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April 2, 2013

Stay, Read: Jim Ottaviani On Library Scans Of Old Strips

So the other day, I wondered out loud about the cost of digital scanning announced for a project involving a very fine Welsh cartoonist's World War I cartoons. Who should see this and write in but everyone's favorite nuclear engineer turned librarian and maker of science comics, Jim Ottaviani. Jim?
In your piece on the digitization project, you wondered why it costs so much money.

Short version: digitization with the goal of preservation and long-term access costs serious money. Doing this right is often a hard sell outside of the library and archives world, though, since it's not easy to tell the difference between a good job and a bad job until it's too late.

Long version: They're working from the originals, and their vintage also means they're likely to be fragile. Even if they're not -- often old paper is better quality than new -- they're still originals, which means they'll want to take great care when handling them... no piling 'em up and letting a sheet feeder go to town. Also, because of the vintage, the resulting images are likely to need significant clean-up to present them as they originally appeared.

If they're including the cost of archiving, that makes it more expensive as well. Creating and hosting multiple versions of the images (archival versions plus web-ready versions), along with maintaining reliable hardware and software with appropriate backups and curation plans so you don't lose all your hard work to the next power outage costs money...again, to do it right you can't just put a couple of hard drives you got at Best Buy in your basement, register a domain with GoDaddy, and use one of their default webpage templates to provide access. Reliable long-term access means more expensive equipment, and people to set it up and then maintain the hardware and software.

They may not be including the cost of the latter, but even if they aren't the piece you linked to notes that money "will go towards training 30 volunteers and 80 under-graduate students at Swansea, in how to care for the original drawings, as well as digital scanning and clean-up techniques." It would probably be cheaper to hire professionals to do it, but they're using the material to teach professional techniques.

So, while $105,000 for 1,300 images doesn't look like a great bargain on the face of it, I suspect a few hours of work will go into each image. At $80/image overall, and in light of what they're doing and how they need to do it, the cost doesn't look crazy to me.
Thanks, Mr. Ottaviani. Please consider buying Primates.
posted 8:20 am PST | Permalink

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