Digitization initiatives require strategic planning because they are interrelated tasks in which each decision influences the next.
In addition, digitization requires management because of the change inherent in these projects, the complex nature of digitization, and the expertise required. Conducting a successful digitization project also necessitates a realistic estimate of direct and indirect costs. As a result, organizations rely on best practices to justify the investments made in digitization projects.
While planning a project, archivists should understand the institution’s mission, where the project fits into the organization, and assess resources against those that need to be acquired. They also need to establish standards to be adhered to during digitization, begin the documentation process, plan the implementation, and evaluate the project.
The project’s scope and the collections’ characteristics translate into image-capture specifications and procedures. Evaluating the files to be digitized is part of the planning process, which involves determining the number of records to be digitized; identifying formats, sizes, and conditions; and assessing unusual characteristics.
The success of digital projects hinges on planning more than technology. Technology should never drive projects; archivists should determine user needs first, then select technology to meet these requirements.
Digitization projects are a unique and often unprecedented expense, usually in response to a new funding opportunity. They should not be compared to or substituted for existing activities and expenses. Every step in a digitization project involves human intervention, and these costs are unlikely to be reduced.
Project planning must consider start-up and infrastructural costs. These include the selection, preparation, and conservation of the materials; metadata creation; digitization costs, including the purchase of vendor services or hardware, software, and peripheral equipment; quality control; technical infrastructure maintenance, including hardware maintenance and network costs; preservation of images and metadata, including storage costs; rights clearance; labor costs, including technical support, project management, web programming, and interface design staff, and training; user evaluation; and documentation.
The most significant expense is cataloging, followed by labor-intensive procedures, such as locating, reviewing, and assembling originals; preparing and tracking them; and quality control. In addition, technology has a short life cycle, which means expenditure on replacing systems and investment required for staff to learn the latest systems and applications.
Plans to digitize collections consider the changes this endeavor will bring to the institution. Organizations should acknowledge the continuing benefits of temporary cost increases for training and equipment at the outset. While equipment costs often draw attention to those managing budgets, support expenses are usually more significant. In addition, technology turnovers require migration and upgrades. If an institution is to transition to a digital environment, it must learn how to allocate resources.
A cost-benefit analysis assesses the relationship between functionality, demand, and expenses. Unfortunately, figures related to project expenditures are often misleading. For example, although storage and processing power prices continue to fall, most budget projections extrapolate from available information about current price structures. In addition, analyses often fail to account for efforts that, were they included, would alter calculations, such as document preparation, indexing, metadata creation, post-scanning processing, and file management.
Developing feasibility studies based on actual costs is important because the experience of working with one’s collections is one of the best ways to forecast project costs. Repositories could consider a pilot project to ensure workflow problem resolution before a project’s commencement.
Commitment for Change
Digitization requires an institutional commitment to preservation, technology integration, and digital preservation leadership. Unfortunately, digital sustainability efforts are often pushed aside by more urgent concerns. Regardless of the quality and robustness of the images created by a digitization project, they will not last if the organization cannot support its maintenance.
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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