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Digital Objects: Defined

A digital object consists of a file plus metadata. In this section of the course, we'll focus on the creating the file. In the next section of the course, "Organization and Representation" we'll create metadata.

Guidelines and Specifications

Most digital collections contain guidelines and specifications regarding the handling of both physical and digital objects including preservation, digitization, storage, and metadata best practices. Go to the Lowcountry Digital Library to explore their guidelines.

Guidelines focus on the policies and procedures related to the processes, while specifications detail the requirements such as file sizes, file types, storage temperature, metadata elements, standards, and other specifics.

In some cases, these guidelines and specifications are found in a single document focusing on "best practices". However, sometimes separate documents are constructed for specific material types (e.g., sound recording guidelines, digital imaging specifications) or activities (e.g., scanning process, metadata procedures). Examples of these documents will be woven into the discussion on this page as well as the Material Type page.

Documents containing guidelines and specifications for particular projects are often found on the "about" page of a digital collection's website. In other cases, a link can be found at the bottom of the entry page. Some websites provide a search bar. Try searching the site for the guidelines. Explore the examples below:

Harvard University Library’s Open Collections Program provides access to digital objects for teaching and resources. Their website shares this approach as well as their digitization guidelines.

expeditionsDigital Collection Spotlight

EXPEDITIONS & DISCOVERIES
is an open collection from Harvard University Library focusing on exploration and scientific discovery in the modern age.

Contents
: Spanning 1626 to 1953, this collection features historical resources in the areas of anthropology, archaeology, astronomy, botany, geography, geology, medicine, oceanography, and zoology. Users can search by discipline or region.

Connections
: Teachers will find this collection to be an interesting way to connect science with history. Use a specific expedition to jumpstart a discussion of scientific discovery.

Featured Digital Objects
:
Albatross Pacific Expeditions http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/expeditions/albatross.html
Peabody South American Expedition http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/expeditions/peabody.html
To visit the collection, go to http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/expeditions/.

Physical Objects

While the focus of this course is on digitization and preservation of digital objects, it's important to consider what happens to an object once it's been digitized. From historical photos to floppy disks, these items need to be carefully preserved.

The Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts (CCAHA) and the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) provide practical advice on the care of original materials.

For more information about preservation of physical objects, take the Archives course.

conservation

try itTry It!
Work your way through Object of History website. Although designed for K-12 youth, this activity will get you thinking about digital objects and help you better understand how objects are identified and described. You don't need to create anything now, however the Omeka information might be useful soon.

Digitally-Born Digital Objects

From catalogs to newsletters, information sources are increasingly “digitally born”. This shift from print to digital formats presents unique challenges in terms of preservation.

Auction catalogs are an example. The Frick Art Reference Library (FARL) houses one of the largest collections of art sales catalogs in the world. Although they continue to receive paper catalogs for their collection, resources are increasingly being born-digital. The Sotheby's Catalog is an example of a 2015 Auction Catalog that was born-digital. The image below shows a screen capture of a born-digital art catalog from Pook & Pook Inc.

art cat

readRead!
Read TWO of the following articles focusing on digitally born materials.

Barrera-Gomez, Julianna & Erway, Ricky (2013). Walk this way: detailed steps for transferring born-digital content from media you can read in-house. OCLC Research.

Besser, Howard (2013). Archiving Aggregates of Individually Created Digital Content: Lessons from Archiving the Occupy Movement. Preservation, Digital Technology & Culture, 42(1), 31-37.

Erway, Ricky (2012). You’ve got to walk before you can run: first steps for managing born-digital content receive on physical media. OCLC Research.

Kirschenbaum, Matthew G., Ovenden, Richard, & Redwine, Gabriela (December 2010). Digital Forensics and Born-Digital Content in Cultural Heritage Collections. Council on Library and Information Resources. Available online.

Nadasky, Gretchen (March/April 2014). Preserving web-based auction catalogs at the Frick Art Reference Library. D-Lib Magazine, 20(3/4). Available online.

