Preservation (Museums and Cultural Heritage)

Preservation issues are quite obviously very central to the concerns of those working in the MCH sector. As is often the case when considering the application of digital tools to an area of activity, preservation can be examined in two different ways:

• Digital tools that assist with the preservation of the material object (e.g. digital multi-spectral imaging, virtual reconstructions of fragile objects, etc.)
• Digital tools that help to preserve the digital information associated with material objects (e.g. system emulation programmes, file format migration techniques, data backup procedures, etc.)

The second of these two areas is the subject of an enormous amount of ongoing research by computing and information science-related disciplines and although these techniques are of critical importance to the MCH sector, they are also of importance to every other discipline and the literature on the subject is extensive. A long list of digital curation tools is available from the Digital Curation Centre (DCC), based at the University of Edinburgh, which also features short descriptions of each item and indicates the level of proficiency required to use it. As funders of the DCC, JISC (the Joint Information Systems Committee) run a broad programme of activities relating to information management and digital preservation issues and have a number of briefing papers, reports and other resources on their website that refer to tools and techniques related to this area.

Reverting to digital tools for the preservation of material objects, one of the principal ways that technology can help is with imaging processes and by representing very precise properties of objects. The use of multi-spectral imaging techniques is briefly discussed in another working paper in this series41 and refers to the use of infra-red, ultra-violet, X-ray and other lighting and scanning techniques to discover non-visible parts of physical objects. It also refers to the Video Spectral Comparator system that uses the same techniques to enable users to analyze inks, visualize hidden features and reveal alterations on documents that have been damaged or obscured either deliberately or due to the passage of time. Another widely used tool in this context is VIPS, a free image processing system that allows users to efficiently mosaic images together. This is principally used in relation to infra-red images and can be used to create very large (life-size) representations of the under-drawing that can be found beneath the painted layers of works of art on canvas.

Fig. 2 Multi-spectral view of a Painting (Carl Smith)Fig. 2 Multi-spectral view of a Painting (Carl Smith)

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