Imaging collections is a Herculean task in terms of labor, costs, and mindshare. Many departments are involved in the Digitization Chain. This includes the executive arm of the institute, preservation conservation teams, cataloguing personal, imaging specialists, and information technologies departments. The scope is so wide and the chain so long that the overwhelming majority of the time and resources spent in the Digitization Chain are not related to the actual imaging. The preponderance of the time and costs are spent on administrative planning, internal communication and project organization, object retrieval, metadata entry, quality control, object return, and file management. For example, a single technician could image more than 10,000 photographic prints in one shift using a DT RG3040 Reprographic System provided that was the only step in the digitization process. In reality, the imaging technician is only one part of the total Digitization Chain, and will spend more time retrieving, organizing, and returning the boxes/containers of prints than actively imaging.
It’s also important to consider that beyond the initial Digitization Chain, there is a commitment to maintain the image file in perpetuity. Even with a decreasing cost of storage, there is still a recurring cost associated with storage and providing organization of, and access to, digital archives. Taking into account the entire Digitization Chain and the life span of the resulting assets, the difference in cost to create and maintain a true Preservation Digital Object versus a mediocre image is negligible.
Imagine opening a restaurant in the middle of Manhattan: designing an elegant menu with a well-researched flavor palate, filling the dining area with the finest decor, and spending the going rate for top-notch staff. Now, imagine installing Easy Bake Ovens in the kitchens of this restaurant. The core product, the meals served, will now be mediocre, despite the rest of the efforts to create a high-end restaurant. While an industrial-grade oven may be significantly more expensive than an Easy Bake Oven, it represents only a fraction of a cost of running the restaurant, and is worth the investment
“Thinking about the value of the [Keith Albee] collection and the value of the staff provided by the [NEH] grant… we’re investing a lot of time money and effort and we didn’t want the imaging hardware to hold us back. We invested in Digital Transitions solutions in order to get a great end product.”
– Bethany Davis, Digital Processing Coordinator Librarian, University of Iowa Libraries
Keeping in mind the cost of the entire Digitization Chain, it is imperative to execute the imaging itself at the best possible quality, which requires the best imaging hardware and software. Otherwise, the rest of the institutional resources involved in the Digitization Chain will have been squandered.
“The percentage of overall cost of digitization at NYPL represented by capture and processing probably falls somewhere between 20 and 30%. This is an extremely rough estimate based on an estimated average salary and factoring in an estimate of average annual equipment cost.”
– Eric Shows, Assistant Manager, Digital Imaging Unit, New York Public Library
“High quality images do not have to cost much more if the equipment is already available. Much of the real costs are human, so the time required to retrieve an item, prepare it, shoot it, process the images and reshelve it can be up to 80-90% of all costs incurred. Even when investing in high-end hardware and software these costs make up only 10-20% of all costs incurred as long as the equipment is consistently used.”
– Ian Bogus, MacDonald Curator of Preservation, University of Pennsylvania Libraries