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The Mental Factor

Digitization Program Planning


Boredom: Break Frequency & Variety

Digitization of our Cultural Heritage is a sacred duty, and is vital to humanity’s self-exploration, but the process can also be very tedious, even boring. The technicians responsible for consistently and carefully carrying out the responsibilities of the digitization process need to be strongly considered in the setup of a digitization program. It is tempting to assume the greatest total output is accomplished by minimizing breaks, but many institutions have found in practice that their total productivity goes up and errors decrease when breaks are planned and enforced, even when on tight deadlines. Since repetitive tasks in digitization are similar to many areas of industrial production, additional reading on Human Factors Engineering or consultation with an expert in this field may be informative in fine-tuning a digitization program’s procedures and policies.

External Distraction: the Enemy of Efficiency & Consistency

The modern culture of always-on communication, and the tendency, especially of younger technicians, to need to feel connected at all times has led to a situation where administrators need to be especially mindful of distracted technicians. It is both reasonable and productive for technicians to have breaks that include the freedom to use email/texting/social-media and the like during those breaks. However, the introduction of interruptions during active digitization can be especially disruptive and greatly increase the rate of errors. When engaged in rapid imaging, as in digitizing a several-hundred-page bound volume, a single mistake can cause significant loss of productivity. If an operator answers a text message mid-book and a page is skipped, the error may only be noticed during later QC, and the item may need to be recalled from storage to correct it.

We recommend against cell phone use during digitization. Moreover, on the systems being used for digitization, we recommend the administrator make use of free programs like Self Control or other admin-level blocking utilities to block access to non-work sites like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and common email sites like Yahoo Mail.

Many technicians underestimate the increase in errors created by distraction because those error rates are still quite low. For instance a distracted, technician might make mistakes on 0.3% of captures, while a careful technician might only make mistakes on 0.1% of captures. While it’s true that 99.7% is still a seemingly good rate of error-free operation, it still represents a tripling of errors. Since each error offsets the productivity of many error-free captures, the effect on net productivity can be quite high even though the absolute error-rate is quite low.


In-House Distractions

Distraction can also be created by other technicians, managers, or internal communication. When possible, we recommend fostering an internal understanding that specific hours are reserved for continuous, uninterrupted digitization and non-urgent communication with technicians is actively discouraged at these times.

Many institutions allow the technician to wear headphones or play music at their station, both for entertainment and to reduce distractions from noise/conversation nearby. In considering this, project planners should research whether any important errors or warnings on any of the relevant digitization equipment are provided in audio-form only. In the case that headphones cannot be worn, it may be worthwhile to consider sound-reduction panels or providing overhead music in the overall digitization area.

With this in mind, we recommend making technicians stakeholders in their productivity, and the productivity of the total team. A system that objectively tracks image quality over time can help technicians realize the practical implications of their raw throughput, error rates, and net productivity. Performance bonuses (whether monetary, time off, or flexible schedules) and team goals can help foster a productive environment.

“Imaging or processing all day can be tedious, and boredom can cause major problems. We allow people to listen but not to watch. Music, books or podcasts can help people get into the zone and actually increase productivity with fewer errors, though it can sometimes be a fine line between someone finding a balance and getting lost in the

distraction. Music in the room can be a good compromise. Staff aren’t plugged in and isolated and they can actually feel more part of a team.”
Ian Bogus, MacDonald Curator of Preservation, University of Pennsylvania Libraries



The Four-Day Weekend Effect

When Object-Level Targets (OLT) are present in every frame digitized, the metrics can be extracted from a set of images using software like the GoldenThread software package from Image Science Associates (ISA) [see Numerically Evaluating Image Quality]. These metrics can be traced over time to evaluate the practical effect of any operational changes in ongoing digitization efforts. These metrics can also provide illumination on any number of phenomena.

Don Williams of Image Science Associates, an independent image-scientist and creator of GoldenThread, reports that an examination of long-term data at an unnamed major institution showed a significant and consistent downtick in objective image quality on the workday following a four-day weekend. While such study cannot completely isolate correlation/coincidence from causality, it seems obvious that a groggy employee is one more likely to make minor mistakes (e.g. slight misfocusing), degrading the quality of the digitization process.

We propose that the solution to such problematic findings is not to eliminate four-day weekends, nor to chastise employees for being a bit off their game following an overly exuberant Independence Day celebration. Instead, we suggest to incorporate such realities into the planning of the digitization program; potentially problematic work days could be days reserved for office organization and cleanup or non-detail-oriented administrative paperwork. Preservation digitization requires an alert, careful, mindful technician, and it is important to address the practicalities of life beyond the digitization lab.

“Transitions and disruptions in workflows of ongoing digitization projects are the largest cause of unintended imaging performance changes, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. More importantly, the message is that such inconsistencies make such projects difficult to manage. A classic case of this was demonstrated after a four day holiday weekend when digitization operations were discontinued. Upon start-up afterwards, there was a significant change (~1 stop) in exposure compared to an otherwise stable exposure history previous to the holiday. This was detected with simple day-today control chart tracking of highlight and mid-tone gray patches of an imaged Device level target at the beginning of each day’s sessions.”

Don Williams, Image Science Associates

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