Your collections management system hopefully has the information you need to manage and make sense of the physical items you plan to digitise. (If not, the resources below can help.)
Even if your collections data is good, you may need to enhance it, for example, by writing short captions for a particular use or adding keywords to help users find what they are looking for. When making digital copies of items, you also need to record further information specific to the reproduction process.
What information should I record about the original item being digitised?
As a bare minimum, you’ll need to note the item’s unique number (as recorded in your collections management system) to ensure that the physical item and its ‘digital copies’ are always associated. In some cases, such as a photograph album, you may need to extend the basic item number in order to create a unique sub-number for each page and each mounted photograph.
Your item record should also note the fact that the item has been digitised and cross-refer to relevant reproduction numbers or other unique identifiers.
Ideally, you will be able to streamline the information you hold about your physical collections and your digital copies of them. For example, when publishing digitised collections online, you should be able to draw on relevant information from your collections catalogue, and re-use any enhancements you make to it by importing them back into your catalogue system.
Here are some examples of standards you might follow when cataloguing your physical collections:
- If you work in a museum, see the Spectrum Cataloguing procedure [Collections Trust, 2017] or possibly, if it’s an art museum, CDWA – Categories for the Description of Works of Art.
- If you are lacking even the most basic information about a collection you wish to digitise, the Spectrum Inventory procedure[Collections Trust, 2017] offers a good starting point.
- If you work in an archive you will be managing your collection using ISAD(G) – General International Standard Archival Description. You may represent your finding aid with EAD – Encoded Archival Description.
- If you work in a library, you are probably using MARC – Machine-Readable Cataloguing.
What information should I record about the process of digitisation?
Your reproduction procedure will need to establish your system for reproduction numbers or other unique identifiers, such as digital file names. Other information that you should record for each digital copy should take a standard format agreed in your procedure. It should include the date of reproduction, names and contact details for who requested and who created the reproduction, the reason for, type and format of the reproduction, its status (is it a master, backup or working copy?), a description of it (which part of the item was reproduced, what else appears in the reproduction?) and the location of the reproduction.
- For an introduction to the kind of information to record about any kind of reproduction, see Spectrum Reproduction [Collections Trust, 2017].
- If you are digitising as part of a collaborative project or you want to publish your digitised collection on a specific platform, there may be specified cataloguing standards or technical metadata standards you have to follow. For example, Europeana suggests what to record (metadata) against three ‘tiers’ connected to the Europeana Data Model (EDM).
How do I record rights information?
Recording the particular rights, or steps you have taken to establish them, and licences associated with specific items is vital before sharing them with a wider audience. For detailed information about rights management, see What do I need to know about copyright and data protection?
- Spectrum Rights management [Collections Trust, 2017] offers guidance on how to record and manage rights-related information.
How can I help users find my resources?
As you develop more expertise in digitisation, you will want to ensure users can find your content and this often comes down to the specific information you are recording and the format in which it is recorded.
When you share your information with others, or give it to an aggregator, you may need to export it in a specified format. Your system supplier will know whether your CMS can do this and should be able to advise you.
- Making your digital collections easier to discover, learning and teaching guide [JISC, updated 2019] stresses the importance of metadata, licensing and using an application programming interface (API).
- If you have, or have access to, the technical expertise and want to describe and present images in a way that more users can find and access them, the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF), provides standardised APIs (application programming interfaces) and support for doing so.
- For those wanting more advanced information, Introduction to Metadata [Getty, 2016] covers a lot of useful ground.
Specific formats for exporting data that may be appropriate to your collection include:
- Dublin Core
A simple metadata element set designed to facilitate discovery of electronic resources, especially webpages, image files, and other multimedia assets.
- EDM (Europeana Data Model)
For exporting metadata to the Europeana digital cultural heritage portal.
- LIDO (Lightweight Information Describing Objects)
Designed to deliver structured metadata, this is an XML schema for harvesting cultural heritage information to use in portals.
- Darwin Core
An extension of Dublin Core for biology, and especially biodiversity, data. It defines a set of terms that are used to retain meaning as data is shared across different platforms.
- METS (Metadata Encoding and Transmission Standard)
This XML schema is a standard for encoding descriptive, administrative, and structural metadata regarding items within a digital library.
- MODS (Metadata Object Description Schema)
This XML schema for a bibliographic element set may be used for a variety of purposes, and particularly for library applications.