Backstage Library Works

Building a Workflow to Scale Up Your Digital Collections


Any collection management project should begin with a foundational understanding of the materials – what they are, how big they are, and their condition. This also applies to digitization projects. Make certain that you fully understand the digital specifications and the procedures required to support their transition. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it can be tempting to jump right into a project before you’re ready, especially when harried by a deadline or backlog.

Where to Start

Scale up your digitization by taking things one step at a time. First: check that your catalog or inventory is consistent and accurate.

  • Access: Are all of the resources able to be accessed in their current state? Are they organized?
  • Preservation: What state are your resources in? Do they need re-housed?

Perform an inventory. Examine every item in your collection to be certain it’s accounted for.

  • If your institution has performed an inventory in the last 5 years, your data may be accurate enough to skip this step. If you choose not to perform a more recent inventory, leave budgetary flex to account for things that may pop up outside of your project plan or scope.
  • If you cannot perform a complete inventory due to time or budget constraints, consider sampling instead. Review a set volume of materials per shelf, box, or folder, across your collection and use the findings to estimate how much flex you might need in your budget.

When you are touching every material in your collection, it saves time in the long run (if you have the time in the immediate) to tack on some other collection management goals. We recommend that you clean before you begin digitizing and perform some basic material preparation as you inventory. If you are digitizing permanent documents that will be retained after capture, then we’d also recommend that you rehouse any materials that are currently loose, or whose enclosures are unsuitable for preservation.

Before You Digitize

At the conclusion of your inventory process, you should have a great understanding of the size, content, and condition of your resources. This will help you outline your digitization plan. Know how your agency is currently managing its resources, both analog and digital, and set a framework based on the following considerations:

  • Research your current digitization practices and any new specifications that need to be incorporated in your digitization project, such as those required by NARA.
  • How are your files going to be stored? What are the system or file requirements of your digital asset manager (DAM)?
  • Will your end files be accessible, and how securely?
  • Analyze your collection to determine what your digitization priorities are, and which materials are at the greatest risk. Risk areas should be highest on your priority schedule, especially if you only have the budget for a percentage of your collection to be digitized. This can also help you divide your project into multiple smaller, more manageable projects.

Now, develop your digitization plan.

  • Select the materials that are going to be digitized in order of greater to lesser priority.
  • Outline the pre-production steps: this includes everything you need to do per item to make it “camera ready“.
  • Create a workflow for correcting or revising your descriptive metadata during digitization.
  • Establish a quality control plan that consistently reviews your digitization work, and perform a sample or ‘test’ before you fully commit to your digitization workflow.
  • Consider where your processes can be automated.

Your workflow will be fine-tuned and guided by your budget. Budget does not just include money – it also includes your time.

  • Does your project require lead time to begin? Is there a firm deadline?
  • What is the approval process with your stakeholders?
  • How long will each stage of your project take? Create knowledgeable estimates during your ‘test’ phase so that you can estimate the duration of the project as a whole.
  • What is the availability of your staffing? Is your digitization plan realistic to the time you have available?
  • Are there areas in your plan that you can scale up to meet a deadline if things get off track?
  • Always, always, always include buffer for the unexpected. Trust us – expect it.

Tips to Consider

  • Learn by doing. Your processing plan may change as you get into the project. That’s okay!
  • Ensure security. Be certain that at every stage, your files are secure and being handled carefully.
  • Maintain consistent quality review. Not keeping up with QA can lead to bad digitization habits being overlooked or systemic procedural issues going unchecked. These always take longer to fix at the end than if you stopped to revise a process from the start.
  • Anticipate ramp up times. Every project starts slowly.
  • Volume x Speed = Staff Time. Evaluate the time it takes to digitize a given item and multiply that by the amount of like-materials you have. Different material types will require different procedures, and thus time, to digitize.
  • Expect the need for training. And retraining.
  • Collaborate with your IT department. There are likely ways that you can save yourself time and headache with automation. Your IT department will be a huge asset to your digitization plan and should be included during the planning stages. You will also need their assistance when it comes to the size of data you’ll be producing with digitization.

Benefits to Outsourcing

There are some decided advantages to working with vendors to complete a portion or all of your digitization project.

  • Deadlines are contractually defined and projects follow established pricing. This can help facilitate project planning, budgeting, and even grant writing.
  • Cost containment and reduced risk. You’re paying for the cost of a vendor to scan – not the staff time, staff training, or the equipment costs (or their upkeep).
  • Vendors have expertise in multiple material types, procedures, and technologies to support varied collections.
  • Vendors may be able to handle digitizing a greater volume than your institution is capable of with equipment and staffing availability.
  • Some vendors are able to pair additional services, such as metadata enrichment or microfilming, with digitization.

Questions to Ask Vendors If You Outsource

You understand your collection best. If you choose to outsource your inventory and digitization projects, be sure to protect and advocate for your collection by selecting a vendor that:

  • will align the project workflow to YOUR needs, to the needs of each material in your collection, and who will not simply apply a “one size fits all” approach.
  • is customer-oriented and communicative. Your outsourcing vendor should be able to supply regular reporting on project progress and answer your questions, as well as ask questions of their own. Good communication = a good project.
  • incorporates a reliable and communicable quality assurance workflow.

When you begin looking for an outsourcing partner, ask for quotes from multiple vendors. Research each vendor and remember that quick and cheap will not always meet the unique needs of your collection. And lastly, develop some short and long term goals with your vendor. These milestones will help both of you articulate the project’s expectations and bring your digitization project to a successful conclusion.

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