Neal, James G. (2014). The integrity of research in at risk: capturing and preserving web sites and web documents and the implications for resource sharing. IFLA 2015.

Redwine, Gabriela, Barnard, Megan, Donovan, Kate, Farr, Erika, Forstrom, Michael, Hansen, Will, John, Jeremy Leighton, Kühl, Nancy, Shaw, Seth, & Thomas, Susan (October 2013). Born Digital: Guidance for Donors, Dealers, and Archival Repositories. Council on Library and Information Resources. Available online.

try itTry It!
Read the blog entry Vandecreek, Drew (July 31, 2015). About That Black Hole. On Digital History. His funny, but also ominous story gets to the core of the digital preservation issue. What are your thoughts on the need for the preservation of digitally-born objects?

try itTry It!
Look for a digital collection that contains both digitized and born-digital objects. Provide examples of each. Why are both types of materials in this collection? How to they support the collection and each other?

From climate data to census surveys, data is increasingly born digital. Although data objects may seem different from image files or word processing documents, they are still part of digital collections. Often stored as data sets, visualization software may be used to examine the data found in these collections

globeDigital Collection Spotlight

THE GLOBE PROGRAM

Contents: This international project contains science data sets that youth can explore using online visualization software. The measurements included in the project date from 1995 to the present. Users can choose from base maps such as the world at night, land surface temperature, and precipitation estimates.

Connections: Students can make use of the data sets or share their own data. A teacher section contains resources for students, teachers, and citizen scientists from around the world.

Featured Digital Objects:
Visualization - http://vis.globe.gov/GLOBE/
Teacher Resources - http://www.globe.gov/do-globe
To visit the collection, http://www.globe.gov

Creating Digital Objects

digitization scanDigitization is the process of converting objects into a digital file.

The image on the right shows a book digitization project. Photo by Martin Sauter, Wikimedia Commons.

Digital conversion is the act of transforming analog signals such as waves, tones, and lines into dots or bit streams to produce a digital file.

Prior to beginning the process of digitization, it's important to ask the following questions (Fox, et.al, 2011b):

readRead!
Read Basic Genre Terms for Cultural Heritage Materials.

videoWatch!
Skim the video Digital Reformatting from the Public Library Partnerships Project curriculum.

The Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative is a collaborative effort by federal agencies to define common guidelines, methods, and practices for digitizing historical content.

Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative

Articles and Bibliographies

readRead!
Read ONE of the following articles:

Read Finn, Lauren (September 2011). Terminology for the Creation, Care, and Storage of Digital Materials. Conserve-O-Gram, 22(6).

Read Minimum Digitization Capture Recommendations. ALCTS Preservation and Reformatting Section.

Read Miller, Lisa (2015). ‘Capture and release’: digital cameras in the reading room. In OCLC Research, Making Archival and Special Collections More Accessible, 99-112. Available online.

Skim the Preservation Leaflets from the Northeast Document Conservation Center.

highway 89Digital Collection Spotlight

The HIGHWAY 89 COLLECTION is a digital collection that includes photographs, manuscripts, and printed materials related to Highway 89 that runs through the western part of the United States.

Contents
: Exhibits, a map, timelines, and browsing tools assist users in exploring the materials.

Connections: Use this project as inspiration for creating a local history project focusing on a local road. Or, seek out other highway collections include Lincoln Highway at http://quod.lib.umich.edu/l/linchigh. Also, look for back country byway projects. Use the History Pin project for ideas at https://www.historypin.org/en/.

Featured Digital Objects:
Architecture - https://goo.gl/AVdcIx
Billboards and Signs - https://goo.gl/rlk2WT
National Parks - https://goo.gl/nOzE8S
To visit the collection, go to http://www.highway89.org/.

Files

scannerAn important aspect of digital object creation revolves around selecting the best file format for the particular project need.

The photo on the right shows a scanning project. Photo by Bin im Garten, Wikimedia Commons.

