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Grant will fund research for improving digital archives in museums

The digital camera has changed how museums archive their collections for print and posterity. While film has fallen by the wayside in museum photography, imaging professionals fear the quality of the new digital archives may have suffered in the transition.

Roy Berns and Franziska Frey are using the resources of RIT’s Munsell Color Science Laboratory to develop procedures to help museums improve the quality of digital images of artwork.

RIT won a $164,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation to benchmark and improve the quality of art imaging in American museums. The 15-month project will establish standards and automate the process of digitally documenting museum holdings for archival and printing purposes.

“RIT is taking the lead on this,” says Franziska Frey, assistant professor, School of Print Media. “No one has comprehensively looked at the quality being produced in the museums.”

Frey and Roy Berns, the Richard S. Hunter Professor in RIT’s Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science, are asking museums about their art-imaging practices to get an overview of current practices. Their survey will elicit information about specific hardware and software, calibration, viewing environment, file format, image storage, and other aspects of the process. Five museums will be chosen for in-depth case studies and on-site visits.

“The goal is to improve the quality of the practices in the United States,” Berns says.

“In the museum environment money is always a problem,” Frey says. “You want to get things done the right way. You don’t want to have to redo them.”

Berns and Frey will develop new test procedures by compiling current standards, test targets and practices, and by soliciting input from museums, sensor and camera manufacturers, and organizations that develop standards for digital cameras, such as the American National Standards Institute, the International Organization for Standardization and the National Information Standards Organization.

The procedures will be tested at RIT’s Munsell Color Science Laboratory using camera systems representative of those used at the museums surveyed. Field tests at the museums will provide further information for refining the process. By the end of the project, a series of test procedures and targets will be available to museums.