Digitization Labor Options

Margot Note

Margot Note

March 27, 2023

Archives consider both in-house and outsourced labor options for digitization projects. 

In-house implies that the institution captures the images, supplying hardware, software, personnel, and overhead. Outsourcing means hiring a vendor to receive the materials, convert them, and return the originals with digital files. The decision depends on the scope, nature, fragility, and uniqueness of the materials, budget, and resources. 

Weighing Options

Given the cost of scanning and equipment, outsourcing is advantageous because vendors bring their experience from similar projects. Few institutions can keep pace with the latest hardware and software. Vendors maintain the latest equipment and employ specialists.

However, outsourcing labor rather than developing services internally is not always the best solution. Archivists may wish to invest in the space, labor, training, and equipment needed for digitization. Additionally, the institution may invest in developing expertise that other services can leverage. In-house imaging allows for experimentation without technical specifications and contracts. 

Working in-house is appropriate in several situations: when a project is small, if the institution has skilled staff or staff with an incentive to learn, administration support for training, and equipment or funding to acquire it. In addition, the organization positions itself to digitize collections in the future by developing expertise internally.

Hardware, software, and storage systems must be ready in the organization before digitization can begin. Institutions need scanners, cameras, copy stands, and other hardware; a hardware infrastructure; and software for image capture, processing, metadata, and quality control. In addition, the environment should be appropriate to the digitized material, paying attention to light and humidity.

Although outsourcing usually entails transporting materials to vendors outside the institution, some vendors may be able to scan on-site. This option offers the benefits of in-house projects, such as oversight, but providing a work area, security, and insurance will still be required. 

Project Staffing and Steering

Staffing depends on the project’s size and complexity. Training is required unless staff members have experience. Some skills, such as technology use, may be learned while performing tasks. Others, such as handling materials, require advanced training. A small core of personnel is preferred over a larger group that may change its membership frequently.

Staffing for digitization initiatives includes stakeholders with different areas of expertise. For example, a digital project may need a project manager, a curator, a scanning technician, a quality control technician, a cataloger, and a web manager. Responsibilities can be reduced or expanded depending on the project. 

In some institutions, a project steering committee functions as a board, including archivists, catalogers, and subject specialists. An advisory committee offers counsel on the project’s focus and direction. Members can include the steering committee with external appointments bringing areas of expertise to the project. Subcommittees may present more focused technical, academic, or editorial support. The steering committee might consist of leadership members, and the advisory board may include the group and members of the board of directors. 

Advantages of Alliances

Collaboration is often required for local, national, and international initiatives. Partnerships can broaden access to materials, ensure maintenance, create revenue-sharing opportunities, maximize existing resources, and serve as excellent public relations opportunities. 

Working together provides a valuable method for making larger partnerships successful. Taking advantage of the frameworks supporting cooperation and understanding the advantages of alliances builds success. Partnerships should always foster all parties’ missions, visions, and values.

Institutional consanguinity has many benefits, as experienced practitioners share standards and best practices. Collaboration can facilitate knowledge transfer by creating resource-building opportunities. Additionally, staff development opportunities are created by partnering with those who can share their skills. Collaborative initiatives may increase funding opportunities. Many granting agencies encourage partnerships, especially those that provide a basis for shared knowledge. Integrating collections and resources builds reunified, remote collections that have the potential to reach larger audiences and achieve a greater breadth of pedagogical and scholarly goals. Mutual metadata and delivery mechanisms also result in improved resource discovery. Savings from sharing costs may be realized as larger projects can be cost-effective. 

Margot Note

Margot Note

If you’re interested in this topic and eager to learn more, please join us for “Digitization”, the fourth in Margot Note’s latest free webinar series, on Wednesday, April 26, 2023 at 11 a.m. Pacific, 2 p.m. Eastern. (Can’t make it? Register anyway and we’ll send you a link to the recording and slides afterwards). Register now or call 604-278-6717.

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