suppose my most satisfying experience in general is when people find our archival materials and want to actually use them. Because if people can’t (a) find them and (b) use them, then honestly, what is the point of having them? (Isn’t that like Rule #1 from Ranganathan?)

And I think that the reason it makes me happy when people find and use our materials is because that then gives justification to the other activities on which I spend most of my time, which pertain to preservation, arrangement and description, and access to those very materials. Allow me to elaborate.

My “the short version of my job” speech begins with: “I have about four hats…” Those hats include:  Reference, Processing, Conservation, and CONTENTdm.

Reference is the part where I help researchers find answers to their questions; that’s the part where sometimes people ask to use the archival materials.

Processing is a shorthand term for archival arrangement and description: figuring out what is in a manuscript collection, putting it in a logical order in boxes and folders, then writing a finding aid so other people (including yourself, later on) can find materials in the collection. I’ve also worked hard to get catalog entries for all our ready-to-use manuscript collections, because our local catalog entries are also fed out to WorldCat, which means worldwide discoverability…which hopefully leads to use.

Conservation work, in my case, involves item preservation activities and sometimes repairs (such as rebinding a book to better protect the information on the pages inside).

And finally, CONTENTdm refers to the digital asset management system we use to serve up the digitized images and descriptions of our historic photographs, postcards, and other types of documents.

So, when you consider that three of my four main job duties involve caring for one-of-a-kind materials, it’s not hard to understand why I get excited when people actually find those materials and want to use them!

Preserving Our Cultural Heritage Conference at Indiana University, presentations, part 2

More from the Preserving Our Cultural Heritage conference at IU:

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Danielle Emerling (IU-Bloomington) gave a presentation, “Motion Picture Film Preservation at the Chautauqua Institution Archives.” This presentation described a project in which Ms. Emerling participated last year to preserve and make accessible 2 or 3 silent film reels from 1923 (35mm film). With the help of Eastman House and Kodak in Rochester, NY, the film was evaluated (not nitrate – woohoo!), preserved, and ultimately digitized for access purposes. We were even able to watch clips from the films during the presentation – cool stuff!

It was kind of amazing to watch these videos from 1923, being played on a computer, no less. This gives me hope for getting some of my grandpa’s old home movie films (16mm and 8mm from the 1950s and 1960s) preserved and digitized someday. (I am afraid to know how much the whole process cost, though.)

The subject matter was interesting as well. One film showed activities at Chautauqua. The other seemed to be a sort of patriot film, which depicted a group of “immigrants” being schooled on American history (the 30 second version!). (That was one of the more anti-immigrant time periods in American history – if you don’t believe me, check out the details of the Immigration Act of 1924.)

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Brenna Henry (IU-Bloomington) presented “Non-textual Objects in Library and Archival Collections.” In this presentation, Ms. Henry shared the results of some survey research she conducted regarding the non-textual objects (often called “realia”) in libraries and archives, including how and why the objects got into the collection and how the institutions deal with them.

I can only imagine some of the things that might be floating around in an archives that, er, don’t really belong there. Sometimes you get and keep these things because they go with a larger manuscript collection that you really did want. Sometimes you have these things because someone at your institution in the past didn’t really understand the archives and museums are actually different. Or, sometimes, they just sneak in on you – like those 19th century notebooks with locks of hair in them. (Yep, we’ve got some of those…)

I asked Ms. Henry whether any of the institutions mentioned directing patrons to another repository that deals with 3-D objects, and she said yes, some of them do. That’s what we usually do at the library, if someone has historic artifacts that they want to donate: we recommend a museum instead. But we’re happy to take manuscripts that fit our collecting policy.

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Day 1 presentations that I did not attend (sessions were concurrent):

Kristopher Stenson (IU-Bloomington), “The Grigg Report and its Effect on Appraisal in the United Kingdom.”

Camille Torres (Simmons College), “Rethinking Appraisal Theory for Government Documents.”

Ed Hill (IU-Bloomington), “Heavy Metal as Folklore and the Case for Preservation.”

Richard Fischer (City University of New York-Queens), “‘The Mystery Song’: Histories of the Contingent in Documentary Jazz Recordings.”

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Day 2 presentations:

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Kristen Schuster (Simmons College) read her paper “Photography, Identity and Descriptive Processes.” Here is a description of the presentation from the paper abstract: “The relationship between the creation of records and the impulse to archive represents the interdependence between memory and identity. How we articulate our past experiences reflects our ability to understand the meaning [of] memory, as well as the subjects we include in them.”

