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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Introduction to Imaging by Howard Besser, Sally Hubbard and Deborah Lenert (Getty Research Institute) The revised edition of M Introduction to Imaging expands on such fundamental issues as the different varieties and uses of metadata, the utilization of controlled vocabularies, and digital preservation. The book also recommends strategies such as implementing open standards to smoothly integrate image collections and their documentation with other information resources, and guarding against collections being made obsolete by future technological developments.

A glossary, bibliography, and listing of online resources are included.

Howard Besser, an internationally known authority on digital imaging and digital libraries, is program director of the Moving Image Archiving and Preservation program at the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University.

Sally Hubbard and Deborah Lenert are digital projects manager and digital projects specialist, respectively, in the Getty Standards and Digital Resource Management Program.

The first edition of Introduction to Imaging was published in 1995 and quickly became a standard textbook on the construction of digital image collections. The Visual Resources Association Bulletin praised it for setting forth "important basic principles and technical terms that anyone beginning an imaging project would need to know."

Significantly expanded and updated, the revised edition of Introduction to Imaging allows curators, librarians, collection managers, scholars, and students to better understand the basic technology and processes involved in building a cohesive set of digital images. It also explores how to link digitized images to the information required to access, preserve, and manage them. Other topics include making data interoperable with other information resources and activities; developing strategies that do not limit or foreclose future options; and ensuring the longevity of digital assets.

The Introduction To series deals with the complex issues and tools related to the production, management, and dissemination of cultural heritage information resources.

Few technologies have offered as much potential to change research and teaching in the arts and humanities as digital imaging. The possibility of examining rare and unique objects outside the secure, climate-controlled environments of museums and archives liberates collections for study and enjoyment. The ability to display and link collections from around the world breaks down physical barriers to access, and the potential of reach­ing audiences across social and economic boundaries blurs the distinction between the privileged few and the general public. Like any Jtechnology, however, digital imaging is a tool that should be used judiciously and with forethought.

In the earliest stages of the digital era, most digital imaging projects were ad hoc, experimental in nature, and relatively small in scope. The result was a series of idiosyncratic and disconnected projects that died with their creators' tenure or with their storage media, demonstrating that one of the requirements for the establishment of useful, sustainable, and scalable digital image collections—collections that are interoperable with broader information systems—was the development and implementation of data and technology standards.

The line that formerly divided everyday analog or traditional activ­ities and specialized digital projects has eroded, and the creation of digital image collections is now an integral and expected part of the workflow of museums and other cultural heritage organizations. Unfortunately, the world of imaging has not necessarily become easier to navigate on that account. A plethora of differing image format and documentation or metadata standards has emerged, and a wide variety of hardware and soft-ware designed to create, manage, and store such collections has become available. Not only must collection managers choose between the different hardware, software, and metadata options, but because digital entities dif­fer in fundamental ways from their analog counterparts, the management of hybrid collections (which encompass both digital and analog objects) also requires the development of new and different skill sets and even staff positions. It may also prompt the reappraisal of work processes and protocols within an institution.

In short, the establishment and maintenance of digital image col­lections are complicated and challenging undertakings that require a long-term commitment. There is no single best practice, best software, or best system for the task, but there are some basic premises and guidelines that can help institutions make the decisions that best fit their own priorities, environment, and budget.

Introduction to Imaging is designed to help curators, librarians, collection managers, administrators, scholars, and students better under-stand the basic technology and processes involved in building a deep and cohesive set of digital images and linking those images to the information required to access, preserve, and manage them. It identifies the major issues that arise in the process of creating an image collection and outlines some of the options available and choices that must be made. Areas of particular concern include integration and interoperability with other information resources and activities; the development of a strategy that does not limit or foreclose future options and that offers a likely upgrade path; and ensuring the longevity of digital assets.

Our discussion begins with a brief review of some key concepts and terms basic to an understanding of digital imaging. A digital image is understood here as a raster or bitmapped representation of an analog work of art or artifact. Vector graphics, geometrical objects such as those created by drawing software or CAD (computer-aided design) systems, and other works that are "born digital" are not specifically dealt with here, nor are images made with different light-wave lengths, such as X-radiographs. However, much of the information on the importance of metadata, standards, and preservation is relevant to all digital files of whatever type and provenance.

For those planning a digital image collection, this overview is merely a beginning. Other resources are outlined, and additional sources of information are included in the bibliography. Acronyms and jargon abound in the digital imaging and the digital library universes. Every effort has been made here to avoid these when possible and to explain them where they are unavoidable.

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