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Digital Projects Toolkit: Project Planning

Starting a Digitization Project

Project Planning

How does one know where to even begin with a digitization project? Starting can seem intimidating. However, with careful planning and consideration, the process can go smoothly.


Purpose/ Goals

Before starting a digitization project, you need to consider and determine your purpose. Projects like this should not be taken lightly. They will require work and commitment. The more prepared you are (and the more planning you do before starting), the more manageable and focused the project will be. Ask yourself:

  • Why do we want to start a digitization project? What are the specific reasons?
  • What do we want to accomplish?
  • What are the goals of the project?
  • Who is the intended audience? What are the needs of these users? How can we best serve them?
  • How will this project fit into the goals (or mission, vision, etc.) of our institution?

Some reasons for starting a digitization project include:

  • Creating open-access resources for research, genealogy, lifelong learning, and/ or education
  • Reaching new audiences
  • Improving access to unique or rare materials
  • Promoting local, regional, or state history and culture
  • Protecting fragile, damaged, or heavily used materials

Documenting Your Plan

Digitization projects are often more complex and take longer than expected. More often than not, the biggest concern and investment for a digital project is time (staff or volunteer hours spent learning how to use the equipment and software, scanning, cataloging and creating metadata, and maintaining the digital collection).

Because of all of this, it is important to outline your project before starting. Start small, set realistic deadlines and goals, and define roles (who does what) in advance. Recollection Wisconsin has developed a wonderful "Digital Project Planning Worksheet" to help with this. The worksheet can also be used to track decisions and changes along the way. Click on the PDF listed below to access this worksheet.


Additional Resources

Pros & Cons of Digitization

During the planning process, it is important to examine and carefully consider the pros and cons of a digitization project. If one seems to outweigh the other for you, then that is likely a sign if the project should proceed or not.


Benefits of Digitization

  • Access
    • Digital items, if made available online, can quickly and easily be accessed by anyone from anywhere.
  • Easy to duplicate and share
    • Digital files can be easily be duplicated. All you have to do is Copy and Paste.
  • Easy to edit or reformat
    • Using the right software can allow you to make edits to images (like cropping and rotating), or save/ convert the item to a different format.
  • Less handling or displaying of original items
    • If you are an institution with a fragile item in your collection (let’s say a large, old map that is falling apart), digitizing this item and making it available online would reduce its handling. It’s much more convenient for researchers to look at a digitized item online from the comfort of their home vs. having to come in to see it.
    • If you are a citizen and want to hang up a photo of great-grandma in your house, digitizing the photo and printing a copy would allow you to display the copy instead of the original. This would provide better protection for the original (because it is not being displayed in your house 24/7, where it could be damaged by light and other things).
  • Increased clarity
    • By digitizing an image, you create a digital file that you can view on a bigger screen.
    • Software allows you can "blow up" or zoom in on the image, and you may see things that the naked eye may have missed.

Drawbacks of Digitization

  • Easy to edit or reformat
    • This was also listed under the benefits. It is also here because the ease of editing can lead to accidental editing of the master file (instead of editing a copy, which is what should always be done).
  • Migration
    • Technology is constantly changing. Hardware and software become obsolete (like floppy disks) but so do file formats.
    • This is why digital collections have to be monitored and upgraded every few years (as do the hardware and software used on them).
    • Digital repositories can also become obsolete. When this happens, you will have to migrate to a new platform.
    • Migration can be time-consuming and costly.
  • Costs (time, effort, money, etc.)
    • Digitization takes time and patience. However, not all of us have the time to dedicate to a digitization project.
    • Digitization could also become costly if the project is large, which would require certain hardware, software, digital storage, etc.
  • Potential damage to physical items
    • If you’re digitizing fragile items, there is a chance that it will accidentally become damaged during the process.
    • If you’re scanning a book, there is a chance that damage could be done to the binding.
  • Commitment
    • Projects are not finished once digitization is complete. Digitization is just one step.
    • Projects like this require long-term commitments of funds, time, maintenance, resources, etc.
    • A long-term commitment to preservation is required.
Things to Consider Before Starting a Digitization Project

There are many things to consider before starting a digitization project. Many of them include (in no particular order):

