Saturday, May 15, 2010

Review of Digital Images for the Information Professional

Digital Images for the Information Professional

My review of Digital Images for the Information Professional by Melissa M. Terras (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2008).
Published by Collections: A Journal for Museum and Archives Professionals, 6(1/2) Winter/Spring 2010.

In Digital Images for the Information Professional, Melissa Terras, Senior Lecturer in Electronic Communication, University College London, surveys the history, technology, and changing information environment of digital images, providing a thorough framework for implementing, sustaining, and making accessible digitized resources for an audience of information professionals, defined as library, archives, museum, or cultural heritage institution workers who maintain and improve access to information.

Initial chapters provide a foundation for subjects addressed in succeeding chapters. Topics include the genesis and development of digital imaging and technologies, file formats, and the fundamentals of digital images, such as pixels, resolution, bit-depth, image size, and compression.

The chapter on image metadata discusses how “good, detailed, systematic and consistent descriptions of [image] contents and provenance is required” to aid access, track legal rights, and facilitate long-term preservation (163). Terras writes, “Creating and maintaining metadata [is] time-consuming and costly, and a tension exists between the two metadata functions of discovery aid and resource description: metadata creators have to provide enough information to be useful, but cannot afford to be exhaustive” (166). Folksonomies, or “unstructured, un-policied, non-hierarchical and unchecked” tagging by users, may improve image retrieval when paired with a metadata scheme and structured vocabulary, but cannot replace skilled description by information professionals (180).

The book’s ne plus ultra are the chapters “Digital Images and Memory Institutions,” which presents an overview of digitization initiatives for the information, culture, and heritage sectors with suggested guidelines and standards, and “Personal Digital Image Collections,” which discusses the use of digital imaging technologies by everyday people. At first, the latter chapter seems unrelated to the former, but the plethora of images shared online affects how they are organized and retrieved in archives, libraries, and museums. Terras advises that memory institutions “had better keep abreast of how the general public are using imaging technologies outside their own offerings to be well used,” because large scale digitization is “a self-promoting vehicle: the more that is provided, the more the resource is used, and the higher the demand for other resources of high quality” (159, 123). The author also explores the role that information professionals may have in educating the public about the future viability of their personal digital image collections.

The concluding chapter examines current issues in digital imaging: color, quality, copyright, sustainability, and “truth and the digital image,” or digital image manipulation. For the information professional, the concern is not so much deliberate adjustments, but alterations in the production process, such as resizing, format changes, or compression.

Digital Images for the Information Professional is not intended to elucidate the execution of a digitization project, but to supply the knowledge necessary to do so successfully. Information professionals, as well as others interested in digital images, will find it an instructive, comprehensive read, as it clarifies complex issues and contains suggestions for further reading. As Terras writes in the preface, “This is the book I wish someone else had written for me” (ix). As a visual collection professional, I am thankful that Terras penned this book—one of the best on the subject that I have encountered.