Quality control

Editor's Note: This is part three of a series on digitizing our special collections. The previous posts can be read here and here.

Abbey Schultz 2Good news! The next phase of our digitization project is under way. We’ve just received the first batch of images from our scanning partner, which means we can begin work on the next step: quality control.

In the last post, I talked about the organizational aspects of digitization – sorting and physically preparing the items, creating a finding aid, and adding instructions when needed to make sure all the documents are scanned correctly. One of the first things we did upon getting the Howard family papers back from our scanning partner was to make sure that the organization was honored and that all of the pages were scanned. We were pleased to discover very few errors on this front. The other crucial aspect of quality control is the quality of the scanned images themselves. Because this is the first of our Civil War collections to be scanned, it’s something of a trial run with our scanning partner, as we work to communicate our needs and goals in this project. In this first round of scans, we’ve found issues that need to be addressed.

The quality issues we’ve found don’t reflect poorly on our scanning partner or the work they do – it’s more about a differing approach to the project at hand. The company we’re working with routinely makes digital edits on the images they scan, adjusting brightness and contrast to increase visibility and visual impact. While this may be appropriate for other projects, we’ve found that these edits actually detract from the creation of an accurate historical archive. The type of scanning equipment used can also lead to different image results.

The images below demonstrate the difference between the original images that we received from our scanning partner and the corrected images.

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This is a scanned photo postcard from the Howard family papers; the initial image from our scanning partner is on the left, and the corrected scan is on the right. As you can see, the image on the left is more saturated with color and has a higher contrast between light and dark. While this does make it more visually striking than the unedited image on the right, it also means that some details are lost. For example, the lower half of the image is faded, and certain details like the stripes on the skirt of the woman on the left are rendered invisible.

In scans that include text, these edits can have an even more negative impact: color changes intended to increase readability can actually make the text blurry, negatively affect other elements of the image, and misrepresent the reality of the physical document. Here, as an example, is the before and after detail of an image of a letter from the Howard family papers.

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Our overarching goal for our digitization projects is to increase accessibility to our resources, and promote their use in historic and genealogical research. To this end, we want our digital scans to offer a nearly identical experience to viewing our collections in person. If individual researchers need to download and alter these images for their own purposes, they can, but it’s not our place as a historical archive to make those decisions.

We met with our scanning partner to communicate our needs, and they worked with us to make sure that the corrected images would meet our expectations. We are now in the process of reviewing the corrected images for the Howard family papers. By doing this work now, we are ensuring that the rest of the digitization project will be an efficient process, and we will end up with a digital collection worthy of sharing with the world.

Thomas Grebenchick

About Thomas Grebenchick

Thomas is responsible for managing and updating existing web content, creating new content, and assisting in digital communications and strategy. Originally from Massachusetts, he holds a B.A. in English from Brandeis University, and has experience in copywriting, web and digital design, and social media marketing.View all posts by Thomas Grebenchick