Sample Policy

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has kindly given permission for their imaging policy to be published here as a teaching tool. The policy has been edited slightly to remove dated information. The notes are provided by Stephen Toney of Systems Planning, and any errors are his alone.
Notes are copyright 2000 Systems Planning
Policy Notes
Los Angeles County Museum of Art Imaging Policy Give the policy a meaningful title.
Prepared by the LACMA Imaging Committee
revised 12/24/98
final draft for review by Imaging Committee 3/15/99
review and revisions from 4/14/99 meeting
review and revisions from 6/14/99 meeting
The policy should indicate the source and revision history.
I. PURPOSE OF POLICY Including the purpose of the policy will ensure it is focused, and that everyone understands what it about and what it is not about.
To provide guidance for direct digital photography and for scanning of conventional photographs, that will support the museum's mission statement:
To serve the public through the collection, conservation, exhibition and interpretation of significant works of art from a broad range of cultures and historical periods, and through the translation of these collections into meaningful educational, aesthetic, intellectual and cultural experiences for the widest array of audiences. Since policies exist to support the mission, quoting relevant parts of the mission statement makes the relationship clear.
This policy addresses still photography and digital imaging of objects, not video, virtual reality, or other forms and media. It also does not address document imaging. It is important to be clear about what the policy does not address.
This policy applies only to the permanent collection. While the first priority of digital imaging at the Museum is for objects which are part of the permanent collection, policy about imaging and scanning of objects outside of the collection must be made. To do so, there shall be a committee, primarily made up of curators with representatives from Photo Services and Information Services, which will discuss the best ways in which data about objects outside of the collection can be gathered, stored, and retrieved. Recommendations for follow-on work.
II. PURPOSE OF IMAGING This section describes how the technology is used. It is another way of ensuring that the policy is addressing the needs of all stakeholders.
The policies and strategies herein further the mission in two ways:
1. Digital images will be used in electronic education projects as part of the effort to translate the collection in meaningful ways thereby enabling access to new and diverse audiences locally and globally. With computer-based experiences becoming more prevalent, accessible, and engaging, our audiences are seeking more of these projects from museums. With easy access to a library of digital images of LACMA objects, educators can develop new programs more rapidly, respond to the needs of school districts across the country, and encourage on-line collaboration for lesson development with LACMA's educational partners.
2. By making collection images more readily available on the desktop, staff serving the core mission of the institution, whose work is based on the collections, will have the essential tools to more efficiently and ably perform their duties. These staff duties, including selection, documentation, interpretation, presentation, tracking and management of art, will be significantly facilitated. Additionally, staff will be better and more easily able to respond to collection inquiries from colleagues, researchers, the media, and the general public.
3. Other staff (specifically, Marketing and Media, Museum shop, and Development) will have a greater capacity to serve their varied constituencies and fund-raise. Digital images of the collection in the CMS database will enable the museum to reach a worldwide audience rapidly via electronic media (internet, email). This ability to share the collection in new and creative ways with a diverse and remote audiences and communities as well as with those who enter the campus should have great appeal to potential donors and funders. Thus, digital imaging can be directly linked to potentially enhanced institutional revenues.
III. DEFINITIONS OF TERMS USED IN THIS DOCUMENT A policy prescribes and limits the work of the museum staff. People's evaluations and tenure may depend on whether they follow policies. A policy may even be a legal document in cases of dispute. For this reason, it is important that it be as clear as possible. Including definitions of terms is another way to show what the policy covers and what it doesn't cover.
Image A digital representation whether it is a "digital photograph" or a "scan" of a conventional photograph (reflective or transmissive).
Object Classification
High-priority objects Objects that are considered high priority for imaging because they are collections masterpieces, used in projects, frequently asked about, or determined high priority by curators.
Photograph Classification
Professional photograph One taken by a professional photographer from Photo Services or a contractor with similar skills.
Departmental photograph One taken someone not a professional photographer.
Digital capture team A team consisting of a photographer and a preparator who are assigned to digitally photography large numbers of objects quickly.
Digital photograph One taken with a digital camera.
Conventional photograph One taken with a film camera.
Image Classification
Any of these resolutions can be achieved either by digital photography or by scanning. Lower resolutions can be "derived" from higher resolutions. Resolutions are stated in pixels and are approximate. File sizes are of the uncompressed image (these are three times the product of the pixels because three bytes are used to store each pixel, one each for red, green, and blue). Web images are usually the lower three sizes; these are compressed and usually have file sizes one-tenth to one-fifth of those shown below.
High Resolution 6000 x 4000 or higher (file size of 72 MB or more)
Medium Resolution 1500 x 1000 up to 3000 x 2000 (file size of 5 to 18 MB). Flashpix fits into this category.
Low Resolution 640 x 480 up to 1280 x 1024 (file size of 1 to 4 MB)
Preview Resolution 192 x 128 up to 384 x 256 (file size of 70 to 300 KB)
Thumbnail Resolution anything smaller, usually around 120 x 80 (file size of 30 KB).
IV. CURRENT STATUS OF IMAGING This section is useful to management levels who may need background on what the current procedures are. It is not appropriate to the final policy because it changes too often.
[Describe current procedures, numbers and quantities processed, etc.]
A. Basic principles
The primary goal for electronic imaging at LACMA is that in the next decade each object in the LACMA permanent collection will have an electronic image for identification purposes, whether from a scanned photograph or a digital photograph. Achievement of this goal is dependent on additional resources. Notice how the policies are stated using the terms defined in section III.
This imaging will be done through a combination of professional photography, departmental photography, temporary staff or contract photographers, inhouse scanning and contracted scanning; the specific solutions will be chosen (and may vary over time) based on the availability of resources, other projects, deadlines, etc. A policy written in such a way that it never needs revising is probably too general to be useful. But note how this paragraph provides some flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances.