Fox and others (2011) define a file format as

"the layout of the data inside of the file and the organization of that data in terms of bits, since digital data can only be stored using a binary system in terms of 0s and 1s. Packages of information can be stored as data files or transmitted as data stream (a.k.a. bitstreams or byte streams). A format is a fixed, byte-serialized encoding of an information model. "

Fox and others (2011) define a file extension as

"suffixes to the filename, which give an indication as to the format of the content of the file."

Fox and others (2011) define bit stream copying as

"copying a stream of data into a duplicate stream. It is commonly known as 'backing up' your data. Bitstream copying refers to the process of making an exact duplicate of a digital object."

readRead!
Read Sustainability of Digital Formats: Planning for Library of Congress Collections (2013) from the Library of Congress. Think about how you might use these to build your own set of guidelines for digitization.
To learn more about sustainable practices, go to Sustainable Preservation Practices.

Read InfoKit: Digital File Formats from JISC.
This website provides an excellent overview to digital file formats.

Read Best Practices for File Formats and Best Practices for File Naming from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

File Format Policies

“Whether overseeing institutional repositories, digital library collections, or digital preservation services, repository managers often establish file format policies intended to extend the longevity of collections under their care. While concerted efforts have been made in the library community to encourage common standards, digital preservation policies regularly vary from one digital library service to another” (Rimkus, Padilla, Popp, & Martin, 2014).

readRead!
Read Rimkus, Kyle, Padilla, Thomas, Popp, Tracy, & Martin, Greer (March/April 2014). Digital preservation file format policies of ARL member libraries: an analysis. D-Lib Magazine, 20(3/4). Available online.

Resources for both physical and digital preservation.

try itTry It!
Explore POWRR (Preserving digital Objects With Restricted Resources). This online project shares lots of tools related to preservation.

Principles of Preserving Digital Objects

In Preserving Digital Information, Henry Gladney (2007, 11-12) noted that we need preservation methods for

Gladney (2007, 22) concludes that the challenges (for digital preservation) are:

• "ensuring that a copy of every preserved document survives ‘forever’;
• ensuring that any consumer can decide whether or not to trust a preserved document; and
• ensuring that consumers can use any preserved document as its authors intended.”

Long-term Preservation Issues

In order to ensure the preservation of documents, a collection's file format must have the following characteristics according to Fox and others (2011),

    1. Save the bits so that som ewhere a copy survives and that copy can be found.
    2. Ensure that the bits can be interpreted later (file format retention).
    3. Make the bits trustworthy by reliably associating sufficient metadata.
    4. Include library content lists among the set of saved documents.
    5. Minimize the need for digital archeology (rescuing content from obsolete technology) through the ability to translate to other formats.

Fox and others (2011) suggest that the following file formats should be consider to ensure preservation of content for long durations.

    1. International standards are preferred.
    2. XML allows users to understand an object’s structure and content without using specific machines or software.
    3. Text documents ( Word or other proprietary formats) depend on compatibility between software versions.
    4. XML with metadata tagging would lead to longer preservation.
    5. PDF documents lead to PDF/A documents (archiving).
    6. Image options – TIFF, GIF, JPEG, JP2, Flashpix, ImagePac, PNG, PDF

As you select file formats for digital preservation, consider the following questions:

Some objects need special care when considering digital preservation including migration.

Fox and others (2011) identified the following sustainability factors for file formats:

    1. Adoption – used by the primary creators, disseminators, or users of information resources
    2. Disclosure – complete specifications and tools for validating technical integrity exist and are accessible
    3. External Dependencies – depends on particular hardware, operating system, or software
    4. Impact of Patents – ability of archival institutions to sustain content in a format will be inhibited by patents
    5. Quality and functionality – ability of a format to represent the significant characteristics of a given content item required by current and future users
    6. Self-documentation – contains basic descriptive, technical, and other administrative metadata
    7. Transparency – digital representation is open to direct analysis with basic tools
    8. Technical Protection Mechanism – implementation of mechanisms, such as encryption, that prevent the preservation of content by a trusted repository

