Selecting for digitisation

This page is for people managing collections who need to select which items to digitise and which not to. If you already know what you want to make digital, skip straight ahead to Creating Digital Content.

Make it Digital has two detailed Selecting for Digitisation guides:

  1. Make it Digital Scorecard (PDF/680 KB)

  2. Selection Resources

Should I digitise?

Not all opportunities for increasing access, discovery and use of non-digital content need lead to digitisation. The value of non-digital content can be enhanced by including references and source locations in digital resources, or content can be sampled rather than digitised as a whole (e.g. taking highlights from raw footage recorded for a documentary). Alternatively, digital technology can be used to improve the description and organisation of such content and make it more visible to potential users (e.g. publishing annotated catalogues of non-digital content).

Access and Preservation

Considerations of risk to the original, rarity of the original, access costs involved in viewing, and demand for use are constraining factors for physical collections and frequently lead to the creation of preservation and access copies. These surrogate copies are increasingly being made through digitisation, which has become a core part of modern archival practice alongside microfilming.

Much of the content of interest to today’s users is still under copyright, which can make large-scale provision of digitised content difficult. Good practice is to identify the copyright status and embed that information into the content's metadata. Not undertaking this work will either encourage unlicensed use of the content or will greatly limit the usefulness of the content into the future.

Discovery, reformatting for different devices or applications, and being able to re-use, re-mix or share the content legally are features highly valued by digitally literate users. Whether focused on access or preservation, these long-term usage trends need to be factored into any decision to digitise content.

Creating a selection policy - Six tips

A written selection policy provides an opportunity to describe what the drivers and purposes of a digitisation programme are, and ensures some basic thinking and planning has to be undertaken before embarking.

1. Have a purpose

Knowing the purpose, audience and undertaking related research may be a useful requirement of a selection policy. Digitisation creates a copy of content in a new format, and chances are the copy will be made in order to:

  • protect an original from added damage by creating a surrogate for access;

  • represent the original in digital form in a way that can be done accurately or faithfully, thereby increasing opportunity for use; and/or to

  • transcend the original and enable uses of the digital form that were not possible or practical with the original.

Researching the purpose and audience for digitised content helps the selection process by ensuring that the type of digitisation proposed is appropriate, and potential users demonstrate an interest or need for the content. Undertaking this before selection will greatly enhance the likelihood of a successful project.

Access and preservation are both considerations for a selection policy. Simply digitising content is not enough to make it accessible or usable, particularly if the content is in the wrong format or is missing information or context vital to potential users. If preservation is the aim, consideration needs to be given to how well the original is being looked after, and a whether a digital copy is the best way of providing protection.

2. Identify what is important

If you are digitising on behalf of an organisation, consider how digitised content fits with the goals or services the organisation provides. For instance, if your organisation only delivers services locally, how will digitised content enhance the experience for local users or members, and is the content available elsewhere in digital form?

Matching content with goals and services will help ensure both the content and the services complement rather than compete with each other. Identifying a theme or specific need expressed by users may also provide a useful starting point for a digitisation programme.

3. Manage the life cycle

Working out the skills, resources and planning needed for managing the whole digital content life cycle is essential. Failure to have robust back-up processes or proper training in equipment may lead to complete loss of the digitised content. Any content proposed for digitisation should have an identified life cycle management strategy, including a budget for on-going content management costs.

4. Learn about Copyright and Terms of Use

Having a basic understanding of how copyright law applies to your content is essential before content is digitised and made available. Confirming that you have the right to place a copy of something on your website, and knowing who originally created the content you are copying, will help ensure only appropriate content makes it through to digitisation. It can be an expensive mistake to copy a work and then discover that no one has the rights to use it. Alternatively, if your organisation has copyright (for example a collection received by way of bequest often transfers it), you need to know how it will be licensed.

Beyond copyright are moral rights and privacy rights of the creators and the subjects of the content, particularly where they are still living. Was the content originally expected to be available to the public? Issues of cultural or historic sensitivity also play a role – some materials may not be appropriate to copy due to their changed meaning or the way the original was acquired.

Having a clear rights policy, including how breaches will be dealt with, will help ensure only appropriate material gets selected for digitisation

5. Apply a consistent assessment

Having a clear assessment process can allow a digitised collection to be developed over a period of years or can incrementally improve preservation or access for physical collections. Developing or using checklists or decision trees can make this task somewhat easier to achieve, while creating a record of decisions for future reference. Make it Digital has developed a scorecard for selection and prioritisation of content that may assist with this process.

6. Have a plan

We recommend good practice for digitisation planning based on these principles:

  • Designed: demonstrate a clear sense of what will be digitised, how it will be used and how it can be built upon, or builds on, other initiatives.

  • Resourced: have the necessary access to equipment, expertise and budget.

  • Managed: be appropriately managed, communicated and evaluated.

  • Sustained: identify how to sustain value over the whole lifecycle of the digitised content.

If not carefully planned, digitisation can result in unintended damage to or even destruction of the original. Copies may not suit an identified purpose, or equipment purchased may not be appropriate for the task. Conversely, a well-planned digitised collection may be useful for multiple purposes and easily migrated into different hardware and software environments. Decisions you make now in planning for digitisation may have an impact for years to come.