On the other hand, it is sometimes appropriate to specify particular tools and products to be used, such as office software, database management systems, or photo editors. It is sometimes valuable to specify the specific software settings to be used.

Each department will determine the order in which imaging is done for that department, based on its materials, storage conditions, related projects, or other rationale. Note the attention to roles and responsibilities. Who is in charge of what? Who makes which decisions? How much latitude is there? The point is not to be authoritarian, but to be clear.
B. New photography
(These guidelines apply both to museum-wide projects and to departmental projects to image their collections and covers both professional and non-professional photography.)
New photography will be done as necessitated by projects, publications, and exhibitions. This includes re-photographing to show changes in the object or in its interpretation, such as an updated presentation of a garment on a mannequin or after conservation or re-mounting/framing.
Multiple Views
Multiple views may be taken whenever warranted by the object or the purpose of the photographs, especially if the setup costs are high. Specifics of multiple view requirements shall be determined by the relevant curator in consultation with the photographer and taking budgetary constraints into consideration.
Details may be taken if the object, type of photography, or set up, warrants. Details may not necessary for small objects shot professionally, since the medium-resolution scan of the 4x5 can be zoomed as needed. For large objects and for low-resolution digital photographs, shots should be taken of details the curator thinks are necessary.
Priorities for Reaching Our Goal (An Image for Every Object)
In addition to photography for specific projects, publications, and exhibitions, all objects should be photographed if they have not been, as follows:
High-priority objects should have a professional photograph taken. Objects shot this way will be posed and lighted so that the photograph(s) is/are suitable for book publication.
Other objects should have a departmental photograph taken. These will be low-resolution digital photos, taken without much time spent on posing and lighting the object. These photos are primarily for identification purposes.
As funding permits, digital capture teams will begin the systematic digital photography of all unphotographed objects.
All photographic set ups should include a card with the object's museum number. All professional photography should include color and grayscale bars. All of these should be positioned so they can be cropped out when the image is published.
1. For high-priority objects that do not have professional photographs and cannot be immediately addressed by photographic services, curators may opt to make a digital photograph. Also, high-priority objects may be digitally photographed by the digital capture teams for interim use; these objects should be classified as high-priority in Multi MIMSY so that Photo Services will be able to see which high-priority objects need professional photography.
2. Objects that are hard to move, hard to set up, delicate, or fragile will have professional photographs taken instead of digital, regardless of their priority. This will spare those objects the possibility of having to be rephotographed if there are changes in the object's needs or classification, or in technology. If the object is discovered to be one of these exceptions only after it is brought out of storage for the digital photography, Photo Services should be asked whether they can do professional photography right away. If they cannot, the object should be digitally photographed anyway (because it may be that the digital photographs will suffice). It is anticipated with the implementation of Multi MIMSY that it will be easier to determine which type of photographs exist for each object.
During the data clean up process, departments will determine for each object whether it requires additional photography (professional or non-professional) photography. This determination will be recorded in Multi MIMSY.
C. Scanning
