Instant Ideas and Collaboration

Summary – 4th September 2012 – Digitisation

This week’s chat (4th September) was on the topic of digitisation. We talked about reasons for digitising and the challenges of running digitisation projects, including future-proofing digital collections. Lots of participants also shared their favourite digitised collections, and these have been gathered in the links section at the end of this post.

We sometimes edit or combine tweets for the sake of flow, but always try to accurately reflect the views expressed. If you would like to see the tweets in their original form, we have a searchable Twitter archive, courtesy of @mhawksey.

Finally, a reminder that from now on #uklibchat will be running monthly rather than fortnightly. Our next chat will be on 2nd October 2012.

Q1 – What digitisation projects have you been involved with?

  • Helped with metadata for Marandet French plays at old job. This is well timed as my boss was talking about digitisation this morning (photo archive) so keen to get info (@kmlclifford)
    • great, is that a project that’s being done at your institution? or an idea for the future? (@uklibchat)
    • we have photos of things/people from institution history (we’re an ex-poly) so thinking about where to host… (@kmlclifford)
  • I haven’t been involved in any digitisation projects but am keen to hear about other people’s experiences! (@Annie_Bob)
  •  I did a specialised course on digitisation time ago (@rugabela)
    • ooh cool, what did the course cover? (@Annie_Bob)
    • It was paid by the European Social Fund through my job center (@rugabela)
    • nice! Was it a practical course or more theoretical? (@Annie_Bob)
    • Both of them. We also learnt about OCR and problems with scanning, and also the differences between an previous photo/document digitised long after they were taken/created and those digital documents with are digital from a start. We also learnt the different types of files, the differences in quality and how to manage them. Was a very useful course. I hope that in the future Digitisation becomes a professional subfield (@rugabela)
  • scanning theses for online repository. is that digitisation? (@amycrossmenzies)
  • Hi, I work in a govt electronic library. Currently managing a text digitisation project to scan our own copyright-owned items and add to eLibrary. Mostly historical. Learning as I go… (@Kosjanka)
  • Michael from the Bodleian here. I was the Oxford project manager for the Google Digitization project 2005-9. Info on the current project to integrate the Google scans into the OPAC can be found here http://t.co/AOVg0V26 (@old_light)
  • I work in the medical library sector. Not done any digi work but I’ve visited Wellcome Lib & seen their workflow (@AgentK23)
  • Hi, I’m Matt, doing digitisation at the Wellcome Library – in-house, third party, overseas, all sorts (@MatthewBrack)
  • We led amazing USA project last yr, digitizing historic poetry recordings (audio&moving image) for The Poetry Center (@Librarian)

Q2 – Do you have any examples of particularly successful digitisation projects?

  • I’m interested in crowdsourcing projects like this: http://t.co/Uj90My17 & this: http://t.co/AKwBUkgq (@Annie_Bob)
  • project at previous workplace http://t.co/RkjnclMd think worked quite well in terms of allowing access to plays (@kmlclifford)
  • Europeana. Very good in terms of investment and awareness (@rugabela)
  • British Library EThOS (@amycrossmenzies)
  • British Library! ❤ the William Blake Notebook and Audobon’s Birds of America for Turning the Pages http://t.co/sJbWSzbX (@AgentK23)
  • The Google Project scanned 360k books and ~100M pages. The first ever mass digitization project was challenging but successful (@old_light)
    • That must have been quite a project to manage! Can you tell us about some of the challenges you faced? (@uklibchat)
    • We didn’t have a full inventory in the catalogue and considerable duplication so difficult to identify and match books (@old_light)
    • without Google Project we would not have Charle’s Babbage’s Autobiography! http://t.co/t0FEztg5 link on page (@AgentK23)
    • Indeed! We specifically scanned some items including annotated catalogues and Darwin’s Origin of species for example (@old_light)
  • At the arclib conference I learnt about the seaside portal http://t.co/pQAPVcCQ great in how they put the info together! (@AgentK23)

Q3 – What should be considered before starting a digitisation project?

