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Reduce, Reuse, ReFADGI: Updates to FADGI Standards for 2023

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Shana Scott

By Archives Technician Shana Scott

Every industry has its own “language” or commonly understood terminology and shorthand to expedite communication. If you’ve ever overheard a business call in the airport or watched baristas signal to each other to help one another when service gets hectic, then you’ve probably seen this in action.

The archival community is no different from any other business in this way. Archivists speak to one another differently than they might speak to a layperson, as they pull from the same pool of knowledge and experience. There’s some variation between museums, libraries, and local historical societies, but for the most part, these purveyors of history know the shorthand that accompanies working with historical collections for a living.

Not only is Anderson Archival a valuable digital preservation partner for your historical collections, but we’re also here to help interpret those industry standards for you and help your digital collections last as long as possible.

Wait, What Is FADGI Again?

We’ve written before about the Federal Agencies Digital Guidelines Initiative (FADGI) standards that Anderson Archival uses alongside the rest of the US digital preservation community. FADGI was developed to standardize digitization practices across federal organizations attempting to digitally preserve records and historical documents, and now serves as the industry goalpost for proper digital preservation.

Want to know more about other digital preservation standards Anderson Archival uses? Check out our explainer here!

FADGI guides every step of Anderson Archival’s creation of digital preservation plans, even though smaller or private collections often don’t require such stringent qualifications. Applying FADGI standards to our processes ensures every client’s collection is scanned and archived with the same level of professionalism.

The 3rd edition of official FADGI documentation, updated in summer of 2023, outlines both the human and technological factors in a digitization project. The most recent update was significant in a few ways, but not all industries or collection types may be equally affected.

Digitization Updates for the Modern Manuscript

It would be overwhelming to describe every change to the FADGI guidelines in the latest update. However, there are several key updates that will be used to improve Anderson Archival’s internal processes.

Capture and Processing Baselines

While there are a few interesting one-off changes within this section of the standards, like JPEG2000 being the new preferred file format for newspaper scans, one big update refers to the FADGI star rating system. Image captures are rated on a scale of 1-4 stars, which is calculated depending on an organization’s scanning equipment and processing methods. The ideal star rating for digital collection images depends on how the collection will be used, with the highest rating being the best possible representation of an item in its current state.

Prior to the 2023 update, FADGI stated that for future use, they did not recommend scanning below a 3-star level. Now, FADGI directly states that 3-star quality images are the ideal capture baseline for most digitization projects. This new bar is supported by the overall aim of digitization: “to reproduce the original as faithfully as possible across multiple brands and types of capture devices” (p. 11). Anderson Archival strives for FADGI 3-star quality scans, so this update proves that our digitization work has been the previous industry standard.

Image processing, or any adjustments made to a digital image post-capture, has some new goalposts as well. Due to their size, large format items sometimes require multiple captures that are joined together in post-capture processing to see the full image in one piece. Stitching large format items is acceptable for production master files, but the archival master files must now be the individual captures before they’re stitched.

Metadata Collection and Description

This can be a tricky subject for those outside the archives, museum, and library field, but the updated standards strongly encourage institutions of all shapes and sizes to start incorporating this element into their digital preservation projects.

Learn more about the collection and function of metadata in our upcoming explainer.

FADGI no longer considers an image to be high quality unless metadata is associated with the file. Unfortunately, this may present a challenge for organizations who find themselves short-staffed: “Although there are current initiatives aimed at automatically capturing a given set of values, we believe that metadata input is still largely a manual process and will require human intervention at many points in the object’s lifecycle to assess the quality and relevance of metadata associated with it” (p. 94).

Technical metadata, on the other hand, got a major overhaul in this set of updates. There is now an expectation that any processing done to an image (like cropping, stitching, colorizing, or enhancing in any way) must be recorded as a set of metadata in the file. Simple adjustments like tweaks to contrast and brightness don’t need to be recorded so long as the correction serves to make the image represent its physical counterpart more closely.

There was also a change to embedded metadata, as the standards now acknowledge that metadata is not always directly embedded in the file itself. FADGI now recommends a separate “sidecar” metadata file for these scenarios when “the file format does not support embedding metadata from a specific standard, to protect metadata from being altered by editing software, when applications do not support certain raw file formats, and/or to enable faster previewing of images” (p. 97).

Physical Object Handling and Capture Methods

When diving into technical standards for digitization, it can be easy to forget about the actual items you’re working to preserve. Thankfully, FADGI doesn’t share this oversight and has made a few updates to how we use and think about the physical contemporaries of a digital collection.

As part of updates to the Professional Staff component, FADGI-compliant digitization programs must include training in proper care and handling of collection materials. Anderson Archival checks this box for any institution looking for a digital preservation vendor. For master image files, or post-capture using processing software. Any work to this effect, like in the sections above, must be recorded in the file metadata.

Along with new guidance for capturing special collections that require use of glass, spatulas, and vacuum boards, FADGI introduced a new material category recognized by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA): Modern Textual Records (p. 42). This category of unbound documents includes paper records printed on modern office paper with well-defined typed text and above-average contrast between ink and paper background. Modern textual records require TIFF ZIP compression.

Technical Training

One of the most groundbreaking updates to FADGI standards is that technically trained imaging staff are now required to meet FADGI compliance requirements. This is huge in that it affects organizations that may have dedicated directors or collection managers but only volunteers working on the actual scanning and uploading to Digital Asset Management software (DAM). Ideally, there is a dedicated staff member who is professionally trained in the digital capture of historical documents, but most organizations looking to digitize may lack the funds to outsource the project—let alone send a staff member to night or online courses just to be able to say they could meet FADGI guidelines.

The wording of the update leaves some wiggle room for larger institutions that may have a partially trained staff member who focuses on this aspect of digitization: “It is still necessary to have staff with the visual literacy and technical expertise to do a good job with digitization and to perform quality control for digital images. This is true for the digitization of all types of original materials, but very critical for the digitization of photographic images in particular” (p. 91). However, due to this groundbreaking differentiation, it may make more sense from a financial perspective to outsource digitization work—especially for photo collections—to an experienced digital preservation firm like Anderson Archival.

Why consider outsourcing? FADGI could be a factor.

Digitization standards are constantly evolving to reflect the best practices and technologies for preserving historical collections. The latest edition of FADGI standards introduces some significant changes that affect how archivists capture, process, and store digital images of various types of materials. Lasting digital preservation starts with capturing items accurately, but also includes a wealth of other factors: storage, handling, processing, formatting, metadata, imaging, lighting, color management, and so much more.

Thankfully, digitization is what we do best—so you don’t have to! Anderson Archival is committed to following the FADGI guidelines and ensuring that every client receives the highest quality of service and digital preservation. Whether you have a large format item, a manuscript, or a newspaper collection, we can help you digitize it according to the industry standards and make it accessible for generations to come. Contact us today to find out how we can help you with your digitization project.

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