Federal agencies are now following FADGI image-quality guidelines for the archiving of permanent records. So how can you ensure your organization's current digitization process meets these standards? Let’s break down what FADGI means, some questions you may have about it, and how you can successfully put FADGI-compliant standards into place for your organization.
What is FADGI?
FADGI, or Federal Agencies Digital Guideline Initiative, is a working group of government agencies and independent experts that are setting standards for still image and audio/video recording quality. Since 2007, the FADGI Still Image Working Group and US federal agencies have been developing guidelines that organizations can follow to digitize high-quality archival records.
In December 2020, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) proposed that all permanent records held by the federal government must comply with FADGI guidelines, which recommend that all digitized images meet a minimum three-star FADGI rating for image quality. This new standard would apply to both future and previous records. That means agencies would have to ensure the records they have already digitized meet the three-star FADGI standard before they would be accepted by NARA.
This is part of a larger initiative by NARA to transition away from physical documents toward digital records. In fact, the agency announced that it would stop accepting non-digital records altogether after June 30, 2024. From then on, organizations submitting permanent records to the National Archives must do so in a digital format only.
In short, from maps to manuscripts, any permanent record headed to the National Archives will soon need to be digitized—and should be of FADGI three-star quality or higher.
What does FADGI three-star quality mean?
There are four levels of image quality defined by FADGI. These levels are based on a series of image parameters, including pixel count, color, and noise. You can read more about the factors that determine these standards in this walkthrough of the federal digitization guidelines.
Here’s a summary of the four levels and what you need to know about each:
One-star images are too low quality to be used for anything more than basic information. That means, according to FADGI guidelines, these images can't be used for more advanced processing like optical character recognition (OCR), where computers digitize text.
Two-star images are slightly higher quality than one-star images but still can't be used as a replacement for the original document.
Three-star images are the result of a professional-grade digitization process and can serve as adequate replacements, also known as reproducible masters, in the event that the original physical documents are destroyed. As noted, this is the minimum level of quality that NARA would like federal agencies to meet.
Four-star images are the highest quality digitized images that can be created using available technology. While this level of image quality preserves a complete digital replica of the original document, it requires sophisticated technology and imaging expertise.
How are the FADGI levels measured?
For many years, the human eye was the default for measuring an image’s quality. While experienced imaging professionals could detect errors and faults in an image, that measurement was inherently subjective. As a result, the FADGI Still Image Working Group and US federal agencies have worked to develop a process where results can be standardized and quantified.
To accomplish this, FADGI uses a software package known as the Digital Imaging Conformance Evaluation program, or DICE.
DICE works in tandem with a series of predetermined test “targets” to help imaging professionals see where their images fit on the FADGI quality scale. This can also indicate whether an organization’s scanning technology is powerful enough to reach three-star quality or higher.
They have released a Windows version of the software, known as OpenDICE, which organizations can use to test the quality of their digitized images.
Does your organization need to comply with FADGI?
Currently, your organization should plan to comply with the FADGI three-star quality requirement if:
- You work for a federal agency or an outside organization that is responsible for digitizing permanent government records
- Your organization is creating digitized versions of permanent records that will end up in the National Archives, including paper documents and photographs
- Your organization has already digitized permanent records that will eventually be preserved by the National Archives
Remember, NARA defines permanent records as documents, images, and other material “approved by the Archivist of the United States as having sufficient historical or other value” to preserve permanently. Once a particular agency meets their limit for record retention, they must transfer their permanent records to NARA for long-term preservation.
3 reasons FADGI should matter to your organization
If the NARA proposal becomes a regulation, the FADGI three-star standard would apply only to permanent records. Yet independent experts predict that the requirement could gradually take effect across all federal agencies and record types. Eventually, the FADGI three-star standard may become the norm for digitized recordkeeping in non-government institutions like museums, universities, and libraries, too.
Meeting FADGI standards also goes beyond complying with a government requirement. These guidelines play an important role in safeguarding cultural heritage for future generations. Here are three additional reasons your organization should comply with FADGI standards:
Reason #1: Digitized records meet best practices for image quality
FADGI three-star images must meet the stringent targets set by the working group. These include appropriate pixel count, white balance, color value, scale, sharpening, and noise. By meeting this high level of quality, three-star images can be used as a suitable replacement for paper originals.
Reason #2: Future users can examine these records more easily
Three-star images allow users—from archival researchers to legislators to students—to examine permanent records with a high level of detail. This opens opportunities for future scholarship, learning, and research that simply aren’t possible with a lower quality digitized image.
Reason #3: Your organization won’t have to digitize records twice
According to the NARA proposal, organizations that need to comply with FADGI and have previously digitized their permanent records at a lower quality level will need to re-digitize them to meet three-star standards. Digitizing three-star records from the very beginning will save organizations time, money, and effort over the long term.
Where should your organization go from here?
FADGI guidelines can be technical and complex. When it’s time for your organization to invest in FADGI-capable scanning devices, you need to find a technology partner you can trust.
You’ll want to specifically confirm whether the devices you’re considering meet the FADGI three-star standard. Make sure that device manufacturers have done rigorous testing and ask for further technical specifications if needed. Investing in a FADGI-capable scanner can save you time, money, and effort in the long term, so ensure your devices meet the standard before you buy.
We make scanning technology that is FADGI capable when calibrated accordingly1, allowing organizations to produce images that meet the three-star requirement.
In order to ensure our devices meet FADGI standards, we tested the performance of our image scanners at each device's rated speed. From there, our engineers analyzed each resulting image to confirm that they meet FADGI three-star guidelines.
Find out more about how we can help your organization meet FADGI standards by connecting with a member of our government technology team.
1The fi-7600, the fi-7700, the fi-7800, and the fi-7900 scanners are capable of fulfilling the “FADGI 3-star” standards when calibrated accordingly. All previous testing for endorsement had been completed at the scanner’s rated speed, in addition to extensive image analysis reports to ensure our scanners are capable of outputting images that are within FADGI 3-star guidelines.