When starting up any type of content digitization effort – historic newspapers, journals, books, magazines, photographs, audio/visual materials, or manuscripts – it’s very important to pause and take a step back to evaluate important factors you may be overlooking in your digitization strategy. Developing a sound strategy is imperative to building successful digitization projects and high-quality digital products.
Here are four considerations that are often overlooked or missed by organizations that are scoping and building content digitization programs:
1. Collection analysis
Know your stuff inside and out. There is considerable analysis, review, and assessment that should be done for each content set or collection up front, prior to digitization.
Get in and investigate, understand the breadth and depth of the content as much as possible. Document the copyright status, condition, variations, layouts, anomalies, and challenges associated with your collection(s). Research and evaluate the best practices for digital capture (scanning) methods, hardware, and workflows, as well as the best-case physical location scenarios for scanning specific to the type of collection that is a candidate for digitization. Network with industry peers for insights, lessons learned, and guidance on their digitization experience and how their collections informed requirements and specifications. This is time intensive work and is critical to the long-term success of each engagement.
Often forgotten in the shuffle of digitization logistics is the most important part – the people using the digital content. Digging into the questions of who, what, when, where, and how, is useful in building an understanding of the people who will be using and engaging with your digital content. Taking on this perspective informs the way in which your project, program, and new digital collection is structured. Your audience will often give insights into the types of metadata that are critical, and how to craft the best technical specifications and requirements up front.
Take the time to research the audience, the demand, and use cases for the digital products you are creating. The worst digital products are often those that forgot to prioritize and understand the goals, needs, and expectations of the people that they were intended for.
You probably have hundreds (or thousands) of photographs on your mobile phone – and occasionally go to search and find that one photo you took that one time. It takes awhile, doesn’t it? Simply put, metadata matters.
Metadata has many applications depending on context, industry, and uses. Here, let’s focus on two types of metadata, both of which are critical to all types of digital content.
First up is technical metadata. This is often created mechanically by a machine (i.e., scanner hardware) at the point of capture. Technical metadata includes information about the file itself such as resolution, date, file type, file size, and other associated values – depending on what it is that is being captured. To reference the real-life example, the photos on your phone have plenty of technical metadata, but lack context.
Second is descriptive metadata. Descriptive metadata describes the object in terms of the content itself – and gives context. Technical metadata is important, however, descriptive metadata is at the epicenter of what makes quality digital content. The impact, engagement, and long-term usability of each piece of digital content is intrinsically linked to its descriptive metadata. The better the descriptive metadata, the easier it is for end users to find, utilize, and engage with digitized content.
Intentionally dedicate time to understand how, what, and where descriptive metadata is captured for your digital products. Without descriptive metadata, digital files lose their identity, relevance, and usability.
4. Technology platforms
Whether you are evaluating new technology options or kicking the tires on a pre-existing legacy system, dig into the technology that will serve as the delivery platform for your digitized content.
- Does the technology have the flexibility to accommodate the nuances of your collection?
- Does it help or hinder your organization’s ability to engage with and meet the needs of its end-users and audiences?
- How does the technology render and utilize the technical and descriptive metadata that is being captured?
- What are the standards and file formats it supports?
These are just a sample of many potential questions to consider when evaluating a technology platform. Evaluate the ways in which the technology connects your collections, users, technical/descriptive metadata, and the digital specifications you are building.
Be insistent and intentional in gaining a strong understanding of your existing or budding digital ecosystem. Putting in the preparation time to evaluate these four factors up front pays dividends for everyone.