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Creating Digital Resources
for the Visual Arts:
Standards and Good Practice

Section 1. Overview and Objectives


Section 1.4 Introducing standards and guidelines for digital resource creation

It is only by promoting and employing standards and guidelines in the way digital data is created, managed, stored and preserved that we can ensure its relevance to future generations and justify the sometimes heavy investments that are made in digitisation projects.

Since interest in digital media in the visual arts began, a great deal has been learnt about the best way to plan, implement and manage digital data creation. Pioneering projects have resulted in the evolution of 'good practices' and the fruits of all our labours in this area are therefore presented in this guide and the others in this series.

The creation of digital resources in the visual arts has previously followed an ad hoc path as regards methodologies for the production and management of digital projects. This can lead to incompatible resources of a short life span, even among those created in the same institutions, or by the same developers. This is a perfectly understandable situation in the light of new and evolving technologies and prior to the widespread use of networks and data sharing capabilities.

However, we are now at the stage where standards and guidelines are being constructed across experienced international communities. The application of these to digital resource projects greatly enhances the widespread use and long-term viability of projects, maximising the investments made in them and the potential digital technologies offer.

Standards and guidelines in the following areas are particularly addressed within this guide, as they can present the key to developing long-term and widely compatible resources successfully:

1. Access issues

2. Technical standards

3. Documentation standards

4. Preservation issues

1. Access issues

These include copyright, user needs and technical delivery issues. A resource which does not initially consider these may suffer from problems inhibiting the dissemination of the material, and would almost certainly need considerable work to make it function in situations where many users may wish to access the resource in a networked environment, e.g. over the Internet. Early attention to access issues, such as copyright, user needs and dissemination technology, will pay dividends for projects in the long term.

2. Technical standards

Using technical standards means that the common tools we use to create our digital resources, from hardware and software to the types of formats adopted, are less likely to become obsolete as technology develops. Using technical standards, such as the VADS/TASI preferred digital image formats (see Section 3.3), increases the lifespan of a resource, as we can predict with reasonable confidence that the digital environment chosen has a viable shelf life.

3. Documentation standards

These relate to how we structure and contextualise information. They are essential as on a basic level they are the things that allow us to share a common approach with others who are creating and using digital information, now and in the future. For example, if we have described digital images of works of art in a specified and established manner it is much more likely that our way of describing them will be understood by others and not only those who originally devised the resource and understand its structure. The application of documentation standards represents a universal rather than an idiosyncratic approach to data construction and as such enhances the use-value of a resource.

4. Preservation considerations

Archiving digital material has gained greater attention in recent years, as the need to preserve resources for the long term has become more apparent with accelerated developments in technologies and the raised awareness of the susceptibility of digital storage mediums to corruption. Digital preservation through correct storage, transferral and migration of data is now more highly regarded and it is reassuring that it is now becoming possible to decide upon how we can best safeguard the hardware, software and formats that are being used, so they will endure into the next decades. Archiving locally and/or with a service provider (see Section 9.2), is essential to ensure the long-term viability of data.


The promotion and application of standards and guidelines, along with collaboration between advisory services and resource creators, will help foster a common framework for creating and developing digital resources in the visual arts; a framework that utilises global standards whilst accommodating local situations, to the benefits of all.

The information provided in this guide will hopefully go some way to achieving that aim, by raising awareness of relevant issues and developments and promoting good practices.

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University of Bristol & Catherine Grout, Phill Purdy & Janine Rymer (Visual Arts Data Service)

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