Digitization has changed how collections are used and accessed.
Research can make digital surrogates more amendable to interpretation, such as via full-text searching and indexing, as well as comparison of materials for multiple sources. Nonetheless, there may be times when no digital surrogate is adequate for scholarship. Therefore, it is necessary to evaluate whether digitization is worthwhile before undertaking an initiative. Many factors come into play when assessing the value of digital files. These factors may help access when digitizing collections can be cost-effective. Valuable digital resources, which bring prestige to the institutions that create and maintain them, are those that support scholarship without losing the benefits of working with the originals.
Why This Collection?
Archivists strategize before starting a digitization project. Digitization requires a significant investment, and assessing the costs and benefits is essential. Therefore, a critical aspect of developing a digitization project is evaluating whether digitization is the right strategy.
Understanding the attributes of physical materials, both intellectual and artifactual, and the ability to evaluate which attributes can be delivered to users underpin digitization projects. Using digital content makes it possible to make project decisions, including presentation, maintenance, and access. Archivists should balance these considerations against the resources available for digitization—such as staff and budget—and the institutional framework supporting the project in order to make decisions appropriate for a particular collection. The nature of the digitized materials, the surrogates’ required quality, and institutional policies and priorities influence judgments. Setting goals based on these considerations makes selecting from various technologies and methodologies easier and results in a successful project.
COVID-19 dramatically escalated an already ardent focus on digitization. In some instances, new forms of user engagement and a massive shift in researcher expectations drove the need for digitization. For example, users expect accessible online experiences when interacting with organizations. In addition, the pandemic opened opportunities to think more critically about how repositories should harness technological innovation to reproduce and transform archival materials into new forms of knowledge. Finally, enhanced digitization of historical records enabled more effective and widespread knowledge use and reuse.
Raising the Profile
The advantages of digitization to research are impressive. The potential of networked technologies to create a dynamic reading and scholarship environment is driving digitization initiatives at many repositories. Digital information, particularly networked digital information, considerably enhances the fundamental elements of scholarship.
There is no doubt that digitization projects can raise the profile of an institution. Projects, if done well, can bring prestige. Raising an organization’s profile by highlighting digital collections can be helpful in public relations. Digital collections can also leverage donors and funders by demonstrating an institutional commitment to education, access, and scholarship. Funding opportunities for digitization exist, and an institution can use them to accelerate digitization projects.
Developing digital projects can have long-term benefits for the institution. However, it may take many years to fully realize these benefits. Nevertheless, such initiatives may create an opportunity for investment in technological infrastructure. Furthermore, they offer staff an opportunity to develop specialized skills. In addition, employees benefit from access to digitization projects that allow gaining experience and new opportunities.
The Future of Digitization
Although the fate of digital files remains unknown and technical and social issues continue to emerge, archivists can depend on several factors as they look to the future. First, digital files will increase significantly, and information technology will change rapidly. Second, research trends will expand, and scholars will demand that collections be as inclusive as possible. Intellectual property rights management will evolve as digital content replaces analog sources. Financial and human resources may be unable to keep pace with demand, but institutions should balance quality against cost. Finally, sustainability will continue to be an issue, as digitization is not just about creating images but providing for their management and maintenance. As a result of these developments, best practices for collection access, preservation, and management will transform.
If you’re interested in this topic and eager to learn more, please join us for “Digitize Your Collections: Access”, the sixth in Margot Note’s latest free webinar series, on Wednesday, June 28, 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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