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Scripting for the Smithsonian: Bees, Bones, & Barcodes

Introduction

DT Pixel Acuity has been digitizing Smithsonian collections since 2011; recently, we’ve made a major investment to automate parts of our digitization process to provide even better service to the Smithsonian. The first two projects to receive such automation are the digitization of a large set of Entomology specimens and a large quantity of Paleo specimens at the Natural History Museum. These mass digitization projects include the physical handling and tracking of a large number of delicate and valuable specimens which creates a challenge to productivity and consistency. Our improvements have increased throughput, improved material safety, and improved the accuracy of the image set delivered.

Barcodes

The first objective is to use barcodes to accurately and consistently identify and track the physical object. To this end a small barcode is kept with each individual specimen and is placed alongside the specimen at the time of capture. In the past, when presented with barcode-based workflows DT PA has taken the traditional barcode-scanner approach: the operator would read the barcode with a hand scanner, which enters the value into Capture One. That approach worked fine, but it requires the operator to pickup, use, and put down the hand scanner for every object (the option to mount the hand scanner and move the material underneath it is undesirable here due to the fragility of the physical specimens – for example, the delicate wings of a preserved bee). That method also requires the operator to manually QC the scanned code against the expected parameters (e.g. both that it did scan, and that an 8 digit code consisting only of numbers was the result); while the barcode type used on this project is explicitly designed to reduce the chance of an incorrectly-read value, when the goal is 100.00% accuracy you cannot take such things for granted. Finally, it required the operator to *think* about the barcode; this seems like a minor point, but the human mind does not multitask very effectively, so every task you give it, however trivial, distracts it from other active tasks. The “other task” here of concern is the safe handling of the delicate material and the coordination of the placement of the object.

To improve over this previous status-quo of using a hand barcode scanner, DT PA developed automation tools that automatically read the value of the barcode from within the image frame, and name and label the digital file accordingly. This improves accuracy, improved productivity, and keeps the physical specimens safer. The accuracy is improved because every barcode value can instantly be checked against the known attributes of the barcode (length, kind of digits, etc). Productivity is improved because the operator does not need to take any actions   related to the barcode, and because more of the QC is fully automated. Finally, and most importantly, it improves material safety because the operator can focus 100% of their attention and effort on the safe handling of the physical specimens.

Derivative Generation and Hashing

In this case the Smithsonian desires three deliverables: an 8-bit TIFF in ProPhoto, an 8-bit JPG in Adobe 1998, and the full 16-bit RAW file. They also want these three deliverables named and organized into subfolders in a very specific way based on the content of the barcode associated with that specimen. 

Previously the batch ability of Capture One helped to partially automate the process of creating these deliverables. However, there were still a number of manual steps, and the largest “batch” was limited to a given session size within Capture One. 

DT PA new automation tools now automatically handle this entire pipeline with a single click. The required assets are created, named, and organized into subfolders. It even divides the deliverables into delivery batches and generates an MD5 hash so that the Smithsonian can confirm they have received the entire delivery successfully. Best of all, this entire process can be kicked off at the end of the day, left running overnight so as to not impede on the valuable time of the computer, operator or institutional staff.

Summary

DT PA is dedicated to leading the industry in adopting new technology and new workflows wherever it will help us deliver on our primary tenets of maintaining preservation-grade FADGI 4-star image quality, conservation-friendly material handling, production that can scale to any size collection big or small, and customer-first work practices that make us a vendor you are genuinely thrilled to be working with. These two case studies exemplify the benefits of automation, but are just a sliver of the investments we are currently making. To hear more about how DT PA can help you with digitization hardware, software, services, and consultation, please contact us.

“Pixel Acuity consistently delivers high-quality, professional images with an attention to detail that is second to none. Working with their team, collaboration and project integration couldn’t have been easier.”

~Patricia King, Colby College Museum of Art

Locations

Pixel Acuity

14140 Parke Long Court
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Chantilly, VA 20151
646-679-5044

info@pixelacuity.com