  • digitasion projects require a huge investment and time and sometimes you work with some problems (my case) (@rugabela)
    • what kind of problems have you run into? (@uklibchat)
    • For example, the scanners. They were the less appropiate because there wasn’t more money. The problem is the investment (@rugabela)
    • yes, I guess you have to decide whether you want to do it perfectly or just get it done, all a matter of £ (@uklibchat)
    • Exactly and that’s not good because many people are going to access them later and you have to offer good quality (@rugabela)
  • 1 Identifying enough suitable material, 2 moving it to scan centre, 3 reshelving! Basically the magnitude of the task. Also the matching of books to catalogue records to use as metadata was very time consuming requiring lots of humans (@old_light)
    • Came across a study that said about 50% of time was spent on metadata activities for digitisation on average (@MatthewBrack)
  • What documents are you’re going to work with and their state of conservation (@rugabela)
  • Big believer in digitisation policies and tying it in to collection management policies / collection development policies (@Kosjanka)
    • I’d agree with that, projects shouldn’t be thought of in isolation (@Annie_Bob)
    • Some digitization projects can release significant resources in unknown collections http://t.co/uxb62g7g (@old_light)
  • The costs (and here it’s where problems begin), the equipment (software, hardware) (@rugabela)
  • Consider where you could possibly get funding? [any one got ideas for this?] (@AgentK23)
    • That’s the key of all problems and the solution to all problems when digitising!! (@rugabela)
    • So how do you feel about shifting some resources away from analogue towards digital? (@MatthewBrack)
    • In my opinion, digital documents are easier to preserve, analogue ones need physical support, because you can convert files, thing that you can’t do with analogical information (@rugabela)
    • Shifting resources to digi can produce new analog project strands: more focused on archive + user *active* needs (@Librarian)
    • Some researchers want to access both of them because they want to contrast or take more clues. I mean, details that mean something to them for their findings (@rugabela)
  • Big things we thought about: 1. how will end user WANT to use these materials 2. how does this affect how we catalog/what metadata (@Librarian)
  • I think metadata/cataloguing is important! Make sure you can find a file again, and that the info you have is useful! (@AgentK23)
    • That’s one of the steps in the middle of the project after deciding what to digitise, how and the equipment to use (@rugabela)
  • Taking a couple steps back – get it aligned with your institution’s strategy, get senior mgmt onboard, otherwise it’s a no go (@MatthewBrack)
    • exactly – often external factors influence where the focus goes(@kmlclifford)
  • *really* important for me was to consider access policies, ie. balancing act betw. org’s needs, user needs & license possibilities (@Librarian)
  • I’m guessing think about end-users & that will influence what metadata you need, timescales & effort required (@kmlclifford)
    • Basically a toss up between mass digi or small project with lots of metadata – where do you invest your time? (@MatthewBrack)
  • Preservation. We did a digitisation project a while ago and some of the CDs are already unreadable. (@calire)
    • that’s the kicker, especially when preservation is often one of the main arguments for digitisation! (@Annie_Bob)
    • nothing lasts forever…!…suppose its more a backup (@amycrossmenzies)
    • did you manage to get back up files of the CDs or is the data completely inaccessible now? (@AgentK23)
    • RE poor preservation on CD. Tell more! What kind of CD/equipment did you use? (@Karenmca)
    • It was the NOF Digitisation Programme back in 2001/2 so we were learning as we went along really. All scanned as TIFFs onto CD. There’s at least one CD with images I can’t open. Think there may be duplicates.  (@calire)
    • does that mean they were scanned in but never used or made accessible to the public? (@AgentK23)
    • No sorry. The images had their own website, then when project finished we moved them all to Flickr. This explains more. http://t.co/aQhwc6rG Get more interest since they’ve been on Flickr, easier to find. They had their own Flickr for a while, but have been moved to a more general history one. I think it makes it easier for people to find them. Have you come across the Flickr Commons?  http://t.co/lyCHqSzy Flickr great for access, but still need back up I think. I’m a big fan, but think some don’t like it as provides easy access. I’m all for the images being seen. But if you want high res copies for publication, you have to pay. (@calire)
    • I guess it’s if you’re worried about people breaking copyright? once it goes digital, hard to stop pirating. (@AgentK23)
    • Definitely. If people want to do it they will. I think giving access to stuff that’s hidden away outweighs that. (@calire)
  • I’d like to add that we also need a software to storage and manage great amount of images to keep pictures organised!!  You can’t keep them all together on a hard disk without any order at all!! But a very common mistake, mainly for lack of training (@rugabela)
    • yes, would echo that. In an early digitisation project, exactly that happened! No metadata, no order, inaccessible! (@Kosjanka)
    • makes me think how most organisation’s internal filing folder systems are a hot mess (@AgentK23)
    • Not only systems, also physical archives. Archives everywhere are a mess, abandoned under awful conditions (@rugabela)
  • The interface for accessing is important! Only successful if used, so remember UX (@AgentK23)

Q4 – Why digitise? What benefits does it offer for users?

