UKOLN AHDS Crafts Study Centre Digitisation Project - and Why 'Born Digital'


The Crafts Study Centre (CSC) [1], established in 1970, has an international standing as a unique collection and archive of twentieth century British Crafts. Included in its collection are textiles, ceramics, calligraphy and wood. Makers represented in the collection include the leading figures of the twentieth century crafts such as Bernard Leach, Lucie Rie and Hans Coper in ceramics; Ethel Mairet, Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher, Edward Johnston, Irene Wellington, Ernest Gimson and Sidney Barnsley. The objects in the collection are supported by a large archive that includes makers' diaries, documents, photographs and craftspeoples' working notes.

The Crafts Study Centre Digitisation Project

The Crafts Study Centre Digitisation Project [2] has been funded by the JISC to digitise 4,000 images of the collection and archive and to produce six learning and teaching modules. Although the resource has been funded to deliver to the higher education community, the project will reach a wide audience and will be of value to researchers, enthusiasts, schools and the wider museum-visiting public. The Digitisation Project has coincided with an important moment in the CSC's future. In 2000 it moved from the Holborne Museum Bath, to the Surrey Institute of Art & Design, University College, Farnham, where a purpose-built museum with exhibition areas and full study facilities, is scheduled to open in spring 2004.

The decision to create 'born digital' data was therefore crucial to the success not only of the project, but also in terms of the reusability of the resource. The high-quality resolutions that have resulted from 'born digital' image, will have a multiplicity of use. Not only will users of the resource on the Internet be able obtain a sense of the scope of the CSC collection and get in-depth knowledge from the six learning and teaching modules that are being authored, but the relatively large file sizes have produced TIFF files that can be used and consulted off-line for other purposes.

These TIFF files contain amazing details of some of the objects photographed from the collection and it will be possible for researchers and students to use this resource to obtain new insights into for example, the techniques used by makers. These TIFF files will be available on site, for consultation when the new CSC opens in 2004. In addition to this, the high-quality print out-put of these images means that they can be used in printed and published material to disseminate the project and to contribute to building the CSC's profile via exhibition catalogues, books and related material.


The project team were faced with a range of challenges from the outset. Many of these were based on the issues common to other digital projects, such as the development of a database to hold the associated records that would be interoperable with the server, in our case the Visual Arts Data Service (VADS), and the need to adopt appropriate metadata standards. Visual Resources Association (VRA) version 3.0 descriptions were used for the image fields. Less straightforward was the deployment of metadata for record descriptions. We aimed for best practice by merging Dublin Core metadata standards with those of the Museum Documentation Association (mda). The end produce is a series of data fields that serve firstly, to make the database compatible with the VADS mapping schema, and secondly to realise the full potential of the resource as a source of information. A materials and technique field for example, has been included to allow for the input of data about how a maker produced a piece. Users of the resource, especially students and researchers in the history of art and design will be able to appreciate how an object in the collection was made. In some records for example, whole 'recipes' have been included to demonstrate how a pot or textile was produced.

Other issues covered the building of terminology controls, so essential for searching databases and for achieving consistency. We consulted the Getty Art and Architecture Thesaurus (AAT) and other thesauri such as the MDA's wordhord, which acts as a portal to thesauri developed by other museums or museum working groups. This was sometimes to no avail because often a word simply did not exist and we had to reply on terminology develop in-house by curators cataloguing the CSC collection, and have the confidence to go with decisions made on this basis. Moreover, the attempt to standardise this kind of specialist collection can sometimes compromise the richness of vocabulary used to describe it.

Lessons Learnt

Other lessons learnt have included the need to establish written image file naming conventions. Ideally, all image file names should tie in with the object and the associated record. This system works well until sub-numbering systems are encountered. Problems arise because different curators when cataloguing different areas of the collection, have used different systems, such as letters of the alphabet, decimal and Roman numerals. This means that if the file name is to match the number marked on the object, then it becomes impossible to achieve a standardised approach. Lessons learnt here, were that we did not establish a written convention early enough in the project, with the result that agreement on how certain types of image file names should be written before being copied onto CD, were forgotten and more than one system was used.

The value of documenting all the processes of the project cannot be overemphasised. This is especially true of records kept relating to items selected for digitisation. A running list has been kept detailing the storage location, accession number, description of the item, when it was photographed and when returned to storage. This has provided an audit trail for every item digitised. A similar method has been adopted with the creation of the learning and teaching modules, and this has enhanced the process of working with authors commissioned to write the modules.

Lastly, but just as importantly, has been the creation of QA forms on the database based on suggestions presented by the Technical Advisory Services for Imaging (TASI) at the JISC Evaluation workshop in April 2002. This has established a framework for checking the quality and accuracy of an image and its associated metadata, from the moment that an object is selected for digitisation, through to the finished product. Divided into two sections, dealing respectively with image and record metadata, this has been developed into an editing tool by the project's documentation officer. The QA forms allows for most of the data field to be checked off by two people before the image and record is signed off. There are comment boxes for any other details, such as faults relating to the image. A post-project fault report/action taken box has been included to allow for the reporting of faults once the project has gone live, and to allow for any item to re-enter the system.

The bank of images created by the Digitisation Project will be of enormous importance to the CSC, not only in terms of widening access to the CSC collection, but in helping to forge its identity when it opens its doors as a new museum in 2004 at the Surrey Institute of Art & Design, University College.


  1. The Crafts Study Centre,
  2. The Crafts Study Centre Digitisation Project, JISC,

Contact Details

Jean Vacher
Digitisation Project Officer
Crafts Study Centre Surrey Institute of Art & Design, University College

QA Focus Comments

Citation Details

Crafts Study Centre Digitisation Project - and Why 'Born Digital', Vacher, J., QA Focus case study 08, UKOLN,


15 Oct 2003
The URL for The Crafts Study Centre Web site was changed from to
The URL for information about The Crafts Study Centre project on the JISC Web site was changed from to