Top Tips for Digitising Museum and Archival Collections

December 1, 2016 mallindine

Top Tips for Digitising Museum and Archival Collections


Museums, Galleries and other cultural repositories often have archives of content that they want to transform into digital formats. Whether it is documents, prints, illustrations, or material like sound or film archives, here are some tips to ensure the process is done correctly.



  1. Plan Your Goals

You need to start at the end point – what do you need to achieve?  If you have this clear from the beginning you can’t go far wrong.  For example, if you want to simply preserve materials for the future, that may take you down a particular path, but if you wanted to create an online archive, accessible by the public, then this might involve different methods.


  1. Decide who your audience is

If you know who will be viewing your digital content, then you can plan accordingly – an online archive aimed at schoolchildren will be vastly different in tone and depth to one aimed at scholars, even if the material that resides in it is the same.


  1. Assess the condition of the original materials

Is the material fragile?  Is it in need of restoration before it can be digitised?  Perhaps it is robust and can simply be scanned in and catalogued. For example, analogue video tape contains TV broadcasts, some of immense value or cultural significance, from the 1966 England World Cup victory to interviews with important people. It is on formats which are obsolete, and the machines to play them are ageing. Spare parts are hard to come by and some digitisers are forced to cannibalise old machines to keep going.  So it is not just the physical tape itself which may be at risk. These are important factors to keep in mind.


  1. Do you have the staff and skills necessary?

If the project is to be carried on in-house, do your staff have the necessary skills? Digitisation projects are usually time-consuming, and often expensive. If not, should the project be outsourced to specialists?  If so, will you need to raise extra funds to meet the costs.


  1. Plan the metadata

It is very important to ensure that there is a metadata scheme in place from the beginning.  Metadata is an often-used piece of industry jargon, but all it really means is that there is an electronic “index card” embedded in the content which has information like who created it, copyright owner, a description, keywords, date and other essential information.

What data is going to be added to the project?  Without searchable metadata which conforms to the standards set out by various organisations, the digitised material may be of little use to researchers. This may also add time to the project.  For example if the photos or prints to be scanned have handwritten captions on the back, typing them in may be cumbersome, especially if they are faded or hard to read.

This is part one of our blog on tips for digitisation – the next blog will cover five more.

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