  • The main reason is conservation of documents, mainly in archives and help researches to access collections which are difficult to access for many reasons (@rugabela)
  • “Why digitize?” No-brainer for Poetry Center as material was sitting in vault! Makin digi access meant ALL able to hear M.Moore’s voice (@Librarian)
  • Beneficial to researchers. Especially if what you want is in a different part of the world! (@AgentK23)
  • conservation, ease of access, availability to people in all locations… (@amycrossmenzies)
  • Some projects are aimed to promote culture and research for example, Europeana (@rugabela)
  • For us it was about making our archive of research accessible. We serve 1300 people at a distance. Digitisation makes the research available to everyone from their desktop. Also means we save physical storage space. (@Kosjanka)
    • Researchers feel very grateful as they save money, time and long distances to get to the archive!!  (@rugabela)
    • ah but does it save space? do you not need to maintain the print archives too? (@kmlclifford)
    • back up will be on CD. Print items will be taken apart to scan them so will be unusable. May be kept off-site (@Kosjanka)
    • What format file did you go for the digital copies? (@kmlclifford)
    • I’m yet to get to that bit. Still assessing collection for suitability and deciding what. (@Kosjanka)
    • JPG is the king of all files!! (@rugabela)
  • Digitising=new format for preservation purposes possible, more copies made of items overall, held offsite etc (Obv. need to research formats). Also, unlocking archive materials in the digital can produce amazing new results & research possibilities (@Librarian)
    • Yes! I loved that the Babbage autobiography was used by someone making a comic! (@AgentK23)
    • for me wanted creative possibilities envisioned in my head: remixes of poetry, text mashups: ©© licensing v. impt! (@Librarian)
    • have you followed up on what’s happened since digitisation? do people keept track? and how? (@AgentK23)
    • Made sure had tracking so could see how many downloads, most pop., plus comment system so ppl can let us know uses (@Librarian)
  •  Enhancing research, building new collections (born-digital), democratisation of access, good to stay ‘relevant’  (@MatthewBrack)

Q5 – Have you found it difficult to convince management to digitise your collections? (How did you convince them?)

  • .@MatthewBrack alluded to this earlier, support of senior management makes a big difference! (@uklibchat)
  •  I know that I’m insisting too much on it, but money is the real reason for rejecting digisitation projects!!  (rugabela)
    • how do you think we can persuade senior management that it would be worth investing in digitisation projects? (@uklibchat)
    • For example, emphasising preservation, storage, ease of use, the long-term benefits, more customers (rugabela)
  • Anecdotally it seems that digitised collections increase access to the physical originals, if you want that (@MatthewBrack)
    • I’ve heard that too, can be a good thing as not everything can be digitised! (@kmlclifford)

Q6 – What type of documents/collections should be a priority for digitisation? Why?

  •  I think that’s tough to answer! Priorities are different for different people and different organisations. (@AgentK23)
  • Depends on institution and users – suspect born-digital is more pressing, but that’s probably for another evening! (@MatthewBrack)
    • yes – suspect born digital is elephant in room as will not have print version to fall back on if the format changes (@kmlclifford)
    • one issue is about archiving websites!. something @RossiAtanassova is involved in. Problem is the sheer volume of data! Think of historians researching by looking at FB and twitter (@AgentK23)
    • true – thinking even of documents that used to be print but now digital, not even considered eg Twitter (@kmlclifford)

Q7 – How can we ensure digitised collections remain accessible as systems change?

