1. What do we mean by digitisation?

How do we define digitisation?

Collections Trust’s working definition of ‘digitisation’, adopted by Arts Council England in its annual survey of National Portfolio Organisations, states that:

‘Digitising’ museum objects [etc] means making copies of physical originals in digital form – for example, by scanning or photographing 2D items or transferring the contents of reels of film or audio tape into digital formats. It can also refer to 3D scanning of objects or, more loosely, any digital photography of collections.’

‘Digitisation’ can also include the process of transferring paper-based collections documentation to a digital format, either by scanning records (and perhaps using optical character recognition tools to create machine-readable text) or typing out transcriptions of their contents.

What does a digital record include?

A digital copy of a physical item is held in some kind of standard file format (such as a TIFF or other image file), which may be called a ‘digital asset’, ‘surrogate’ or ‘digital twin’. It is likely to include ‘metadata’ (data about data) captured when the file was created (such as the date and time an image was made, along with technical information such as the camera or scanner settings). When added to a particular information system, this file will be associated with other metadata about it (such as its unique reference number or filename, where it is stored or its copyright status). It will also be associated with information about the original physical item, often through a link to relevant data in a collections management system.

Examples and further reading

  • This glossary of digital terms explains some of the most commonly used words and phrases you may encounter as you consider digitisation.
  • This PDF from the Share Museums East project [2013] offers an easy-to-understand introduction to the whole process of digitisation from what it means and why to undertake it, to how to plan and carry it out in-house.
  • This 3D object from Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, is an example of what you can achieve with digitisation.

Return to what does digitising collections involve?

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