Quality is the New Normal: Implementing a Quality Focused Program in Digitization Services

January is traditionally a time of new beginnings. With the turning of the calendar page to a new year comes an opportunity to start fresh with a clean slate.  In Digitization Services (IDS), we have some ideas for where to focus our renewed energy – moving our quality efforts from a project into a program.

We wrapped up our Quality Assurance Quality Control (QA/QC) project in December 2011 and are generally pleased with what we accomplished. We achieved much – but not all -we set out to do. Below is an outline of the project deliverables and their current status:

  • COMPLETE: Establish quality baselines utilizing specific quality control thresholds for identified priority products outlined in the Products and Services (P&S) web portal.
  • UNDERWAY: Document the quality thresholds for individual products within the P&S structure.
  • UNDERWAY: Establish appropriate technical metadata (embedded and/or external) for each product including process metadata and audit trails to record and track quality events.
  • COMPLETE: Author and implement standard operating procedures (SOPs) for relevant tasks and equipment.
  • COMPLETE for priority products: Develop a system to optimize equipment and systems including calibration, monitoring and preventative maintenance.
  • COMPLETE for priority products: Map equipment capabilities to specific products listed in P&S.
  • COMPLETE: Establish a QA/QC glossary
  • NOT COMPLETE: Identify system infrastructure requirements needed to support the QA/QC effort (metrics gathering, metrics reporting, system alerts, audit trail, business records).
  • UNDERWAY: Identify areas of ongoing focus in quality assurance and quality control work and build support for these beyond the life of the project.

With the conclusion of the QA/QC project comes the sun-setting of the External Reference Committee (ERC) group. I’ve said often that the ERC is, for me, one of the most successful components of this project. After our group-wide phone discussion in early summer, we realized that smaller group discussion might work better for following up on the discussion topics. We approached targeted ERC members with a set of common questions to seek individual advice about general workflows as well as technical components. These discussions proved invaluable for us. We learned, for example, about simultaneous, monitored, and semi-monitored capture workflows; we learned about different perspectives on monitoring equipment performance and evaluating equipment specifications (some places monitor on a regular basis while others trust the tool to do what the manufacturer says it can do); we learned about software and hardware tools and even exchanged in-house developed tools (such as those developed by IDS and now available on GitHub.

So are we finished? Yes and no. Our QA/QC project is complete and in the coming months, we’ll start to include our detailed QC protocols for specific products and other related deliverables into our public Products and Services website. But we are not finished. The challenge for IDS at this point is move this work from a structured project into a sustainable program. We are still working out the details on how exactly to accomplish this – and how to work on the incomplete tasks. In my June 30, 2011 blog post, I said “quality isn’t something that is achieved once and it’s done forever. It’s a continual and communal process and your participation is an important component to help us reach our goals.” There is still a long road ahead but we’re in it for the long haul. We’ll keep you posted as we make progress towards our goal of making quality the new normal.


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5 Responses to Quality is the New Normal: Implementing a Quality Focused Program in Digitization Services

  1. Marie V Melchiori, CG, CGl says:

    While the statements might make sense to the technical people what exactly does it mean to us old time users of NARA material? Is there a way to translate what you’ve said so us “oldsters” can understand it? Working with documents that have been digitized by the partners leaves a lot to be desired. Are the digitizing partners going to have to live up to these standard that NARA has set? What about series that have already been digitized? Will they also have to meet the “new” standards?


  2. Kathy Mubareka says:

    While I appreciate efforts to update and improve digitzation services, I concurr completely with Marie.


  3. Kate says:

    Thanks for this message. This project involves looking at the way we digitize material in-house within Digitization Services. We’ve established various quality control parameters to assure that we are producing what we intended to produce. An example of this might be confirming the sampling rate and bit depth in an audio file or that a .tif file is valid and well formed. We’ll publish exactly what these quality measures are in the coming months on our public website. At this point, it does not affect the work of the Partners or other NARA units. There are no plans to re-evaluate previous work.


  4. Marie V Melchiori, CG, CGl says:

    Thanks Kate. What happens if a researcher finds a problem with a digitized image? Is it corrected or is it like microfilm and just left?


    • Rebecca says:

      Hi Marie,

      If you find a problem with an image in the Archival Research Catalog (ARC) or Online Public Access (OPA) please email us at search@nara.gov. If you have a question about an image of a NARA record on the site of one of our digitization partners you may either contact the partner directly or you may email us at digitization@nara.gov. If you contact us at NARA, we will let the partner know about the issue.



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