Museum Digital Projects: Cost

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

December 06, 2023

As a follow up to the “Ask Me Anything: Museum Digital Projects” webinar, this series of posts will review the questions we received in order to provide additional insight, strategies, and resources.

We received several excellent questions after the submission deadline, and they are included/answered in this series. Our thanks to everyone who sent in questions! Your participation helps us craft future content that is of the most use to you, our colleagues.

Today’s Post

Today’s post will focus on questions related to museum digital project costs.

1. My director is asking how much a digitization project will cost. How do I figure this out?

  • Begin by figuring out what the project scope is. What items are included? How many? What is the expected output?
  • Consider what digitization equipment and software you may need based on the objects you have. Shop online, speak with vendors, and reach out to peer museums to gather prices.
  • Assemble and test a workflow that will allow you to “do the math” on staff time.

Resources: Use the Digitization Cost Calculator created and provided by DLF to calculate exact project costs. This tool takes into account staff roles and salaries, equipment type, and number of items in order to provide you a fairly accurate sense of cost. For additional cost details specific to tools and other digital project needs, please check out How Much Will Museum Digital Projects Cost Me? webinar for more information. And, if you’re interested in strategies for how to shape or right-size your request, please read my post How to Calculate an Appropriately Sized Funding Request available via Lucidea’s Think Clearly Blog.

2. What is the average number of project hours for a scanning document project? (i.e., XXX number of documents in 1 hour, or even XXX number of objects per hour or day for a 3D photogrammetry project).

First, I love the way your brain works. That’s precisely how I prefer to teach museum staff how to accurately account for their time—especially as time is money aka project cost. I typically consider the following elements as my digital project:

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

Next, I 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:

15m (object preparation) + 3m (digitization) + 2m (file management) + 15m (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.

For more information on museum digital project components, time estimates, and cost estimates, please see my post How to Construct a Museum Digitization Equation, available via Lucidea’s Think Clearly Blog.

3. Is it cheaper to send things out for digitization versus buying equipment?

It can be. The following scenarios are typically when I suggest using a digitization vendor:

  • For one-off projects on materials that require specialized equipment, working with a digitization vendor is likely the best decision.
  • If the museum lacks the space or staff to perform the work.
  • If the museum is already at capacity for digital projects and needs vendor assistance to increase project capacity.

For more information on this topic, please read my post When to Consider Museum Digitization Vendors, available via Lucidea’s Think Clearly Blog.


Cost is such an important piece of information to research ahead of time. It helps to inform your project scope based on what is available to you in the form of resources, as well as what’s affordable to the museum. This exercise can also be incredibly valuable when applying for grant funding as many reviewers will want to see you “do the math” in order to show that the project you’re proposing is actually feasible given the resources (people, tools, time) you propose using. Finally, going through the cost exercise helps to show you where you have adequate resources and where you might be lacking. Anticipating and adjusting ahead of time will be critical to your digital project success.

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Woody advises on museum strategies, digital museums, collections management, and grant writing for a wide variety of clients. She has authored several titles published by Lucidea Press, including Museum Digital Projects and You. Where to Begin? Rachael is a regular contributor to the Think Clearly blog and a popular presenter.

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