Ms. Schuster’s presentation was intriguing, but it was so very meta that I think the best I can do to comment on it is to copy here some of the extermely interesting sound-bites I jotted down in my notes:

  • What we choose to save is a reflection of our perception of value.
  • “The camera is an archiving machine.”
  • Visual literacy can transform a photo from “art” to “document”.
  • Archival description does not preserve memory but the notion of memory.
  • Cataloging represents an object through controlled terms, thus limiting search ability and stripping details and memory from the photo. [This is one of my favorite snippets! Then again, subject headings and I have a bit of a rocky relationship anyway…]
  • Words and images communicate in different ways.
  • Folksonomy tags democratize subjects.
  • User supplied terms can broaden ideas of a photo’s subject matter or how it is considered; a single indexer cannot provide all possible relevant terms. [Yes!]

Just to be clear: Most of the above bulleted items are probably direct quotes or very nearly so – in any event, all Ms. Schuster’s ideas. Only the parts in brackets come from me. But I was scribbling so fast during the presentation, trying to listen and write at the same time, that I didn’t get everything word for word or sometimes forgot the actual quotation marks. (Ah, it takes me back to my undergraduate history lecture courses…)

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Micah Erwin (University of Texas-Austin) gave a presentation, “An Underappreciated Resource: Medieval Manuscript Leaf Collections.” The presentation discussed Mr. Erwin’s experiences with digitizing and describing medieval manuscript leaf collections. (Just so we’re clear: leaf = manuscript page, not like like a leaf from a tree!)

Apparently, in the past it has been fashionable to collect manuscript leaves, which has caused the individual leaves from manuscripts to become scattered among various collectors. Mr. Erwin mentioned some of the ways that digization (even Flickr!) is aiding in identifying leaves from different collections that originally belonged together, as well as how digitization might be used to create a virtual exhibit bringing leaves from different collections back together again. He also emphasized that although these individual leaves are often viewed as mere curiosities and are consequently not always cataloged adequately, the leaves can be valuable teaching aids – so cataloging should be done! [I couldn’t agree more! I think everything should be cataloged! Why have something if nobody knows it’s there?]

This was yet another interesting presentation on a topic I did not know much about, save what I learned in my History of Books class a year or so ago. Incidentally, Mr. Erwin mentioned that renowned medieval manuscripts expert Christopher de Hamel was at the IU Lilly Library recently. Mr. de Hamel wrote A History of Illuminated Manuscripts, which we used in the History of Books class (one of my favorites in my whole MLIS program).

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Rachel Woodbrook and Althea Lazzaro (University of Washington) gave their presentation “‘How are [we] to bring such wayward creatures into the bonds of organizations?’ Zine Archives and the Archival Tradition,” and led a discussion afterwards.

I admit I did not even know what a “zine” was prior to this presentation, let alone what sorts of unique archival challenges they might present. The presenters gave a very broad definition of “zine” as: “any self-published creative endeavor done out of passion.” Apparently, this format has been popular in a lot of counter-culture movements (my word, not theirs), such as punk, new feminism, and gay pride, among others.

As a result of the zines’ origins, this affets how they are being collected, preserved, and made accessible. That is, many zine archives (such as the Zine Archive and Publishing Project in Seattle) tend to be low-key and low-restriction, even circulating copies; to lock them away for their own protection would completely cramp the style of the format and step on the intent and the material itself. After all, many of these were written for the express purpose of defying control and oppression! It was a very interesting dynamic.

Issues regarding possible digization for access (so more people could view) and preservation (less handling of the originals) were discussed also. Copyrights and privacy issues were the two biggies. Intellectual property is protected by copyright upon its creation, but you can of course ask permission for certain uses. But what do you do if the item in question has a pseudonymed author that you can’t even find? As for privacy, there is some very personal stuff in some of these zines: it’s a little dicey whether the author would even like it being in an archives (but again – you can’t always find them to ask!), let alone know that something they might have created to circulate among a handful of friends has found its way not only into an archive but was digitized and made available to the world.

Yes, this presentation turned out to be an interesting an informative one indeed. Not only did I learn what the heck a zine even is, I learned about some of the very unique archival challenges they can present.

(As an aside, I overheard someone else talking about zines in a completely unrelated context later on that same day. Weird how one day I didn’t even know what they were, and the next day, I hear about them from two different sources!)

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Day 2 presentations that I did not attend (sessions were concurrent):

Sarah Keil (IU-Bloomington): “An Analysis of African Archives: Challenges for the Present and Solutions for Change.”

Alison Clemens (University of Texas-Austin): “The Woman Behind the Curtain: Winnie Allen as Archivist.”

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And with that, I’ve finished up the paper/presentation sessions. In Part 3, I’ll share some notes on the behind-the-scenes tour at Lilly Library, as well as the Conservation Workshop (which was my primary reason for attending this conference).