By digitising physical materials, not only can you preserve the originals, but you can also open up access to your content to international audiences online, make it searchable for researchers to discover and even create income generation opportunities for your organisation.

If you’re embarking on a digitisation project, the British Library Digitisation Team have put together a handy checklist of questions to help you get started.

Why are you digitising?

There are many reasons to digitise, and it is vital to outline your objectives before you start. Clarity around the purpose of your digitised content will help determine the various components of your project and therefore give an indication of likely costs. This is especially important if you are applying for funding. Here are some common reasons to digitise:

  • Preservation to conserve a physical item
  • Preservation to digitally archive the content
  • To reach new audiences
  • To analyse the material in more depth
  • To generate income from the digital content
  • To create content to commemorate a date/event

The way that digitisation is approached will depend on your objectives and how end users will access and use your content.

How will people access your content?

You’ll need to think about your end users and how will they find your digitised content. Digital files can be relatively large so you may need to consider storage solutions to manage and host your digitised content if you don’t already have mechanisms in place. If you would like your content to be easily searchable online you may need metadata tagging. Will the material be held behind a paywall, where users have to pay to access your content?

Do you own the rights to digitise?

If the answer is a straightforward ‘yes’ you can proceed with digitisation. If you don’t own the rights to digitise, you will need to approach the rightsholder to gain permission for digitisation. It is worth noting that rights to the content may be heId by multiple parties. When the rightsholder is uncontactable for any reason, the item is known as ‘an orphan work’. If this is the case, you can apply for an orphan works licence, or it could be that the digitisation is covered by a copyright exception. Copyright considerations will also depend on how you intend to use your digital content (see point 1 re: defining your objectives).

What do you want to digitise?

The cost, technique and timeline for your project will depend on what you are digitising (in terms of type and scale), the condition of your items and where they are held. Over the past 20 years we have digitised ancient manuscripts, 3D globes, complete archives of magazines and journals, diaries, scrapbooks and glass lantern slides either on site in one of our high spec studios, or on location to avoid moving the item(s). If you are using a third party (like us!) to digitise, the clearer you can be on what exactly you have to digitise (in terms of dimensions, age, volume etc) the more accurate we can be with recommendations on how to digitise it and likely costs.

What condition is it in?

Understanding the condition of the material you plan to digitise helps identify the methods needed to digitise and whether any conservation work is required before a project commences. Paper-based archives can be extremely fragile and must be handled with care. If you use our digitisation services our skilled specialists can help assess the condition of your items prior to digitisation. We can indicate if they show signs of damage, for instance by common paper pests. Depending on the condition of your collection, you may need to allocate budget for conservation work.

How much will it cost?

The cost of your digitisation project will depend on the size and condition of your collection, as well as the type of technique you require. Costs are partly determined by preparation work required (cataloguing and conservation for instance) and the implications of how you intend to use the content (considerations such as storage solutions, a hosting platform or a searchable database). Do you have budget in place to cover all the costs or are you reliant on funding? (Here’s our top tips for securing funding for your digitisation project.) We can help you to calculate the likely costs of your project; you will need this information before submitting a funding bid. It is worth considering promotion and marketing costs and factoring in some contingency in case of any unknown issues.

What’s your deadline?

Consider the timeline for your project. Do you have a fixed date for completion or are your timescales flexible? With large well-equipped studios in London St Pancras and Boston Spa, Yorkshire we can accommodate digitisation projects large or small. If you are looking for a speedy turn-around we may be able to expedite your project.
The British Library Digitisation team help partners answer these questions every day! They would be delighted to discuss your project with you. Drop them a line at [email protected]

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