Documenting digital images: Textual meta‐data at the Blake Archive

Matthew Kirschenbaum (The Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, University of Virginia)

The Electronic Library

ISSN: 0264-0473

Publication date: 1 April 1998


As libraries continue to acquire and develop collections based in digital media, they face a corresponding need to document the electronic data comprising such collections. By documentation I mean the provision of contextual information pertaining to the source, creation, processing, and current state of a digital object. When dealing with electronic text, documentation is often instinctive and unproblematic, at least in a technical sense, given that the data and its documentation (or meta‐data) both share the same medium: one documents textual data by supplementing it with more textual data (the header employed by the Text Encoding Initiative is exemplary in this regard). When libraries create digital image collections, however, documentation becomes more problematic. Even if an image is surrounded by a robust network of supporting materials, the functionality of client‐server networks such as the World‐Wide Web permits the image to become detached from its documentary apparatus. Every image encountered on the Web, is cached, at least temporarily, on the viewer's hard drive. Documentary information that is merely presented ‘alongside’ an image is left behind at that point, as it also is should the viewer choose to save a copy of the image for future reference. Given those circumstances — which are paralleled in such media as sound or video — the issue of providing reliable documentary meta‐data for non‐textual electronic files is a crucial one for digital library development. In what follows, I will present the solution adopted at the William Blake Archive, a large‐scale electronic editing project in which images — and not text — are the focal point.


Kirschenbaum, M. (1998), "Documenting digital images: Textual meta‐data at the Blake Archive", The Electronic Library, Vol. 16 No. 4, pp. 239-241.

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Copyright © 1998, MCB UP Limited

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