Digital Heritage, edited by Lindsay W. MacDonald, ISBN: 0-7506-6183-6

Reviewed by: Mario Georgiou, September 2006
Published by: Butterworth-Heinemann/Elsevier
Requires: N/A
MSRP: US$110.00, UK£69.99, EUR 102.50

As a designer and digital imaging consultant, the range of technologies I deal with during the course of my work has been constantly changing. The need to keep up with change has meant that the time available for sitting back and resting is in very short supply. Asset management is one of the biggest issues confronting everyone working with large amounts of digital media. But what if your collections, archives or working research materials consist of old books, documents or even ancient artifacts? How do digital technologies affect the way in which we catalog and archive such assets?

Digital Heritage from Butterworth-Heinemann (an Elsevier imprint), explores the issues and technologies which surround the world of our heritage. The book is a reference work aimed at professionals whose job it is to preserve our past and present. The book contains a lot of valuable information and many project-centric case studies. It's organized in three distinct sections: User Requirements, Technology and Applications.

User Requirements looks at specific types of media and how they are handled, digitized, archived and accessed. The chapters in this section look at the way the Victoria & Albert Museum, Octavo, and The British library, amongst other archives, each deal with their specific asset types and workflows.


The Technology section takes a qualitative look at the technologies involved in the world of digital heritage. This includes image capture technologies, image handling, color management, file compression and image quality management. The issue of color management in particular is one which has become increasingly important because of the need for fidelity throughout the entire workflow—from acquisition through archiving and into printing. The presence of this information reaffirms the serious responsibilities borne by professional archivists in the course of establishing and maintaining the accuracy and integrity of the artifacts they are trying to preserve.

The use of TIFF and JPG files is detailed in many cases as standards to follow. The coverage of JPEG 2000 was an eye opener due to the qualitative comparisons demonstrated in the pictured examples. I found it disappointing that there is poor coverage of one area of contention in current digital imaging workflows: the issue of Camera RAW, where images are captured and recorded in a digital camera's native format. The issue exists because each camera manufacturer has their own flavor of RAW, so the potential exists to create a file format mess, especially if a manufacturer either goes out of business or discontinues support for a proprietary format. You could be left with data which will become inaccessible on future computer systems.

Section three, Applications, details specific uses for the technologies and how unique combinations of technologies are helping to bring our historical artifacts and structures to virtual life. Particularly interesting was the use of removal algorithms to digitally erase the bars, screens and metal mesh used to protect stained glass windows. There's no way to avoid capturing the protective bars, screens and mesh during photography sessions, so preservation experts have developed sophisticated techniques to carefully analyze the main subject while accurately removing digital traces of the protective barriers invariably recorded during the imaging process.

Of interest also were the formulas present in the book. They're invaluable to scientists involved in this field and certainly lend to the completeness of some of the information presented in the book. I especially enjoyed reading the chapters dealing with recording architectural and dimensional artifacts as I've had exposure to some of these recording methods and devices. Other essential coverage includes the concept of file naming conventions and the use of off-site storage and redundant backups of data.

Overall, I was impressed by how well everything was presented and by the comprehensive level of detail throughout most the book. I did find several figures in the book which could have benefited from a little more attention with respect to presentation.

Cons: Little coverage of the issues surrounding camera RAW. Text heavy and some of the illustrations needed a little more clarification.

Pros: Professional coverage of specific applications throughout. Well written. Comprehensive. Highly technical and excellent reference listings. Digital Heritage is thought provoking, and is the kind of book in which any digital imaging professional concerned with asset management and digital archiving, should invest. It's a comprehensive look at the specific needs of the archivist, conservator and heritage professional. This is a book which all libraries, art schools and museums should have in their archive. Overall, the book is excellent. Highly recommended.

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