AHFAP Standards Survey Results

By: Kristin A. Phelps, Peter Burns, and Don Williams

Taiichi Ohno suggested that “without standards, there can be no improvement.” International standards create compatibility and drive interoperability throughout a number of industries. And certainly, standards seem to be a buzzworthy topic in cultural heritage imaging. In fact, most of the industry’s community conferences include at least one talk about standards and the AHFAP/JISCMail discussion forum often hosts dialogues and debates about standards. Indeed, in the last year on the JISCMail forum there was an interesting interchange about colour accuracy, which has historically been one of the most debated imaging standards. This discourse led to the creation of a brief ten question survey of AHFAP members which ran from February 20-March 9, 2018 and focused on what kind of imaging standards were regularly in use by the AHFAP community. The survey results have provided some understanding of the demographics of AHFAP’s membership as well as some interesting insight into how standards are currently being used within the community. It was clear from the responses that this is a topic begging further discussion.

Before diving into the survey results, it is important to clearly define what is meant when several important terms are used in context of cultural heritage imaging. These terms are: standards; guidelines; policies; and procedures. Standards are agreed upon methods for objectively quantifying how to accurately measure digital imaging performance. These are usually defined at the national or international levels by recognized experts in their fields. It is important to understand that standards do not establish the numerical levels by which ‘good’ imaging is defined. They only establish ‘how’ to objectively measure performance. They do not define what performance levels define excellent, good, or bad for a particular purpose or collection. The latter is established through guidelines based on use case and importance.

For cultural heritage imaging, guidelines include the Federal Agency Digital Guideline Initiative (FADGI) and Metamorfoze. Such sets of guidelines offer suggestions on what levels of imaging performance, as evaluated through standards, are needed for different use cases and collection materials. These guidelines have common aim points but vary in ‘goodness’ levels, based on the amount of allowable tolerance or variability around the aim. In this way they largely establish consistent levels as articulated in the policy statement. Policies are best defined as consistent, common, and good digital imaging practices across cultural heritage institutions adopted for lower costs (less rework), effective communication, and ease of management. These are currently applied to 2D imaging of flat works.

Finally, procedures most often include the use of imaging targets (test charts), software tools, quality assurance and workflow practices, and training, to effectively execute policies using standards. Examples for cultural heritage imaging include targets (e.g., DICE or UTT targets), software (Imatest, GoldenThread, Delt.ae, ImCheck, OpenDICE, and IQ-Analyzer), and training (Lyrasis, conference tutorials, imaging interest groups).

Now that the terms have been clearly defined, on to the survey results!


The first three questions (What is your location? What types of collections do you work with? How long have you been working in cultural heritage imaging?) provided demographic information for the survey respondents. Of the 55 total responses, 44 were from the UK and the remaining 11 came from Europe, Africa, Oceania and North America. Museums were the most common collections that respondents reported working with at roughly 59%, followed by archives (46%), libraries (39%) and other (33%). Examples of types of collections which constituted ‘other’ were art, artists, and galleries. For the 55 respondents, 27 have been engaged in cultural heritage for 15 years or more; 15 have worked in the sector for 3-7 years, 10 for 8-14 years and 3 for 0-2 years.


The fourth question queried which set(s) of cultural heritage imaging standards respondents were aware of. Metamorfoze (guidelines from the Netherlands) and FADGI (guidelines from the US) were nearly equal with 45 and 47 respondents respectively. 21 respondents were familiar with other standards, primarily the ISO 1926-family (which are international guidelines).


This question invited respondents to rate seven performance metrics in order of importance to their workflow. In order from most important to least, respondents selected Exposure, White Balance, Resolution, Noise, Colour Registration Error, Colour Encoding Error, and Other.


The sixth question asked if respondents used any software or other tools to assist in complying with standards. Nearly 78% responded that they did use some kind of aid in their imaging practice while only 22% responded that they did not use anything.


The next question enquired if respondents used a target alone, a target with software, nothing or something else. Only 5% of respondents did not use anything. Around 35% indicated that they used a target alone for their work. 47% stated that they used both a target and software. Of the approximately 13% of those who responded other, most indicated that they were also using either a target or a combination of a target and software.


This question surveyed what software was being used by those respondents who were using software. The most popular piece of software by far was Delt.ae, which was being used by 24 out of the 34 individuals who responded to the question. 4 other respondents used Golden Thread; 3 used Capture One CH; 2 used Basiccolor; 2 used Hasselblad Phocus, other software, or nothing; 1 used IQ-Analyser; the final respondent was using OpenDice. It should be noted that a number of respondents reported utilizing more than one piece of software.


The ninth question asked why respondents were not regularly incorporating standards into their work. There were 36 responses to this question, with the top responses being lack of time, lack of financial resource, lack of support and lack of education.


The final question asked for any further input that respondents wished to share. Comments ranged from support for having standards, but calling for more education in their use to suggestions for a community developed set of standards. The most frequent request was for more education to be able to understand and adhere to standards. A word cloud was generated from the responses showing the most frequently occurring words from the responses.

It’s clear that the survey revealed interesting information about the community’s views on standards. It is clearly a subject of importance that affects AHFAP members’ daily workflows and output. With standards assigning quantifiable measures, and guidelines providing recommendations on imaging performance, policies help to identify issues and scope. Procedure establishes proper steps to take to enact uniform compliance. Quite simply, the resulting output creates a reliable image which benefits digital preservation and scholars. And, if we believe Taiichi Ohno, using standards in our work will help to create a better image.

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