  • you can’t think that you can make it digital and forget about it! Need some sort of policy to maintain awareness of issues?
    • and budget for necessary format changes in the future (@Annie_Bob)
    • yes. Collection accessibility needs to be proactively monitored, and considered when system changes happen. We discovered items on CD digitised 3 years ago were no longer accessible as it needed software compatible with IE6 to open. (@Kosjanka)
  • For a brief moment in time I had zip disks. And in future will anyone be able to play cassettes? (@AgentK23)
    • That’s the problem. As some formats get obsolete, players disappear (@rugabela)
    • Still have a zip disk drive at home! Had to replace videos at work with DVD as so few students have video, but we have no idea what to do with the laser discs (@kmlclifford)
    • wow! I lost my zip drive in a move, and so all disks were useless (back when i was doing a-levels IT) (@AgentK23)
    • ouch – that’s my worry with digitisation #obsoleteformats (@kmlclifford)
    • so how are you dealing with that? imagine a digital expert shop in future that lets you access old formats. (@AgentK23)
    • We’ve managed to contact company contracted to digitise items to provide files in accessible format on external HD (@Kosjanka)
    • yes I think I heard about that. Someone also needs to store (archive?) old (versions of) software! (@AgentK23)
    • If information is digital and libraries connect users to information, they may need to streamline in that direction (@MatthewBrack)
    • I think libraries are aware that online/digital is important. Example I’m now online support librarian, previously the role was 50 online stuff 50 info lit training. Now it’s 80/20 split (@AgentK23)
    • Yeah, it’s going to be really interesting to see how this plays out over the next few years (@MatthewBrack)
  • Technology moves on quickly, ensure that backup copies are considered and stored in accessible format. (@Kosjanka)
  • Does anyone know about accessibility / durability of PDF files? (@Kosjanka)
    • I wondered this as it’s what we’ve used for some files in the repository (@kmlclifford)
    • I don’t think you can count on anything! adobe no longer supporting flash. if something better comes along… (@AgentK23)
    • Yes, it’s what we have previously used but I’m beginning to doubt the wisdom. (@Kosjanka)

Q8 –  In which ways does digitisation improve the work procedures/workloads in a library/archive/company?

  • eases pressure on physical document delivery, allows all employees/members to access materials anywhere in the world, any time (@Annie_Bob)
  • Isn’t it all extra workload if you’re turning print to digital? (@AgentK23)
    • but once the initial workload is done do you think having digitised materials could improve workflows? (@uklibchat)
    • I guess if users can access archives themselves online, you don’t have to manually retrieve it & make appts for users (@AgentK23)
    • Agree with @Annie_Bob that can ease doc del workloads, but can also be whole other collection to manage!  (@archelina)
    • yes, that’s our experience. DD requests down as customers can ‘self serve’ but more time spent on digitisation, metadata, identifying other collections, etc. But our customers now expect everything to be digital. so we win on that front. (@Kosjanka)

Open discussion

  • A question: Do you think that in the future Digitisation can be a professional qualification, a subfield in our field? (@rugabela)
    • it would be interesting to investigate which library schools already offer modules in digitisation (@uklibchat)
    • Yes, ’cause I did a course on digitisation out of Univ. in Spain, paid by the European Social Fund through job centre. Professional qualifications in the EU is a mess, especially in our field!!  (@rugabela)
    • wish mine had! There is an MSc in electronic publishing and comms which addresses this, but not cilip certified. (@Kosjanka)
    • something that @CILIPinfo ought to think about if they’re not already? digitisation is happening in libraries (@AgentK23)
    • I’ll look into it, I think it’s an interesting area. We need these technical skills. (@Kosjanka)
    • librarianship as a field is so diverse! It’s what I love about it. (@AgentK23)
    • Yes, it’s good but qualifications vary: modules, specialised courses, masters…what is valid in the end? (@rugabela)
    • qualifications gave me good grounding, but it really is about continuing professional development. (@AgentK23)
    • I agree with you. It’s only that I’m amazed at the different “qualification titles” for the same subfield (@rugabela)
  • interesting, just see a mail on the arlis mailing list asking about managing DVD collection, and planning for media migration (@AgentK23)

Resources shared during the chat


@WellcomeDigital are considering running a free workshop on these issues, let them know if you are interested!


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This entry was posted on September 8, 2012 by in Discussion Summaries and tagged , , .


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