What is a FADGI, and why should you care?

What to know about FAGDI Guidelines

[Note: I’ll be hosting a free virtual educational seminar on FADGI November 16 at 11 am, Eastern. I hope you’ll join us.]

There is a lot of conversation in the M-19-21 world right now about “FADGI 3 compliance.” This may seem like some sort of mystery code to the uninitiated, so let’s see if I can take some of the mystery out of the conversation.

1 – What exactly is FADGI?

In 2007, the federal government began a collaborative effort to articulate “common sustainable set of technical guidelines, methods, and practices for digitized and born digital historical, archival and cultural content.” This effort led to the creation of FADGI (Federal Agencies Digital Guidelines Initiative) standards—a four-star ranking system for digital capture image quality.

FADGI defines four quality levels of imaging, from one star to four stars. Higher star ratings relate to better and more consistent image quality, but require greater technical competence of the operators, more detailed quality processes, and increased capabilities from the imaging systems.

ONE STAR – Should only be considered informational, in that images are not of a sufficient quality to be useful for optical character recognition or other information processing techniques. One-star imaging is appropriate for applications where the intent is to provide a reference to locate the original, or the intent is textual only with no repurposing of the content.

TWO STAR – Appropriate where there is no reasonable need or expectation of achieving three or four star performance. These images will have informational value only, and may or may not be suitable for Optical Character Recognition (OCR).

THREE STAR – A very good professional image capable of serving almost all use cases. This includes being suitable for OCR as well as for reprint on the best commercially available printers.

FOUR STAR – Images created to a four-star level represent the state-of-the-art in image capture and are suitable for almost any use.

2 – Why am I suddenly seeing “FADGI 3 compliant” labeling on scanners?

In December 2020, NARA issued draft standards “proposing to amend our electronic records management regulations to add a subpart containing standards for digitizing permanent Federal records so that agencies may dispose of the original source records, where appropriate and in accordance with the Federal Records Act amendments of 2014.”
The proposed standards (currently under final review by OMB) require that permanent federal records meet quality requirements that equate to FADGI three-star aimpoints and tolerance ranges. This is why there is so much current conversation about “FADGI 3 compliant scanners.”

NARA Chief Records Officer Laurence Brewer summarized the current status of the standards at the August BRIDG meeting:

“We are still in the last stages of reviewing and adjudicating the comments to the standard, and expect that they will soon be sent over to OMB for final review. We need to wait and see what concerns OMB may have when they see our final adjudication of all the comments that we have received. We’re actively working on it, and hope that we can get this resolved and published and final as soon as possible.”

3 – What kinds of records are covered by the new standard?

There is a lot of confusion about the kinds of records impacted by the new digitization standards.

  • This rulemaking covers only permanent paper and photographic records, including paper and photographs contained in mixed-media records.
  • NARA previously amended 36 CFR part 1236 to add standards for digitizing temporary records, which constitute the majority of Federal records (RIN 3095-AB98, 84 FR 14265 (April 10, 2019), effective May 10, 2019).
  • The standards in the proposed rulemaking apply retroactively to digitized permanent records that have not been transferred to the National Archives.

Permanent records are those approved by the Archivist of the United States as having sufficient historical or other value that warrants continuing to preserve them beyond the time agencies need the records for administrative, legal, or fiscal purposes. Agencies retain permanent records for administrative, legal, or fiscal purposes for a specific period of time. At the end of the scheduled retention period, they then transfer permanent records to the legal custody of the National Archives.

The proposed new FADGI 3 compliance standards apply only to permanent records as approved by NARA – a tiny portion of the overall percentage of federal records. Per 84 FR 14265, “While permanent records require more rigorous quality standards for archival reasons, most temporary records do not need to meet those standards. Because the needs and uses for temporary records differ vastly across the Government, it is not reasonable to set a single baseline image quality or other similar standards; different standards will serve to meet the business needs for different records.”

However – and this is a big however — given the application of FADGI 3 standards to permanent records, and the absence of overall standards for all other records, it is likely that over time, the FADGI 3 requirement will bleed down into RFPs regardless of record type.

Hence the scramble to gain FADGI 3 certification.

4 – How does a scanner get certified FADGI 3 compliant?

Don Williams at Image Science Associates is perhaps the foremost authority on image quality specification and certification. Image Science Associates, LLC (ISA) was founded by Don Williams in 2006 after a career at Kodak interfacing with the digital image archiving industry. Much of this work was done within the AIIM standards program and actually originated with the creation of test targets to measure image quality back during the microfilm days. Since founding ISA, Don’s mission has been to educate the industry on the protocols, tools and best practices used to evaluate digital image quality.

ISA’s Golden Thread software specifies and assesses the quality of an imaging system – including consistency with FADGI 3 quality standards. The software is typically used in two ways.

  1. For acceptance testing of scanners and cameras. Before signing off on an expensive and complex scanning device, customers should make sure that it is performing as expected. In this way, scanner vendors can demonstrate that their equipment meets FADGI 3 image quality standards, and agencies can make sure that the FADGI 3 standards are met in their operating operating environment.
  2. For periodic image quality monitoring and audits. Any number of imaging inconsistencies can creep, unnoticed into digitizing workflows of an agency or service provider. These can range from incorrect exposure selections to inappropriate image processing choices. Meeting FADGI 3 quality standards is not just required at the point a system is initially implemented, but also must be measured over time.

5 – How difficult is it for a scanner to get FADGI 3 certification?

Don Williams believes that FADGI 3 certification is possible for many scanners, even at large scale and high speed. “Sometimes it requires some coaching, and often we need to work with the engineering teams to make sure FADGI 3 levels of quality are achievable in specific environments and/or workflow processes. Many scanners are capable of achieving FADGI 3 quality standards — if they are configured properly. Vendors will need to demonstrate that the workflows actually meet the FADGI specifications in real life, and as time goes on.”

Finally, it is important for future planning to keep in mind that the FADGI standards apply to the integrity and quality of the overall scanning and capture process, not just the scanner. It is equally important to understand that the FADGI requirement includes ongoing monitoring of the capture process, not just a one-time hardware certification.

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This just in…Don Williams will be joining me on the seminar on Nov 16 – Find out about FADGI from the expert! – https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_C3iuMtrnTSysynSOXSOqXw

Don worked as a research imaging scientist for Kodak for 25 years until he left the company in 2006. His work there focused on both digital and traditional imaging practices across a number of disciplines that included reconnaissance, microfilm, consumer photography, and professional photography sectors. His passion lies in the digital image archiving community and in providing resources by which good imaging can be easily practiced and understood. In partnership with his associates, he has frequently taught and provided educational tools on digital imaging. Don has also published extensively on both technical and policy matters as they relate to digital image fidelity and metrology. He sits on international standards committees and is fully immersed and involved in the digital image archiving community, frequently contributing to the Federal Agencies Digitization Guideline Initiative and sits on the Still Image Working Group advisory board.

#NARACompliance #M-19-21