I encountered the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia on a recent trip to Vancouver as a tourist, and found it an engaging introduction to the ‘first nation’ cultures of the Pacific Northwest. Artifacts of real and faux native culture are available everywhere in this area, and the art is quite striking, but I’ve never had a confidence in authenticity. This museum gave me a toehold of insight on the cultural history of the area, as well as a sense of vibrancy that remains in the native culture. And the museum is undergoing a major renovation and expansion. Bravo BC!
This renewal and expansion of both exhibition space and work space includes a digitization center visible to the public, and since the descriptive placard included the term metadata, and I knew I was returning to UBC in the near future to give a talk, I prevailed upon Joe Tennis, my host, to request a tour on my behalf.
Jessica Bushey and Ann Stevenson graciously showed me the facility and
described the workflow involved in digitizing some 35,000 artifacts,
interesting from a processing and handling point of view as well as from a
metadata standpoint (and from the perspective of a photographer as well). Every
artifact, as well as the trolleys they reside upon, is tagged with a bar code
that helps to track its physical location as well as the associated data
records and images which are currently managed in separate systems.
Capturing and rendering colors accurately over time is challenging, involving coordination of capture device profiles, color spaces, monitor display calibration, and, in the case of printed materials, rendering characteristics of output devices. Each MOA artifact is recorded in several views, and at least one of the images includes a color calibration card to assure accurate color interpretation over time. Derivatives of each of these images are generated: a research image (128 megabyte TIFF image, JPEGs for printing, screen display, and thumbnail browsing). Then there is the metadata, including device characteristics, descriptive metadata, and outward facing linkages, again, integrated from several systems. All of this must be managed over time intervals during which various of these profiles and all of the systems will evolve. The difficulty of fixing research data in a constantly evolving array of standards, devices, and applications is formidable.
Anyone familiar with the spectrum of quality represented in the
microform output of the last century might wonder if the quality of current
digitization projects will suffer similarly, given the complexity
of the task. The thoughtfulness and expertise evident in MOA’s digitization
effort was quite reassuring.
Image: Sculpture in Vanier Park, Vancouver, British Columbia. September, 2006