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Planning for digitisation- Local History Digitisation Manual

Why digitise?
User issues
Management issues
Technical issues
Costing the project

Why digitise?

It is important for the organisation undertaking a digitisation project to have a clear understanding of the reasons for the project. Everyone involved with the project should be able to answer the question:

Why is the project being undertaken? What is its relevance and benefits to the organisation?

The answer may be complex and difficult to pin down at the outset, but it will be critical to later technical decisions and may also provide a rationale for the project to be funded. A clear statement about what the project is aiming to achieve will be invaluable throughout all stages of the project.

The impact of this initial statement of intentions upon the design of a project can also be considerable. The user needs being addressed and how users will access the material will fundamentally direct the technical decisions made during the design process.

To properly answer this question, the organisation should be able to document:

  • Reason/s for undertaking the project
  • What the project aims to achieve
  • Type of material proposed for digitisation
  • Intended users (type and numbers)
  • Benefits to users
  • Type of access mechanism envisaged
  • Relationship to the organisation's strategic plan/s
  • Intended timeframe for provision of access
  • Potential costs of not digitising
  • Cost effectiveness compared to projected usage volumes
  • Envisaged source/s of funding (set-up and on-going)
  • Any similar/complementary projects in existence

User issues

As part of determining why to undertake a digitisation project, it is important to clearly ascertain who are potential and likely users of the service and what their needs are. During the initial planning phase of the project it is important to be able to answer the question:

Who is going to use the digitised items and how are they likely to use them?

Once the organisation is clear who will be using the items, it will also need to ascertain (at a minimum):

  • Why these people/organisations will use the material
  • How many of them are there
  • How they are likely use it
  • How they will wish to access it
  • What is their level of technical expertise
  • What type of additional services/contextual data are they likely to require

There may be many other user issues which relate specifically to the organisation undertaking the digitisation project which will need to be clarified before a project plan can be developed.

Management issues

As part of the initial scoping phase of the project, it is important to identify how the project will be managed. This will include identifying all likely stakeholders and determining who will be involved in the project and what their involvement is likely to entail. It is also important to establish an overview of the timeline for the project and to document and obtain agreement from all parties on deliverables and performance criteria. It is important to be able to answer the question:

How will the project be managed? Who will be responsible for delivery?

To answer this question, organisations will need to be able to document:

  • Key stakeholders
  • Roles and responsibilities of the project team
  • Key aims of the project
  • Agreed deliverables and performance criteria
  • Sources of funding
  • Proposed project timeline
  • Key assumptions underlying the project
  • Any internal or external constraints on the project
  • How the project will be evaluated upon completion
  • How on-going management will be maintained

Once the issues arising from these questions have been fully explored, it should be possible to prepare a project plan containing all the project information necessary to implement the institution's plans. If all the information outlined above is clearly documented, it will provide a strong basis for the conduct of an effective digitisation project.

Technical issues

It is also important for those involved with the project to have a basic understanding of the digital technologies, Internet and Information Technology systems you will need to use for a digitisation project. If the organisation has an IT department, it will be important to involve staff from that department in the project. It may also be necessary for staff to undertake specific training and/or for specialist staff to be employed.

Some technical expertise or understanding will be necessary in the following areas:

  • File formats
  • Image resolution
  • Digitisation hardware and software
  • Image manipulation software
  • Metadata
  • Existing cataloguing software
  • File storage media
  • Back-up procedures
  • Internet publishing

Costing the project

Managing a digitisation project is expensive in staff time as well as technology. Potential cost areas will include project management, documentation and preparation of images, copyright clearance, equipment and communication costs, hardware and software, data storage, cataloguing, and interface design.

In order to cost a digitisation project, assumptions need to be made about how many items, and what types of items, will be digitised during the project and what type of metadata will be associated with each item. It will also be necessary to decide if various aspects of the project such as digitisation, data storage and management, interface design and cataloguing will be undertaken in-house or contracted out to external parties. If contracted out, the process will have to be carefully managed to ensure appropriate outcomes.

Once costs have been estimated, it may be necessary to reassess the scope of the project. Some items or groups of items may cost considerably more to digitise than others and the organisation may need to balance costs against potential benefits.

For assistance with assessing potential costs for a digitisation project and deciding between in-house and contracting out of services see the Costs module in the AMOL Capture Your Collections: Small Museum Version at http://amol.org.au/capture. The same information in a slightly different format is also available through the Canadian Heritage Information Network at http://www.chin.gc.ca/English/Digital_Content/Managers_Guide/costs.html#costs%20

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