D-Lib Magazine
July/August 2000

Volume 6 Number 7/8

ISSN 1082-9873

Moving Theory Into Practice: Digital Imaging for Libraries and Archives

Reviewed by: Erich Kesse
Erich Kesse is the Director, Digital Library Center, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida

Moving Theory into Practice:
Digital Imaging for Libraries and Archives
Anne R. Kenney and Oya Y. Rieger, editors and principal authors
189 pages, including index.
ISBN 0-9700225-0-6.
Research Libraries Group
Mountain View, CA: 2000
$80. plus shipping and handling

In an era of thriving markets, we need little reminder of the so-called "law of supply and demand". To sate increasing expectations that everything can be found on-line, an imperative to digitize has arisen. The practice of digitization for and among libraries and archives often has been based on trial and error practices that have been formulated as theory, analyzed scientifically, and documented both in print and on-line. Moving Theory into Practice is intended to "foster critical thinking … to move beyond theoretical constructs to implementation strategies that reflect distinct institutional missions and capabilities." It does this by presenting the reader extensive information on a variety of practices and their theoretical constructs and offering guidance in their application. More pessimistically, Moving Theory into Practice is necessary because many digital library programs are not fully informed of previous practice and theory.

Noble in intent, this monograph is a wondrous compendium of critical thought and documented practices. The prose narrative is remarkably uniform and conversational even though the volume represents the compiled work of seven authors and scores of contributors. Concepts are arranged in what seems a natural order, beginning with selection and bench marking and concluding with program design and management. Throughout the volume, sidebars illustrate the main discussion with practical considerations and experiences. Complementing the volume, a companion tutorial web site which will offer "base-level information on the use of digital imaging to convert and make accessible cultural heritage materials" is expected to be publicly available in late summer.

While throughout Moving Theory into Practice its authors do provide some guidance, in general guidelines are rarely formulated or endorsed in the volume. For readers in search of a recipe, this volume is not a Moosewood cookbook. The volume does, however, stimulate thought on a collection of ingredients derived from a variety of sources. If this volume has a flaw, it is that it cannot be comprehensive. Kenney and Rieger consider so much documentation that no single volume could contain it adequately. Their advice to keep pace with relevant new information should be taken whole-heartedly and applied retrospectively. Each of the volume's citations should be followed as closely as a student of English literature would follow citations in The Riverside Shakespeare. Some readers will find that their ability to progress through the volume, despite its organic structure and conversational prose, is contingent upon each author's assumptions of the typical reader's knowledge. Discussion of the Quality Index method, a subject of Kenney’s previous publications, for example, assumes the reader's knowledge of line pairs and analog, specifically microfilm, quality control methods. A reading of this volume is not complete until one has read beyond its covers.

Moving Theory into Practice reinforces the guidance offered by its predecessor, Digital Imaging for Libraries and Archives (Kenney, Anne R. and Stephen Chapman. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Library, 1996). The concept of rich digital master, a master "rich enough to be useful over time", survives. The concept itself is enriched by the guiding principles of social informatics with an adviso to "understand the stakeholders' perspectives" along a spectrum from demand and development, through production, and to delivery and use. Don Willis' sidebar discussion of rapid application development (RAD) methodology and its matrix of contextual development factors offers guidance of the sort required to make products purposeful and practice deliberately responsive.

But, the social informatics and RAD methods go unused beyond the volume’s introduction where they are cited. With them, the editors frame a method of moving forward without stepping through the frame. Following the introduction, the editors lose sight of their guiding principle and adviso, compiling the wealth of information representing both the spectrum and the stakeholders’ perspectives. While a thorough compilation, the editors might have better integrated it with their guiding principle. They leave the reader, not without guidance, to determine optimal implementation strategies. Ironically, perhaps intentionally, only in the volume’s last chapter is the reader delivered back to these methods, in a sidebar by Susan M. Yoder, on "Sustainability Through Integration." The reader may well look forward to a volume about having moved theory into practice and digitization projects into sustainable, responsive digitization programs.

Copyright (c) 2000 Erich Kesse

(A change was made to this book review on 7/18/00 regarding the online tutorial that will be available later this year, and a URL for the upcoming tutorial was removed from the review.)

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DOI: 10.1045/july2000-bookreview