Going digital

Many of us have confidently ‘gone digital’ – like using digital cameras, scanners and all the accessories on mobiles that don’t involve ringing another phone!  And two thirds of the population has already changed to digital TV in the light of the approaching switch-off of analog television signals in Australia by 2013. 
Following the example of large institutions such as the National Library, Museum or Archives and the equivalent in each State and Territory, many community museums and historical societies are ‘digitising’ parts of their collection with the aid of government grants.
Digitisation – converting still or moving images, sound or text into a digital, machine-readable format – is certainly a worthwhile process on many counts.  It means for example that precious photographs (including slides and glass plate negatives) or delicate paper items – eg maps, newspapers, drawings and printed ephemera such as tickets, menus, certificates, invitations etc can be better preserved and accessed by the public.  The originals stay in storage or display while the reformatted version can be safely viewed.  Digitisation also allows one to use images of your collection on websites, illustrated talks or for marketing purposes or creating interesting multi-media displays.
Digitisation is certainly something to consider but not to be approached in a piecemeal fashion. 

As far as the National Standards for Australian Museums and Galleries are concerned it is dealt with under Part C: Developing a Significant Collection.  And this is where having a Significance Assessment comes in handy to ensure the museum’s limited resources are wisely spent.
See page 134 of your CMP handbook.
Standard C1.5 The museum makes its collection accessible in digital formats and in online environments

You will notice from the benchmarks listed that there are various issues that must be taken into account before embarking on any digitisation program.
As well as ensuring you have the most suitable equipment for the job, the benchmarks listed can be summarised to 3 main points to consider:
• Format standards
• Legal requirements
• Documentation system

Format is the main bugbear – should it be JPEG, TIF, RAW?  What pixel size? Is dpi important? 
But also, what about copyright and ethical issues like allowing Aboriginal images going public?  And how should one catalogue or store items in a digital format?
There have been many worldwide discussions and papers written regarding digitisation principles and standards.  At the end of the day the underlying issues are consistency and accessibility.
A useful Digital Standards Bibliography was produced by the Collections Council in 2008.  See http://www.collectionscouncil.com.au/Portals/0/Digital%20standards%20bibliography,%20Version%202.0,%20Exposure%20Draft,%2018%20Nov.pdf
The SA State Library has Digitisation Guidelines for newspapers, photo and film, documents, large format and audio.  We can send you a copy or else contact Lindy Bohrnsen, Reformatting Coordinator Preservation P: 8207 7327 F: 8207 7274 or E: bohrnsen.lindy@slsa.sa.gov.au
IPTC (International Press Telecommunications Council) has developed a standard for information that can be embedded into a digital photo.  This ‘metadata’ is descriptive, administrative and structural.  There is the Dublin Core with 15 base text fields but Microsoft has adopted a simple version of the IPTC standard – just right click your photo and select Properties. 
The Australian Copyright Council has fact sheets on all kinds of issues relating to copyright in Australia. www.copyright.org.au/publications/infosheets.htm
It’s imperative that you regularly back up and highly recommended that you have a dedicated offsite hard drive for your digital collection.

Newsletter reference

CMP News No. 47 June 2010

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