There are two main categories of digitization – scanning archival documents (photos, letters, etc.) and taking digital photographs of 3D artifacts in your collection. Both types of digitization are time consuming. Depending on how many people you are able to dedicate to the project, it may take years to complete.
But don’t let that scare you! Every scan or photo moves you closer to your goal.
Having a digital version of each archival piece in your collection means your originals will remain safe and protected for many years to come. You will also have better access for researchers, exhibitions, and photo requests.
Photographing each artifact in your collection can make it easier to retrieve an object for research or exhibitions. You can also use the photos to document damage or repairs to each artifact.
If your database cannot handle digital photographs, consider updating to new software such as PastPerfect. Many museum database programs allow you to add multiple photographs to a single record, which means you could scan each page of a letter or photograph a plate’s overall design, maker’s mark and any chips.
Here are some things to consider when embarking on a digitization project:
Archival Digitization Tips
1. Scan the image in the highest resolution you can reasonably store on your computer system. The higher the resolution, the larger the digital file. A high res scan now will reduce the chances of needing a re-scan later on.
2. Come up with a naming system for the files that makes sense, especially if you do not have an archival database where you can link to each image.
3. Scanners emit a powerful light, and of course any light exposure is damaging to artifacts – especially works on paper. Set up your scan correctly the first time to avoid extra, unnecessary light exposure.
Artifact Photo Documentation Tips
1. Unfortunately, the only way to get this project done is to go drawer by drawer or shelf by shelf and move each artifact individually. Create a chart or checklist of each storage area so multiple people can work on the project and check off each location as they complete the photos.
2. Create a portable “photo studio” with a piece of board or foam core and black fabric. Most artifacts will show better on a dark background. If the artifact is dark, place something light behind it.
3. Quality is less important with photo documentation, unless you are planning to have your database available online or at a work station in a gallery space. Usually these projects are for inventory/documentation purposes only, so you don’t need to create high megapixel photos that take up a lot of hard drive space.
4. Take your photos as close as possible to provide the maximum detail. Some database programs will let you crop the photo after you attach it to the catalog record. But ideally, the artifact should fill the entire photograph. You might want to consider including a measuring tape for scale.