April 29, 2021 • History Factory
The following article was written by our valued partners at Digital Transitions, a global leader in imaging solutions, software design and digitization. Digital Transitions will host its Spring Round Table conference May 6-7, featuring presentations from History Factory’s Chris Juhasz, Tim Schantz and Jessica Koenig, among others. If you’re interested in learning about cutting-edge trends in digitization and archival management, register here.
Digitization is the conversion of analog assets into digital format. One of the primary drivers for digitization is the need to distribute difficult-to-access information. A benefit of digitization is preserving original source material while allowing it to be handled less and therefore guarding it against damage or even theft. When considering a digitization project, or program, it is crucial to adhere to rigorous guidelines and best practices.
Before starting a digitization project or program, it’s important to understand why you will embark on this endeavor. Whether it’s to monetize, access or protect existing assets, or to rehouse the assets of your organization, your goals should define how your team approaches digitization. Don’t underestimate this process, because it will enable access to information for current and future colleagues. It is critical to consider image quality at this stage. Ideally you should scan an asset once and then be able to repurpose it many times for broad use across a range of platforms.
Consider who will need access to your organization’s assets. You should go through the process of determining who needs these assets and when — a process that will establish a timetable that ensures you meet stakeholder needs. In addition, the quality of the digital asset is critical for it to support varied uses. For example, research and development might need to see faint handwritten notes on schematics, and a poor-quality scan will not include this information. Marketing might require a large, high-quality image for a billboard, which would be unattainable by low-quality scanners. Today, Pixel Acuity, a division of Digital Transitions, uses AI to identify objects in photographs. This process requires a high-quality image capture. Like the saying goes, “Garbage in, garbage out.”
Recognizing what is and is not important to digitize is critical to any successful digitization program. Instead of digitizing everything, it’s important not to waste resources on digitizing materials that have no monetary or cultural value to your company.
As a quick exercise, imagine that you need to digitize your family’s property. Would you digitize every item you acquired over the history of your family’s life together? How important is that appliance relative to your family’s history, for example? We always ask people to consider the process of moving to another country, with the choice of packing and transporting only a fraction of what you have in your home. What you decide to bring along is ultimately the distilled essence of your family’s collective history — items that are important to the future of your family.
Once you have answered the questions of why you are digitizing, who needs access, and what items are essential, then you need to determine if your company is ready to embark on this program or project. And even before you do that, we think it’s important to define the difference between a program and a project as well as how they might work together.
A lot of organizations want to programmatically digitize their assets for myriad reasons: monetization, access, legal, research and development, etc. This effort would be considered a digitization program. Others have a dedicated project that includes milestones such as an anniversary or a rebrand that might drive their digitization efforts. Too often organizations approach digitization projects as finite. This approach overlooks ongoing staffing needs to manage the created assets or future applications of the digitized collection that may require additional efforts from your team.
This is the easy part. The planning process requires buy-in, agreement and commitment from a lot of stakeholders. Getting consensus from your team is no easy task. Let’s assume you have gotten all stakeholders on board, determined a finite project to execute, organized your assets in an electronic catalog, identified a mechanism to store and disseminate these assets, and selected the material to be digitized. Congratulations, you’re ready to get started! Finding information about the mechanics is easy, since experts in the field have decades of experience in digitizing collections. Doing it correctly so that you don’t waste time and money has also gotten simpler through well-established guidelines and best practices.
A preservation digital object is meant to be kept indefinitely, so you want to make sure your quality guidelines are met on the first shot. This factor is often overlooked to meet short-term needs without considering the time and cost involved in re-digitizing. It’s much more efficient to digitize at the highest possible quality on the first go and repurpose for a variety of applications. This will help avoid reaccessing the original materials for different applications down the line, which will allow for better preservation of the original materials. The best part is that there is no need to compromise in the first place when your service provider uses high-resolution, single-shot capture systems for digital capture, which take less time to digitize at a preservation-grade quality than other methods that yield lower-quality results.
This expert advice will lead to greater efficiencies in digitization, as well as organization and access for better protection of your valuable assets. If you’re looking at digitizing your collection, then following this guidance will put you on the path to success.
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