As a museum consultant specializing in digital projects, I receive the following question frequently: Should we (the museum) attempt to digitize in-house or use a vendor? Most established museums will have at least a modest digitization workstation set up, but it’s difficult for any museum to prepare for every digitization need.
Unless the museum can afford the space, time, and staff training for every digitization option there will be a digitization project that prompts them to consider whether to attempt to digitize in house or work with an outside vendor.
When a Museum Should Consider Digitization Vendors
The following scenarios are when a museum should consider digitization work with an outside vendor:
- There isn’t the appropriate digitization equipment in place
- There aren’t staff available who are trained on the needed digitization technique
- There isn’t physical space for the digitization project to take place
- There isn’t available staff time to complete the digitization project
- The digitization project is a surprise and needs to be done with some urgency
Be Aware of the Issues
Working with a digitization vendor can help museums meet their digital project needs, but museum staff need to be aware of potential issues so they may be more fully considered and prepared for. Museum staff need to consider and prepare for the following:
- The inherent physical damage and loss risk of shipping museum objects to the vendor
- The risk that the vendor may not be trained for museum object handling
- The inherent risk that the digitization technology can damage the museum objects
- The museum objects may be too fragile or too large to safely send offsite to a digitization vendor
A few of these risks can be alleviated if the museum can locate a qualified vendor who can digitize onsite at the museum. However, this is more unusual for the following reasons: 1. Most geographic regions don’t have qualified local vendors; or 2. There is no room or ability for the vendor to set up a digitization lab at the museum.
How a Digitization Vendor Can Help
While there are potential issues to be aware of and account for, working with a digitization vendor can be incredibly helpful. The following scenarios are where I believe the risk and cost of working with a vendor are outweighed by how the vendor can help the museum meet its need:
- The digitization equipment required for the project will only be used occasionally after the project and therefore is too expensive for the museum to justify acquiring
- There are no staff available who are trained (or can be trained) to use the required digitization technology
- The project is necessary to complete and cannot wait for the museum to budget for technology and staff time
Prompts to Help Determine if a Digitization Vendor is Necessary
In the above scenarios, digitization vendors are the best option to help museums meet their digital project needs. If you’re considering digitization vendors for a digital project I recommend working through the following prompts in order to determine if working with a vendor is right for you:
- Can the digital project wait for the right equipment and the availability of trained staff?
- Does the museum own or have access to the right digitization equipment?
- If the museum has access to the right equipment does it also possess staff trained on the equipment?
- If the museum needs to acquire the right digitization equipment will the equipment be used regularly after this digital project?
If you answered “No” to any of the above prompts, it’s worth considering a digitization vendor for your digital project needs.
Digitization is a costly endeavor whether it’s done in-house at the museum or working with a digitization vendor. I encourage museum staff to carefully consider museum digitization needs and the risks inherent to working with a digitization vendor. If the situation calls for working with a digitization vendor, proceed with making sure digital project specifications are in place. I’ll cover how to craft digital project specifications in a future post.
Consultant, author, and blogger Rachael Cristine Woody advises on museum strategies, collections management, grant writing and the future of museums for a wide variety of clients. Learn about Lucidea’s Argus solution for museum collections management and download your free copy of Rachael’s book from Lucidea Press, How to Select, Buy, and Use a Museum CMS.
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