How to Ensure Successful Digitization Projects
Clients often ask us, "Why don't we just digitize everything?" Winthrop's Digital Asset Specialist, David Kay, looks at what makes a successful digitization project.

     Winthrop’s ability to identify risks and challenges related to mass digitization is built on a familiarity with archival practices and our experience managing digital collections.  We have learned, for example, that short-term solutions may not provide long-term benefits.  Every project benefits from collaboration between stakeholders familiar with collections, procedures, network architecture and mission.  By drawing on this internal knowledge, a multi-step process can be implemented so digitization projects are successful, an effective content management system is selected and installed, and efficient workflows are established.  These steps include:

  • creating effective use cases
  • determining technical specifications
  • outlining functional requirements
  • working with IT and Legal Counsel to recognize information security requirements.

     To be useful, digital assets must be captured at high-resolution, arranged and described accurately and consistently, managed reliably and made accessible.  Decisions made in today’s information environment, however, may need to be revisited regularly.  To avoid mistakes, there are many factors to consider when preparing to undertake a cost-effective and efficient mass digitization project.  Consider, for example, that:

  • Digital surrogates are a representation, but not a replacement for originals.
  • Mass digitization may increase an institution’s exposure and risk.
  • Digitization does not necessarily make documents text-searchable.
  • Metadata is used to describe and find assets, and metadata embedded in files offers additional protection against unauthorized usage or access.
  • Access is not preservation, though it can serve many functions.
  • Many of yesterday’s and today’s file formats are at risk of obsolescence.
  • Archival masters must accommodate future migrations and technological innovations.
  • Failure rates of storage media (magnetic and optical) increase significantly over time.

     In an ideal world, institutions would create digital masters from hard copy and analog sources, provide immediate online access to digital assets, and preserve their digital resources in stable formats forever.  In the real world, however, as technologies, requirements, standards, and formats change, there are many risks and high costs associated with mass digitization.  We have learned that a sound and realistic digitization strategy can provide measurable results and offer scalable solutions.  Otherwise, the payoff will be minimal and costs will be prohibitive. 

    Contact us to avoid these pitfalls and prepare better for your next digitization project and in our next post, we will examine the specific work elements associated with these four steps.