Archivist/Digital Resource Manager
Dear Collective Wisdom,
The Lone Arranger Section listerv brought us another lively discussion this past spring, when a member of our community asked about digitizing his institution’s archives, from square one:
My predecessor, also a member of my community, has asked me a couple of times if I am going to put our paper holdings in a digital format. Has anyone ever attempted this? I shudder when I think of the man hours involved in such a project.
I was admittedly taken aback by the general nature of the question. How can such a complex topic be unpacked within the confines of an email list? I was pleasantly surprised, however, with the immediate and robust responses from fellow lone arrangers. The majority of respondents stressed the importance of realizing that digitization is a multilayered, as opposed to “one and done” process, and that stakeholders should be aware of the complexity of creating reliable, stable, and accessible digital records. We concluded that digitization transcends simply scanning a document—it involves metadata collection, longterm file storage and preservation, adequate IT infrastructure, (sometimes) full text rendering via OCR, etc. Just because something is scanned doesn’t make it automatically accessible. In general, the lone arranger community agreed on some basic questions to ask before beginning the digitization process:
- What types of materials will be digitized?
- What kind of scanner will be employed, and will the machine suffice for the materials selected for digitization?
- What kind of metadata is available, and how will this metadata be captured?
- Where are will the digital files be stored? What kind of IT infrastructure is available for storage? Does this involve the use of external hard drives, local servers, cloud storage, etc.?
- What digital preservation measures will be employed, to protect against file degradation and obsolescence?
- Why are the materials being digitized in the first place? What are the stakeholder’s expectations for the digitization project?
- Will the digital surrogates be made accessible to the broader public? How?
- Will the metadata and digital images be managed in a database, content management system, or digital asset management system? Will this require purchasing/developing additional software?
- Will text documents be made full-text searchable, and will OCR software need to be employed? What about handwritten documents? Does the archive have the resources for manual transcription?
- Are there adequate resources to digitize in-house, or will the project be outsourced? Have assessments of external vendors for quality and cost been accomplished?
Have we missed anything important on this list? Are there lone arrangers out there who have embarked on a digitization project from square one? Please share your insights and experiences by commenting below!