Before undertaking digitization, it is important to survey the variety of material present in the collection. Efforts to create universal conventions for breaking down a collection are in progress at The Getty Research Institute in the form of the Cultural Objects Name Authority. Such canonical hierarchies may be useful for planning a digitization program. They were not explicitly created for this purpose, however, and more utility may be gleaned by a purpose-made breakdown that is customized to a specific institution. The example below is well suited as a starting point for planning a digitization program, and can be made with any standard spreadsheet program using a rough estimate of quantities to help guide the process. Here, we have broken it down by type, size, and state, taking cues from which collection attributes call for special digitization considerations.
- Works on Paper: drawings, sketches, paintings, diaries, field notes, scrapbooks, ledgers, maps, blueprints, posters
- Works on Other Substrates: engravings, etchings, multimedia
- Reflective Photomechanical: silver prints, cyanotypes, tintypes, calotypes, moon print
- Transmissive Photomechanical: lantern slides, x rays, cyanotypes, glass plates
- Spaces: installations, architecture, scenics
- 3D Items: sculptures, fossils, material culture
- Organics: people, biological specimens
- Macro: anything smaller than A8, including 35mm film, microfilm, stamps, coins
- Normal: anything larger than A8 and smaller than A3
- Oversized: anything A3 or larger
- Binding: loose (unbound), T-Binding, bound, stapled
- Stability: stable, rapidly deteriorating
- Handling Risk: robust, fragile, very fragile, consumption
- Hazardous: mold, arsenic, lead, radioactive
Establishing the scope of the collection to be digitized is essential for both the prioritization of digitization and the proper selection of the hardware and workflows that will be used. For instance, a collection which contains 3D materials is ill suited to systematic digitization via a flatbed scanner. Ideally, the hardware and workflow software that can digitize the majority of the collection should be selected. It is imperative for institutions to examine their holdings and look for a solution that is versatile and accommodate the particular needs of their collections. For example, the same high-resolution digital back and raw workflow software can be used to digitize any of the above categorized material types. The ability to use the same hardware and software across a broad collection reduces the institutional training requirements involved, and consolidates hardware cost outlays.
It is especially important to make careful note of the type and quantity of “problem children.” These are the outliers of a collection which will require extraordinary time or effort to digitize. This could be because of size (e.g. in a bound material collection there may be a small number of especially over-sized manuscripts) or condition (e.g. fire-damaged or extremely fragile materials).
“We have handscrolls, we have prints, small paintings, large oil paintings, hanging scrolls, six-fold screens; we also have quite an extensive collection of 3D material: bronzes, sculptures, metals of all types. We have a mandate to photograph our entire collection and put it online… by the end of 2014.”
– John Tsantes, Freer|Sackler, The Smithsonian Institution