How to Construct a Museum Digitization Equation

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

June 05, 2019

Digitization equations are a necessary tool for successful project planning because the equations—if constructed accurately—can provide a fairly reliable account of the time required for the project. This includes both the staff time it takes to perform steps of the project as well as the time needed in total or for each phase of the project.

As there are multiple variants to a digitization project these equations can be detailed and change dependent upon what type of object is being digitized and for what outcome. To construct an accurate estimate of project time it’s important that the staff in charge of digitization determine what components are necessary for the project, and then test or estimate (based on similar past experience) how long each component will take.

Potential Project Components

Museum digitization work is a multi-part process that can involve the following components:

  • Object preparation (such as cleaning or restoration)
  • Digitization
  • Digital file management (file naming and surrogate master and work file creation)
  • Object research and description building
  • Cataloging and metadata creation
  • Reviewing and publishing the digital surrogate with related catalog record online


Museums work with objects that are at various stages of delicacy and decay. Whether the object has been on display or in storage it will likely need cleaning and (in some cases) restoration in order to stabilize it for digitization work. Work with the necessary staff to calculate how much lead time is needed for object preparation.


For each project you will need to select the digitization equipment you plan to use. If you’ve conducted digitization projects before you will likely already have an idea for how long it takes to digitize an object. If this is your first time with the equipment or object you will need a test run in order to accurately estimate how long it takes to digitize an object. Some equipment specifications will state digitization estimates such as 15 seconds per scan; however, these are not always accurate as computer hardware, software, and object type can alter the time it takes to digitize an object.

File Management

With each digital file you create you will need to do at least two actions: 1. Assign a file name based on an established, consistent naming convention; and 2. Create a master file to store away and never touch and a work file for all other use cases. This usually only takes a few minutes, but a few minutes over a thousand objects can add up—and quickly damage a project timeline.


Unless you’re an expert on every object in the collection you will likely need to conduct some topical research in order to describe the object accurately. Research time can vary, so build in a buffer if you’re new to estimating this element and trust that the time spent researching will average out among the objects.


Decide what catalog fields you will use for data entry and which descriptive standard you’ll follow. It’s important to think about the long-term use of the catalog and be consistent with previous cataloging practices. Please see Lucidea’s post The Importance of Sustainable Museum Cataloging & How to Achieve It for more information. If you don’t have a frame of reference for how long it takes to catalog an object then perform a couple test examples and average your time.

Review & Publish

A majority of museums will publish their digital surrogates with related catalog records through their Collections Management System (CMS), though sometimes there is a secondary platform for publishing dependent upon the museum’s needs. Publishing is usually a quick step, but reviewing will take longer. As with the above step (Cataloging & Metadata Creation) I recommend you perform a couple of test record reviews and average your time.


Now put all the elements together for the following equation:

Preparation + Digitization + File Management + Research + Catalog + Review and Publish = Time spent per object

Next, take the total number of objects x Time spent per object (above equation total) = Total time for project

Now, if you are estimating staff time cost you then multiply the total with the staff’s hourly rate

For example, here’s the equation with numbers:

30m (object preparation) + 3m (digitization) + 2m (file management) + 20m (research) + 20m (cataloging) + 5m (review and publish) = 60m per object

Total number of objects for the project = 1000 x 60m per object = 60,000m or 1,000 project hours

1,000 (total number of project hours x staff hourly rate of $25/hour = $25,000 staff cost

Remember, nothing goes according to plan 100% of the time. When you craft your estimate make sure to add in time for digitization equipment and software set up, technical trouble-shooting, and the inevitable project delays.

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

As a consultant, Rachael Cristine Woody advises on museum grant writing strategies and collections management for a wide variety of clients. Read more of Rachael’s posts on museum strategies for success. Learn about Lucidea’s Argus solution for museum collections management and digitization.

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