Professional photographs will be scanned at medium resolution, regardless of their original size or film type. Other photographs will be scanned at medium or low resolution, depending on the quality of the photograph (not on the object's classification); this avoids rescanning. This is a good example of why definitions are necessary. "Medium resolution" could mean anything without a definition in section III.
Scanning will be done whenever needed by projects, publications, and exhibitions. In addition, a program of scanning all 4x5s in medium resolution is planned.
Scanning will preserve the cards with museum numbers [accession numbers] and the color and grayscale bars (if present). These original scans will be archived and derivatives will be rotated, cropped, sharpened, and color corrected as needed. It is a good policy to preserve all available information, in this case the version of the image with the cards showing accession number, and the color and grayscale bars. Such information may have future value even after the image is edited. Similar considerations apply to data storage.
D. Use of images
Database records of use and quality
Every digital image will be coded in Multi MIMSY for its suitability for various avenues of publication based on the object's pose and lighting and general quality of the image. This is to permit rapid capture of digital images for internal use.
Identification and web images
Digital images (whether digital photos or scans of conventional photos) are for object identification and for publication on the web, whether they start as low-resolution digital photographs or are low-resolution derivatives of medium-resolution scans.
Medium resolution images, produced from flatbed and film scanners, will be archived and derivative images will be used for a variety of purposes including AMICO.
E. Digital image storage
Storage and Format
Images will be stored in a lossless or near-lossless form, such as TIFF, Photo CD, or Flashpix. (Some digital cameras store images in uncompressed JPEG, which is acceptable also.) Image filenames will reflect the object's museum number. Storing only the JPEG image would mean the museum could not take full advantage of future technologies. Instead, store images in a format that is uncompressed, or uses lossless compression, or uses almost-lossless compression like PhotoCD. In this policy, JPEG images from digital cameras are acceptable because they are stored uncompressed, and also because digital images are not intended to be of high quality.

A similar concept for data instead of images would be to retain data in atomic form; that is, with each piece of data separately identified. You can always combine data into larger chunks, but it is hard to separate chunks into their separate elements.

Derivative images will be JPEG; compression ratios should be appropriate to the content and its intended use of the image. Images should not be compressed to the point where artifacts become apparent.
Images in the Database
All digital images will have JPEG derivatives which will be linked to their object records in Multi MIMSY. Multi MIMSY will also serve as the repository of data about all images, digital or conventional, and their derivatives. See attachment for details on data entry.
Image replacement
A low quality or low resolution scan may be replaced by a better one without saving the older one. This does not apply to photography, where earlier photos may record changes to the object or its interpretation.
F. Image delivery
There will be no attempt to deliver managed color to the desktop (that is, color corrected to match the original object); this is too difficult at the current state of technology. Exceptions may be made for Graphics or Publications departments. (The color and grayscale bars will permit color management on the desktop as technology improves.)
G. Monitoring
This committee recommends there be some oversight to monitor electronic imaging throughout the museum to ensure the policy is adhered to, to alert management that revisions are needed if the policy is not adequate to new needs, and to plan and coordinate imaging projects. We hate to use the word "enforce," but in some museums there must be a way to ensure the policy will be followed, or it will not be. A standing committee, as recommended here, may be the best way. Another way it to require technology purchases to be approved by some authority who is committed to the policy.
-- end of policy

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