WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Defense Imagery Management Operations Center recently signed a $5 million agreement to digitize, store and provide access to hundreds of thousands of historical images.
The center, referred to as DIMOC, is the Defense Department’s central repository for visual imagery. It exists to preserve visual records first for the DOD, and then for other agencies and members of the public, said Mike Edrington, DIMOC director.
But, in addition to its digital archive, the agency has a massive backlog of images on physical, analog media that ranges from photographic negatives and slides to films and VHS tapes.
“That material is deteriorating faster than we can offer it to the National Archives and we need to get it into a digital form” Edrington said. In addition, DIMOC’s climate-controlled, automated storage facility at March Air Reserve Base, Calif., is running out of space, he said.
The March facility is where analog visual imagery assets are shipped and processed. Those assets weren’t always being stored in ideal conditions before they were sent to DIMOC, Edrington said.
The images are often found in obscure places on bases as they close down or as offices move, he said. “They’ve found it in corners of warehouses, and sometimes we don’t know exactly where the stuff’s found, but it comes delivered to us, it shows up on a pallet … and sometimes the stuff says ‘box of stuff.’”
Regardless of condition, images sent to March are never simply destroyed, Edrington noted, “because they’re federal records.” Everything is assessed, barcoded and stored for later digitization.
“We want the material. If they find it, we want it,” Edrington said, noting that DOD personnel can contact DIMOC customer service if they have images they want to accession. They can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 1-888-PH-DIMOC (743-4662).
The images in DIMOC’s digital holdings are also shared with the National Archives, he said.
“There’s a lot of history,” Edrington said. “It’s not just celebrities such as Elvis Presley … we’ve got that kind of stuff, but more importantly, we’ve got Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines doing what they do.”
A digitization and storage study conducted in 2010 by the Defense Media Activity, DIMOC’s parent organization, found it would take up to 50 years and at least $25 million to digitize the current analog holdings with available government resources, Edrington said.
By taking a different approach, the new contract will shorten that period to five years at a fraction of the cost.
The contract is the first of its kind in the Defense Department, Edrington said. In exchange for digitizing the images, the contractor, T3Media, will be granted a limited period of exclusivity during which they will be able to charge non-DOD users a fair-market fee to use the images.
All DOD personnel will be able to access and download the images for free by accessing a secure website, Edrington said.
In this constrained budget environment, the department can no longer afford to subsidize the access of commercial media and non-government entities to DOD imagery. Changing to a fee-based system will offset the cost of digitizing, storing and providing public access to the imagery.
“This is a true partnership,” Edrington said. “It’s really in our interest that T3 succeeds.”
The fees are essentially a convenience fee for making accessibility to the images a matter of simply going online and searching by keywords, rather than waiting 30-60 days for a response to a Freedom of Information Act Request for images that may or may not exist, Edrington said.
The arrangement is similar to the one made by the National Archives with Ancestry.com, he said, which is permitted to charge a fee for access to certain federal records in exchange for digitizing, categorizing and storing those records.