Fox and others (2011) identified five categories of strategies to ensure protection:

    1. preserving the original technology used to create or store the records
    2. emulating the original technology on new platforms
    3. migrating the software necessary to retrieve, deliver, and use the records
    4. migrating records to up-to-date formats
    5. converting records to standard forms

Emulation

Emulation is a primary concern when dealing with long-term storage and retrieval of data. This involves the ability to access information in an original software program when the original software, operating system, or platform no longer exists. In some cases technology is available that will emulate the original platform allowing for data retrieval. Although emulation is able to maintain the original "look and feel" of the user experience, it can be difficult to find hardware and software that will emulate some systems. In addition, there can be legal issues when dealing with emulating proprietary systems.

It's increasingly difficult to find machines that will emulate a Betamax tape machine. In many cases, transformation is a more realistic alternative to emulation. Fox and others (2011) define transformation as

"the process of altering the format of an object (destination format could be a digital file or output display). Transformation means that a file is converted from one file format (e.g., .avi) to another file format (e.g., .mov)."

Migration

Migration involves the movement of data from one medium to another medium. For example, a librarian might convert a video from a VHS tape to a digital file stored on a hard drive. However, migration might be as simple as moving files from one web server to another web server. Or, moving data files from one database data management software package to another. Migration may involve moving to a new version of the file format, changing to a new file format, or shifting to an open source option.

File compression can have a huge impact on the content of files. Compression involved reducing a file's size to save space. When files are compressed, their size can be reduced 50-90%. However, this can have a negative impact on the content. Compression is often part of a migration strategy. Lossless or lossy compression involves whether or not in compressing the file original dat permanently lost. With lossless compression, the every bit of the information remains after the file is uncompressed. Librarians must decide whether the reduction of space justifies compression.

To ensure continued access to digital objects, it's essential to preserve the content and functionality of data. This includes minimizing physical and intellectual content loss. Strategies to ensure preservation including retaining the original item and the native software, maintaining copies in different formats, and using open standards when possible. It's also important to maintain good records about preservation activities for future generations. (Fox, et.al, 2011).

Refreshing

Refreshing involves copying data to a new media periodically with no changes. Fox and others (2011) state that

"Refreshing is to copy digital information from one long-term storage medium to another of the same type, with no change whatsoever in the bitstream.. New media is of the same type as the old media... The goal of refreshing is to preserve the data from any bad effects that can be caused by damage to the media that hold the data. Refreshing is key to the preservation of data.

Fox and others (2011) note that

"Modified refreshing is the copying to another medium of a similar enough type that no change is made in the bit-pattern that is of concern to the application and operating system using the data."

Discipline-Specific Issues

While most disciplines have the need to preserve text, images, audio, and video, some areas have more specialized needs.

In their book Digital Imaging and Computer Vision, Stanco, Battiato, and Gallo (2011) discuss the importance of digital imaging in cultural heritage preservation. Going far beyond scanning texts and photographing artifacts, they discuss the use of digital 3D models for the study and restoration of artifacts, spectral imaging in cultural heritage, and pattern discovery in rock art.

try itTry It!
Work your way through Object of History website. This project will help you better understand how objects are identified and described. You don't need to create anything now, however the Omeka information might be useful soon.

Resources

Albertson, Dan & Ju, Boryung (2015). Design criteria for video digital libraries: Categories of important features emerging from users’ responses. Online Information Review, 39(2), 214-228.

Anderson, Sean & Northam, Adam (April 2015). Making Your Popcorn and Enjoying It Too. Computers in Libraries, 35(4), 20-23.

Brylawski, Sam, Lerman, Maya, Pike, Robin, Smith, Kathlin (eds.) (2015). ARSC Guide to Audio Preservation. Council on Library and Information Resources. Available online.

Delve, Janet & Anderson, David (eds.) (2014). Preserving complex digital objects. Facet Publishing, UK.

Eves, Bronwyn (2012). Taking Care: Family Textiles. ALCTS Webinar.

