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2014 Smithsonian Institution Digitization Fair

NOT Business as Usual at the 2014 Smithsonian Digitization Fair

By Günter Waibel, Director, Digitization Program Office, OCIO on Mon, 11/03/2014 - 11:51

At the Smithsonian’s biennial Digitization Fair, we strive to bring together the entire digitization community from our 19 museums and 9 research centers to share best practices, great ideas and lofty visions. This year, for the first time, we also invited a range of presenters from left field, so to speak. Our keynotes from Rajiv Pant (CTO at the New York Times) and Anne Maglia (NSF Program Director in the Division of Biological Infrastructure); presentations from colleagues within the federal family (DARPA, NIH and the White House / OSTP); and colleagues from a wide range of fields (HBO, TechShop, Palantir, Fraunhofer Institute, Picturae and Union Nine) were all meant to inspire us with creative solutions from industries we don’t always have the opportunity to interact with. 

I was struck by Rajiv’s grasp on how to effect culture change (“Engineers need to better understand the human API”), by the success of open sharing of 3D data in the NIH 3D Print exchange, and by Jonathan Kolodner’s upbeat assessment that robots may soon be able to play a role in moving collection objects for digitization projects. I was also thrilled to hear from Anne Maglia about the “Beyond the Box Digitization Competition,” which will award $1 million to the person or team who creates a technology that increases the speed and accuracy of digitization of a drawer of insect specimens and their associated data.

In our efforts to get everybody ready to think outside the box, we titled this year’s fair “NOT Business as Usual,” and all attendees found a digitization comic book on their chair as they walked into the plenary. The original idea for the Captain Capture comic was conceived of by our much-missed Presidential Innovation Fellow, Diego Mayer-Cantu, drafted by James Smith in our Office of Policy & Analysis, revised by our digitization expert Ken Rahaim, and illustrated by Evan Keeling in our Office of Exhibits Central. A more unlikely group of collaborators has never put together a comic book - certainly not at the Smithsonian, where this is (to the best of my knowledge) our first foray into the world of superheroes.  Click on the image to the left to download your very own copy!
Some of the jargon and abbreviations may be a bit hard to decipher outside of the Smithsonian, but I think the overall concepts are still legible. While we don’t regularly have super hero crashing through skylights to offer digitization advice (really – we don’t!), all of the underlying digitization information coming out of Captain Capture’s mouth has been fact-checked by Ken.

Another measure of how far we’ve come very quickly at the Smithsonian: when we wrote the comic, a conveyor-belt driven digitization pipeline was still a gleam in our eye. Now that we’ve published the comic, that dream actually has become a reality: we just launched our first conveyor-belt driven digitization project, powered by Picturae. Stay tuned for robots! :-)

P.S.: I apologize to all of you out there who’d like to see the presentations from the Digitization Fair. Apart from our outside speakers, this was a staff-only event. The good news: we’re thinking about opening it up to the public when we do it again!