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DigiCULT
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Info
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specifically for collections of digital images.
U
ntil recently images were usually
only available in low resolutions
on Web sites.There were three
primary reasons for this: image server tech-
nology was not available, the necessary net-
work bandwidth was lacking, and content
owners wished to manage access to their
resources.The solution to the technical pro-
blem of managing very large format images
came from the space satellite world. For
military or geographical purposes, assem-
bling and managing large images is crucial;
the development of sensors capable of recor-
ding substantial levels of detail required
newer software technologies which could
build a large image piece-by-piece and
retain detail.This was the origin of multi-
resolution formats, which store several diffe-
rent resolutions of the subject in a single file
or in a hierarchical structure of files.The
first civil context to adopt this approach was
cartography modern cartography remains
oriented to vector rather than raster repre-
sentations.
I
n 1996 the Library of Congress
(http://www.loc.gov/) decided to digi-
tise its map collections at a high resolu-
tion and to allow free access (including
image download) to the general public.
35
To
make the project viable they adopted
MrSID, a multi-resolution format from
T
he original goal of many digitisation
projects like our Imago project in
the Rome State Archive
(http://www.asrm.archivi.beniculturali.it/En
glish/descrizione.html) is to provide virtual
access to materials.While this has the obvious
benefit of putting cultural heritage within the
reach of the thousands of people who might
never enter our reading room, there are also
many resulting benefits for which projects
aim. In many ways, fragile documents are
protected by the fact that only a specialised
section of the public accesses them.Virtual
materials can be used in lieu of original
documents, thereby preventing damage,
which means less expense for restoration, and
a digital asset can take on part of the role of
the object is represents, to the point that
digital objects can not only be viewed and
interacted with, but actually sold in their
own right. A digitisation project clearly has
many subtle and far-reaching advantages for
people wishing to use its material. Internet
access saves time and money as documents
can be accessed from anywhere in the world,
and allows users to search for certain items
without knowing necessarily where they are
held (for example, through a Web search
engine: the problem is that important digital
resources for cultural heritage are hidden in
the `deep Web', therefore Web search engines
do not provide a full solution at the
moment). Digital objects can also be used in
ways which are physically impossible for the
real objects themselves computer aided text
searches of OCRed documents or `zooming
in' on images which both speed up and
ease traditional research methods, and create
new methods of digital research.
I
t is for this reason that I believe that
digital assets should not be referred to, or
thought of, as `surrogates' a definition
which implies inferiority to the original.We
have to be clear that using a digital object is
inherently different from using the original,
both in form and in experience, but that it
can also offer more than the original docu-
ment, as technologies of `enhanced vision'
and 3D simulations show. Providing a good
digital `copy' is not enough; we must appreci-
ate that a user approaches a digital object in a
different context from the one he is used to
virtual access dematerialises the content
therefore it would be useful if we could also
attempt to emulate the real, `natural' research
activities happening in our reading rooms
(e.g. face-to-face exchange of opinions and
information between researchers). It is extre-
mely difficult to `digitise' the experience and
practice of people,
34
therefore it is difficult to
find a balance between expanding research
possibilities and losing the traditional context.
As an example, consider cartographic docu-
ments: using a large map, finding a path bet-
ween point A and B is a process of trial and
error. Unless you can reproduce actions in a
digital way (e.g. with zooming and naviga-
tion software), digitising an image of the map
will be useless for this purpose because the
user will not be able to carry out the same
actions in the digital context.
I
t is important to remember that, in the
cultural heritage sector, we cannot hope
for major technological developments in
the field of humanities only we adapt for
our purposes technologies developed for
other (not necessarily commercial) sectors.
High-quality scanning devices, developed in
space agencies, are now prevalent in our field
and have been adapted, for example, with
specific digital formats for cartography. My
own work in digitisation has identified the
importance of appropriating technologies for
use in Digital Assets Management Systems,
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34Although a simple discussion list is a very powerful
tool to exchange research experience, for example, the
Lineamenta project
http://www.biblhertz.it/italiano/home/default.htm plan-
ned to make a permanent forum for virtual readers.
35See Creating and Distributing High Resolution
Cartographic Images by David Yehling Allen, in RLG
DigiNews, August 1998, 2/4 (available on
http://www.rlg.org/preserv/diginews/diginews2-
4.html#feature), and the American Memory Web site:
http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/gmdhtml/gmdhome.html