Foster, Allen & Rafferty (2016). Managing Digital Cultural Objects: Analysis, Discovery and Retrieval. ALA Editions.

Fox, Edward A., Yang, Seungwon, Ewers, John, Wildemuth, Barbara, Pomerantz, Jeffrey P., Oh, Sanghee (2011). Module 2c-8d: File Formats, Transformation, and Migration. Collaborative Research: Curriculum Development: Digital Libraries. Available: http://curric.dlib.vt.edu/modDev/modules/DL_2-c_2009-10-09.pdf

Fox, Edward A., Yang, Seungwon, Ewers, John, Wildemuth, Barbara, Pomerantz, Jeffrey P., Oh, Sanghee (2011b). Module 3-b: Digitization. Collaborative Research: Curriculum Development: Digital Libraries. Available: http://curric.dlib.vt.edu/modDev/modules/DL_3-b_2009-10-07.pdf

Gladney, Henry (2007). Preserving Digital Information. Springer Science & Business Media.

Harvey, Ross (2011). Preserving Digital Materials. Walter de Gruyter. Preview Available: https://books.google.com/books?id=Z_8glIHqKgQC

Hensley, Holly (July/August 2015). How to begin a digital photo collection. Computers in Libraries, 35(6), 4-10.

Hulser, Richard (April 2015). California Light and Sound Collection. Computers in Libraries, 35(4), 4-11.

Jacobs, James A. & Jacobs, James R. (March/April 2013). The digital-surrogate seal of approval: a consumer-oriented standards. D-Lib Magazine, 19(3/4). Available online.

Kirschenbaum, Matthew G., Ovenden, Richard, & Redwine, Gabriela (December 2010). Digital Forensics and Born-Digital Content in Cultural Heritage Collections. Council on Library and Information Resources. Available online.

Miller, Lisa (2015). ‘Capture and release’: digital cameras in the reading room. In OCLC Research, Making Archival and Special Collections More Accessible, 99-112. Available online.

Nadasky, Gretchen (March/April 2014). Preserving web-based auction catalogs at the Frick Art Reference Library. D-Lib Magazine, 20(3/4). Available online.

Norris, Debra Hess (2013a). Here, There and Everywhere. ALCTS Webinar. Available online.

Norris, Debra Hess (2013b). Here, There and Everywhere. ALCTS Webinar Presentation. Available online.

Norris, Debra Hess (2013c). Here, There and Everywhere: Answers to Questions. ALCTS Webinar. Available online.

Northam, Adam & Anderson, Sean (December 2013). Popcorn and a Movie: Using Popcorn.js to enhance digital collections. Computers in Libraries, 33(10), 13-17.

Pontevolpe, Gianfranco & Salza, Silvio (June 2009). General Study 05 - Keeping and Preserving Email. The InterPARES 3 Project. Available online.

Redwine, Gabriela, Barnard, Megan, Donovan, Kate, Farr, Erika, Forstrom, Michael, Hansen, Will, John, Jeremy Leighton, Kühl, Nancy, Shaw, Seth, & Thomas, Susan (October 2013). Born Digital: Guidance for Donors, Dealers, and Archival Repositories. Council on Library and Information Resources. Available online.

Reilly, James M. (1986). Care and Identification of 19th Century Photographic Prints. Image Permanence Institute.

Reitz, Joan M. (2014). Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science. Libraries Unlimited. Available: http://www.abc-clio.com/ODLIS/odlis_a.aspx.

Rimkus, Kyle, Padilla, Thomas, Popp, Tracy, & Martin, Greer (March/April 2014). Digital preservation file format policies of ARL member libraries: an analysis. D-Lib Magazine, 20(3/4). Available online.

Stanco, Filippo, Battiato, Sebastiano, and Gallo, Giovanni (2011). Digital Imaging and Computer Vision: Digital Imaging for Cultural Heritage Preservation: Analysis, Restoration, and Reconstruction of Ancient Artworks. Boca Raton, FL, USA: CRC Press. Available as an ebook through IUPUI.


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