Digitising your collection

From Our Toolkit

When thinking about digitising your collection it is vital that you are clear why you are doing it and what you will be using the digital images for. The answers to these questions will shape how you undertake your project. Digitising collection material without being clear on your outcomes can lead to wasted time and digital images that are not fit for purpose or with limited use.

Please note that digitising your collection is not the same as creating an online exhibition or museum but can create the content for these things.

What do we mean by digitisation?

‘Digitising’ museum objects [etc] means making copies of physical originals in digital form – for example, by scanning or photographing 2D items or transferring the contents of reels of film or audio tape into digital formats. It can also refer to 3D scanning of objects or, more loosely, any digital photography of collections.’

Collections Trust’s working definition of ‘digitisation’

Why digitise?

Be clear about your reasons. Can be a combination of these but your project will be most effective and efficient is you can identify all reasons at the start and build in the needs for each of these into your process.

  • Improving access – making it easier for users to find, search and share your material for example in a online database, exhibition, blog or social media post
  • Preservation – to protect a format which over a period of time will degrade causing the loss of the original such as fragile paper items, films formats
  • Conservation – to minimise the handling of material, especially a consideration for items of high interest
  • Monetisation – to create a new income stream for your organisation for example as part of a print on demand or to accompany a paid enquiry service
  • Another reason?

The Digital Pathways – What does digitising collections involve? resource hosted by Culture 24 is a step-by-step guide to best practice in collection digitisation. It covers the following topics:

  • What do we mean by digitisation?
  • Why should I digitise my collections?
  • What should I digitise?
  • How should I plan digitisation?
  • What do I need to know about copyright and data protection?
  • How do I digitise?
  • What kind of information should I record?
  • How should I store digitised assets?
  • How can I future-proof digitised assets?
  • How should I use digitised assets?

The Digital Preservation Coalition’s Digital Preservation Handbook also provides trusted advice and guidance for archive collections and is endorsed by The National Archives, the Archives & Records Association and National Records of Scotland amongst others.

Share Museum East’s A Guide to Digitisation provides a detailed but easy to read practical approach for any digitisation project.

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