6. How do I digitise?

From choosing cameras, recorders and scanners and ensuring computer hardware and software are suitable, to selecting file formats and resolutions for images, sound recordings and videos, there is plenty to think about when you digitise. If you are copying documents or voice recordings, you may also want to consider optical character recognition (OCR) to capture text or a means of capturing the spoken word.

To ensure that your digital copy is as useful, and future-proof, as possible, it’s important to digitise at the highest quality you can achieve within your budget. Generating low resolution files afterwards is straightforward, if you need them, and you can’t fully anticipate future uses.

What about conservation?

It’s impossible to digitise an item without handling it, so considering any conservation needs involved with the process at an early stage is important. It may be that conservation is one of the drivers for your project but either protecting the item during copying or carrying out remedial conservation as part of your project may be appropriate.

  • The Tate Archives Access Toolkit  has a section on considering conservation which looks at protecting the item and achieving the best possible reproduction of it.

Will my computer systems be up to the job?

Your computer and collections management systems are as important in this context as the camera you may use to take a picture. You’ll need to consider whether they can handle, and reliably store, the large files you create and how you will retrieve information in the future.

  • A good introduction to this, and other nuts and bolts of digitisation, can be found in Section 3: Creating Digital Images (p11) and Section 4: Equipment and Accessories (p17) of the SHARE Museums East Guide to digitisation  [2014].

What equipment should I use?

This will depend on what you are trying to digitise. A large scale map will need a different approach to a collection of costume for instance.

Tate’s Archives Access Toolkit pages on designing an archive digitisation project, include a description of the image-capture process followed for five different media:

  • loose 2D items at A3 or smaller (including photographs).
  • loose 2D items A3 or larger.
  • notebook/sketchbook pages.
  • 3D objects.
  • transparent material such as 35mm, 6x6cm and 5″x4″ film originals.

Can I capture data as well when I make a copy?

There are ways to capture the data integral to an item, either as you digitise it or using the digital copy. Optical character recognition (OCR) converts images of text into machine-readable text. Intelligent character recognition (ICR) can even be used with handwriting, although a degree of editing is likely to be necessary whatever software you use. Voice recognition software, may even help you to transcribe oral histories or other voice recordings.

  • An example of a crowdsourced project is Unlocking the Chartist Trials, part of the wider National Libraries Wales Cynefin/Place Names Wales project which transcribed tithe maps and their apportionment documents. It used adapted open-source Scripto software to transcribe Victorian documents.
  • For hand-written texts, Transkribus is run by the Digitisation and Digital Preservation group at University of Innsbruck in Austria. It uses a mixture of traditional transcription and automation to analyse handwriting and layout.

What kind of file should I create?

Digitisation standards for cultural heritage depend on the type of material being digitised and how the digital surrogate is being used  ­­- for instance on a website, in a publication or for preservation.

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