Creating an online exhibit or digital collection takes time, money, and thoughtful planning. Before even establishing an online database or digital archive, the most taxing phase is deciding what and how to digitize. Here are some essential steps towards successful digitization gleaned from this weeks readings:
- Establish project goals. Ask yourself if the primary purpose of this project is to preserve, provide access, or both. Answering this question helps determine what shape a digital project will take. For example, digitizing material for the primary purpose of preservation my call for high-resolution imaging technology to capture all visual information from a deteriorating document. Such equipment may not be necessary to provide general access to archival material.
- Decide what to digitize. Considering the scope of a digitization project is contingent on the project goals of preservation, access, or both. If preservation is the primary goal, then perhaps portions of a collection in the worst physical condition should be digitized first. If access is the primary goal, then there may be a more pressing need to digitize frequently used material. A preliminary collection survey is a helpful first step to determine what should be included in the project.
- Determine copyright status. This step may be irrelevant for institutions that digitize their own collections. Yet independent researchers engaged in a digital project will need to confirm they have the authority to reproduce material and provide access to digitized images before the project goes live.
- Outline a budget. Digitization is expensive. Thus understanding your financial limitations is the next step after establishing the goal, scope, and necessary permissions for a digital project. How much will it cost to bring this project into fruition? What equipment is necessary for the digitization process? How many employees need to be paid for their labor? Be practical about what can and cannot get done.
- Create a (working) timeline. Have a plan for what needs to get done, when it needs to get done, and who needs to do it. While you may not stick to this initial timeline, creating a realistic work schedule before beginning a digitization project will help ensure that project goals are met under budget.
- Choose your equipment. The appropriate equipment will depend on project goals and potential budgetary restrictions. Equipment is contingent on project goals. If providing general access to archival photographs is the primary purpose of a digital project, you may not need an expensive scanner capable of the highest resolution imaging. If access to written material is a a project goal, a high resolution scanner may be ideal to view small or unclear handwritten text. Equipment is also, of course, contingent on budget. It may not be feasible for some institutions to invest limited finances in the latest digitization technology. Go back to the budget and the project goals and work from there.
- Create your platform. Form should follow function when deciding the best format for digitally exhibiting, searching, organizing, or preserving online material. What platform is best for achieving your specific project goals? What are the costs (financial and otherwise) versus benefits of each platform?