3. What should I digitise?

Once you’ve made the decision to digitise, you will need to work out how to choose the collection or items you want to focus on.  You might consider significance, risk of deterioration, popularity or planned use for exhibitions or projects when selecting items,  sub-collections or collections to digitise.

What’s the scope of your project?

Defining your project clearly will help you to work out exactly what you should digitise or at least where to begin the process. It will depend on why you are digitising and what you are hoping to achieve, who your audiences are and the resources you have available to you.

  • This Guide to digitisation from the SHARE Museums East project [2014] has a section on p8 called What are you digitising for this project? It outlines some of the issues you may want to consider when you’re making decisions.

How much do you know already?

Unless you already have a clearly defined project in mind, a structured collections review will give you a better understanding of your collection and help you to prioritise digitisation and record your findings. It will also help to identify any conservation issues you may face as part of the reproduction process.

Your collections review may focus on a few items or include the whole collection and may be carried out by subject, location, collection-type or theme.

  • Whether your focus is significance, collections management or use of collections, if you want to review your collection with a view to reproduction Spectrum 5.0 – Collections Review [Collections Trust 2017] gives a procedure for managing any review of a collection that follows a formal methodology.

How significant is your collection?

Assessing the significance of your collection, either alongside a collections review or as a standalone process, will help you to establish whether the value and meaning of a collection or item makes it a priority for digitisation. It will also help you to establish the potential of digitised material to appeal to users.

  • The Australian Significance 2.0 [Collections Council of Australia Ltd, 2009] can be used on one item or your whole collection and focuses on using values and meanings to ‘unlock the potential’ of your collections.
  • Caroline Reed’s Reviewing Significance 3.0 [2018]  is designed to be used as a standalone resource or alongside a collections review. Its simple one-page grid can be used to look at current access to, and potential uses of, particular items.

Case studies

  • This case study [Victoria and Albert Museum, 2017] explores how the museum tackled the need to structure  ‘eclectic’ collections of 2.3 million objects on its website to make them easier for users to navigate and explore. They worked with experts – on subject, content and design – and users to work out how to group objects together under five main headings.
  • Tate’s Archives Access Toolkit [2017] shares experience gained over a five-year digitisation project funded by HLF and Tate. It includes a section on selecting archive material for digitisation and avoiding unintended consequences such as cultural bias.

Return to what does digitising collections involve?

Did you find this pathway useful? We’d love to hear your feedback or ideas. Please email info@culture24.org.uk