Friday, February 20, 2015

Digitizing an Archive

In 2010 I was offered a job managing The Sun's newly formed business development department and I quickly jumped on the opportunity. My first project in this role was the digitizing, cataloging and sale of the entire Baltimore Sun photo archive.

My responsibilities included managing the prioritizing, labeling, shipping, digitizing and cataloging of 1-million archival Baltimore Sun photos in only two-years.

I also worked as the liaison who oversaw the workflow between four organizations: The Baltimore Sun (TBS), Image Fortress, CTI and Masterpiece Marketing Group (MMG).

I managed two clerks who were primarily responsible for three very important and necessary tasks. First, pulling folders from a priority list designated by the auctioning company MMG.

Next, confirming and then assigning the proper copyright to each photo. All photos ingested by the digitizing company, CTI, automatically defaulted to a Baltimore Sun copyright, but some of the photos in the archive were not actually taken by TBS photographers. Many photos were handouts provided by outside agencies like Wide World Photo, United Press International and the Associated Press. In order for TBS to distinguish outside copyright holders from its own these clerks would stamp the word "Other" on the backs of all the photos they determined were handouts. CTI would then key "Other" into the copyright holder metadata field before the image file was ingested into the Digital Fortress archive. Since TBS could not license or sell reprints of these "Other" images they held no monetary value and were deleted from the Digital Fortress archive to save on storage fees, but only after the original hard copy print was sold. MMG needed the thumbnail images to post on eBay and other sales channels.

And last, these clerks were responsible for barcoding and shipping 7,000 photos a week and 28,000 photos a month to CTI. These numbers were mandated in a pre-determined contractual schedule, and I'm proud to say that TBS finished this project months ahead of time.

The project began at the box level, followed by the folder level and ending at photo level. Each tier received its own unique barcoding naming convention. For example the clerk would:
   1.) Label box, A-1090-BS, scan the box barcode into the tracking software and essentially open the box.
   2.) Label folder, AE-5055-BS, scan the folder barcode into the tracking software and essentially open the      
   3.) Label photo, BFA-466-BS, scan the photo barcode into the tracking software and essentially place it in 
   inside the folder which is inside the box.
   4.) Continue labeling and scanning the other photos contained in folder AE-5055-BS.
   5.) Scan the folder barcode once all photos in AE-5055-BS have been scanned. Thus closing out the folder in   
   the tracking software.
   6.) Repeat the folder and photo process until the box is full.
   7.) Scan the box barcode again to close the box.
   8.) Ship to CTI

CTI scanned fronts and backs of each photo in full-color and in high-resolution and was also responsible for capturing important metadata from the backs of each photo. This metadata included: folder subject, photo subject, photographer's name, publication date, caption and copyright holder.  

Folder barcode: AE-5055-BS
Folder subject: John PowellPhoto barcode: BFA-466-BS
Photo subject: Boog Powell
Photographer's name: Harris
Publication date: 10/16/1970
CaptionOctober 16, 1970 - LA DOLCE VITA -- Boog Powell, with victory cigar clenched between teeth, frolics after victory. Photo by Carl D. Harris BFA-466-BS
Copyright holder: The Baltimore Sun

After digitizing each photo CTI uploaded the images and the associated IPTC metadata to a digital archive, maintained by Image Fortress. In the Digital Fortress archive each photo was searchable, and thumbnails and high-res images could be found and downloaded by those with the proper authorization.  Please feel free to stop and browse the TBS archive by following this URL

This project preserved The Sun's photo archive.  By digitizing the 1-million photos, capturing valuable metadata and making them searchable this project created the opportunity for long-tail revenue streams through: photo books, photo reprints, photo licensing, countless blogs and newspaper subscriptions.  

All of the hardcopy photos were sent to an auctioneer responsible for selling them online to the highest-bidder.  These bidders are mostly collectors and preservationists. Sales of the original prints have generated $2,500,000 to-date.

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