What Is (or Isn't) Good Enough? Part 1
A recent exchange of reader comments on Beyond the Scanned Image: Assessing Scholarly Uses of Digital Collections has gotten me thinking once again about the general notion of just "what is good enough." Voltaire's roughly translated, "best is the enemy of the good," has in recent years been ecstatically appropriated by such initiatives as the Google Books mass digitization initiative and the "rapid capture" movement among archives. As the actual production results of these decisions have come into sharper focus, digital archives practitioners and researchers like Paul Conway have started to more critically ask, what are the actual ramifications of putting speed and outsourcing at the absolute forefront of our decision making? Or more acutely, what are the results of that which isn't good enough?
Peter Leonard’s recent work on The Chicagoan’s cover design trends over time (starting at 16:14) is a unique case of the importance of "accurate" digital imaging. Traditionally, color and tone-accurate imaging has held tangible importance for such outputs as print and web production. Museums want high quality and accurate exhibit catalogs for their patrons. Archives and other memory institutions are charged with the preservation (both analog and digital) of their collections from the ravages of both physical and digital decay. Decay leads to a compromised, distorted representation of the original object. This can take such common forms as the physical brittle book, or overly compressed, blurred and/or color inaccurate digital image. In this last instance, color inaccuracy can actually skew the research results of such digital humanists as Leonard who are beginning to treat digital still images as large aggregate data sets that are ripe for novel research methods. In Leonard's case, he was interested in the discrete data points of hue and saturation in the magazine cover images that he was analyzing. Inaccurate original digital capture of these covers could naturally lead to random variance of these metrics and compromised research conclusions.
Capture accuracy in the digital realm is a product of thoughtful workflow planning and proportioned follow-up quality control. What can occur when such planning and control are either ignored, overly rushed, and/or blindly outsourced? That will be the topic of Part 2...