  • Purpose/ goals
    • This is covered in more detail on the "Project Planning" tab of this page.
  • Audience
    • Who is the intended audience? What are the needs of your users? How can you best serve them?
  • In-house digitization vs. vendor/ outsourcing digitization
  • Format
    • Digital format
      • Certain file formats will have large file sizes than others. You have to balance format with what you can afford to store.
      • However, you don’t want to sacrifice too much (especially the quality of the scan). Choose a file format that is sustainable and cost-effective.
    • Physical format
      • What are you digitizing? Are you digitizing slides? Photographs? Negatives? VHS Tapes?
    • Format will help determine what equipment (hardware and software) you will need.
  • Hardware & software
    • What hardware and software do your items require? What hardware and software will meet the needs of your project?
    • Do you have enough space to accommodate the materials and equipment?
    • Because the hardware and software options are seemingly infinite, your items, budget, and skill level should determine what you are getting.
  • Storage/ backup
    • How many items need to be digitized? How much digital storage will they take up? How much digital storage do I have? How much storage will I need?
    • If you need help estimating how much storage you will need, there are a couple of options:
      • You could test a few items, determine their file size, and then multiply that by the total number of items you intent to digitize.
      • There are also digital storage calculators available online.
    • How will you backup your digital storage/ collection?
  • Access
    • Access is an important aspect of digitization. You want to make your digital items accessible to yourself, and maybe even share them with others.
      • For institutions, can you afford a content management system (like CONTENTdm, Digital Commons, MONTAGE, Preservica, etc.)? Or do you need to explore partnerships or other low-cost options?
    • How often do you want to access these items? Will it be fairly frequently or are you just going to store them?
    • What items do you want to share?
      • Do you want to share everything or just certain things?
  • Requirements
    • Will there be any special requirements for the collection that you can foresee?
  • Cost
    • How much is digital storage going to cost?
    • How much is the hardware and software going to cost?
    • How much is the staff time to digitize the items going to cost?
  • Copyright
    • Copyright can make or break a project.
    • Are the items in the public domain?
    • Do you have the authority to digitize the items and share them? If not, can you get permission?
  • Content statement
    • Does your collection contain potentially offensive or harmful text or imagery? If so, you may need to adopt a content statement for the collection.
Selection Criteria

There are many criteria for digitization projects. However, there are some common ones that can make the process easier. They include:

  • Demand/ high use items
    • Do you see a demand in your community, state, region, etc. for this collection to be made available online?
    • If an item is popular, this is a great place to start. You already know that there is a demand for the item and creating a digital copy will increase access.
    • The more frequently an item (like a photo) is handled, the more wear and tear it will get. Creating a digital copy of the item and making that available will help lessen the handling of the original.
  • Condition
    • Fragile or damaged items are a great place to start.
    • If the item looks like it has seen better days, it is likely worth digitizing because it might be damaged beyond repair. Make a digital copy of the item before it disappears or disintegrates altogether.
    • Alternatively, if an item is already too fragile to be digitized, that would eliminate it from the list of things to potentially focus on.
  • Unique items
    • Are the items unique?
    • Are you the only one that has it? Or do you think it has historical significance?
    • Is the item already digitized and available online? You do not want to duplicate someone else’s work.
  • Items that fit on your scanner
    • Choosing items that fit on your scanner/ equipment is a great place to start. Work with what you have first, and then go from there.
  • Size of the collection
    • Start with a smaller collection of items to get the feel for it before going into a large one.
  • Organized collections
    • If a collection is already organized, then you do not have to spend the time organizing it before scanning. Having to organize a collection to scan it, takes more time and effort.
    • Also, if a collection is already organized, you should have a good idea of what is in it.
    • Organized often means that the items within the collection are identifiable. If you already know the who, what, when, where of the item, this will save time having to figure all that information out.
  • Geography
    • You may want to start in on a collection with a certain geography. Perhaps items that are local to your area would be of interest and therefore a good place to start.
  • Copyright
    • Are there any copyright issues with the items or collection?
    • You want to start with things that do not have copyright concerns.
    • Tracking down the copyright status can take time.
    • For more information, consult the Copyright page.

Oral Histories

If you are planning on starting an oral history project, consult the Oral Histories page for more information, resources, and guidance.