Photo album

The surf rolls in at King Range National Conservation Area in Northern California. The home page of BLM's Arcata, Calif., field office, which manages King Range, contains a link to the BLM California photo collection. The library stores these and about 100,000 other photos.

BLM aimed for functionality and ease of use in setting up its online photo library

In California, the Bureau of Land Management tends 15 million acres of national monuments, recreational sites and conservation areas, as well as photographs of them.

BLM's California state office in Sacramento has been delivering archived photos over the Web for two years. The California photo library, online at www.ca.blm.gov/photo, saves money and staff time to research, duplicate and send out photos, said James Pickering, photo manager at the Sacramento office.

In most cases, workers at the bureau's 16 field offices throughout California shot the photos. Subjects range from recreational'hikers, wildflowers, birds and mountains'to litter, vandalism and other illegal activities.

Schools and print publications frequently request photos, and employees of BLM and other Interior Department bureaus also are heavy users of the archives for reports, Microsoft PowerPoint presentations and Web pages. About 900 employees work in the California field offices.

The library now has 35,000 photos in electronic format, with another 7,000 still to be digitized. Pickering estimated that the total number in the online archive will eventually exceed 100,000.
Before setting up the online library, the California office was spending $7,000 to $10,000 per year to fulfill photo requests, Pickering said.

For each request, he or another worker would have to look up the original film negative, print a copy and mail it. 'It wasn't cost-effective anymore,' he said.

Keep it simple

In choosing a platform for the online photos, BLM officials wanted it simple enough that workers who use an image editor only once or twice a year could manage, Pickering said.

The bureau also needed to secure from public view sensitive pictures, such as law enforcement actions and active archaeological digs.

Pickering said he looked at 25 software packages, but many were more suited to managing photo collections on a single host than Web-enabling a diverse library.

The digital image management application he selected, ImageWhere from WhereMedia Inc. of St. John's, Newfoundland, was designed for transferring medical images in hospitals while maintaining patient privacy. Pickering also bought WhereMedia's ImagePortal for the Web interface.

WhereMedia customized the applications for BLM in several ways, such as extracting a list of key words from the database and creating a personalized startup screen.

The photo library's basic search lets users type in a search term or select from a list describing the photo subjects or locations. The Web interface automatically logs in members of the public as guests who cannot see the restricted-access photos.

Photos are in several formats: thumbnail JPEG images, medium-resolution shots for Web and PowerPoint use, high-resolution shots for 8- by 10-inch prints and publication-quality images for Kodak Photo CDs. Each photo has its own serial number, and the characters at the end of the serial number correspond to the photograph's format.

The library has mostly film photos, Pickering said, but digital cameras are becoming cheap enough that the Sacramento office could buy one. Film still is better than digital media at accurately rendering scenes with high contrast between light and dark areas, however.

Pickering first contracted with a local vendor to digitize photos into Kodak Photo CD format, which does lossless compression.

Now the Sacramento office has acquired a Nikon Coolscan film scanner, from Nikon Inc. of Melville, N.Y., which 'keeps the money here,' Pickering said. The scanner can handle an uncut roll of film or a stack of slides.

'The intention was to build this from the ground up for the field offices,' Pickering said. About 90 field office workers have been trained to upload their digital photos into the library and add metadata.

Too many government photos, Pickering said, get developed and stored in a desk drawer without any annotations or information about them'what the IT world calls metadata.

Users of the online library can toggle back and forth between viewing the images and their metadata'image serial number, location and photographer, if known. Photos taken by BLM employees are in the public domain, but the bureau asks anyone who publishes them to give proper credit.

Maps may be next

Mary Lou West, Internet program coordinator for the California state office, said she believes the Sacramento office has 100,000 photos already, but they're not all digital. The photos that do exist in digital form fill 112G of storage on the photo server, a Microsoft Windows 2000 platform. The WhereMedia applications are coupled to an IBM Informix database system, which resides on a separate server under AIX.

Recently Pickering's team added to the photo portal the ability to export both images and their associated metadata into Extensible Markup Language files.

Some users also want to add BLM's mapping products to the online library, West said. The offices in Sacramento and other western states sell BLM maps for $4 each, but the bureau does not yet sell them online.

Also on the drawing board is a tool to accept photos from remote cameras positioned on BLM-managed desert lands in southern California. Because of a past lawsuit, Pickering said, his office must monitor some protected areas to ensure that off-road drivers don't intrude into wilderness.

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