June 21, 2011

Thoughts on the 2011 JP2 Summit

I attended the JP2 Summit in Washington D.C. in May (initiated and organised by Robert Buckley and Steve Puglia and hosted by the Library of Congress) representing both the Wellcome Library and the JP2K-UK Working Group. I found this event an interesting counterpart to the JPEG2000 Seminar we held here at the Wellcome Trust last year.

There were around 90 people at the Summit, most from the D.C. area and eastern seaboard cultural institutions such as the LoC; National Archives; Smithsonian libraries and archives; a range of university libraries including Yale, Harvard, U. of Virginia, UConn; NARA; and many others. The level of experience in digital imaging and preservation was generally quite high, while the understanding of JPEG2000 ranged from very little to highly informed. Nearly a mirror audience to the Wellcome Trust event, although perhaps with fewer privately funded organisations represented (although there were some, including Google).

The day began with a tutorial by Robert Buckley, and although I had heard much of this in previous presentations, or through reading up on JP2, I always find it hard to keep the details fresh in my mind. So it was useful to get a refresher, and it set the stage well for people who had little knowledge of the technical issues and background to the format.

After the tutorial, there was a series of presentations, all of which are listed on the JPEG2000 page of the FADGI website. I won't go into the details here (and you can read more on Steve Puglia's blog post), but we heard about a range of practical issues around use of JP2 for newspaper digitisation, digital video, special collections and Google books; technical developments around implementing JP2 as part of a workflow including quality assurance and issues of long-term preservation; and the results of a survey of use and attitudes toward JP2 in libraries and archives.

In the library and archive community JP2 is being adopted mainly for mass digitisation with storage costs being the primary driver - there is no denying that. What was clear here - as with the presentations given last year - was that while JP2 is not yet the most practical solution in terms of usability, it is becoming more and more widely accepted for its flexibility and robustness as well as for its space-saving intelligent compression. With increasing knowledge of the format practitioners are now coming to see JP2 in the context of these other important features, and investigating - even demanding - ways to use these other features more easily.

Of course, not everyone is 100% convinced that JP2 can meet the needs of digital archiving, or digital image delivery. Many concerns seem to have been appeased by the presentations and tutorial - simply by finding out how many people are using the format, and how much value they get from it. There are still barriers to people taking up JP2 more enthusiastically - mainly around the lack of adoption by digital cameras and browsers, loss of information in lossy compression, risk that there still isn't a wide enough take-up in the community to maintain the currency of the format in the longer term, and the small range of tools for implementing the format that simply can't meet their needs.

The second day of the Summit finished off with a small-group discussion session around JP2 implementation. For me, the most interesting part of this discussion was around community building.

While we may never see digital cameras natively producing JP2s, for example, some barriers can be broken down by simply sharing. Information on and results of testing, tools and ways to use them, workflow advice, and preservation technologies are all important and can easily be shared. Use of JP2 doesn't always boil down to technical reassessment however. There is also revisiting certain aspects of digital preservation strategy such as defining significant properties/data, predicting migration scenarios and what that really entails, determining what the use of the digital content really is. It is also recognising emotional responses to preservation risks and the fact that these decisions have a long-term effect, shaping the legacy of entire collections. The leap to JP2 is best done in collaboration, and moral support should not be discounted!

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