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Why – and how – we digitize

June 30, 2014

Have you ever wondered what goes into digitizing archival materials? We have an impressive amount of material digitized and available online in our digital repository UTSA Digital Collections. At last count, we had around 59,700 items!

This is our Zeutschel overhead scanner. It is used for scanning fragile materials because it has a built in cradle and does not touch the material unnecessarily.

This is our Zeutschel overhead scanner. It is used for scanning fragile materials because it has a built in cradle and does not touch the material unnecessarily.

Digitization is an integral part of what we do in Special Collections, but contrary to popular belief, it’s not as simple as “just scanning.” A lot of time, effort, resources, and decision-making goes into the digitization process. And while we may never be able to digitize everything in our holdings, we have a few guiding principles and objectives to help us prioritize what gets digitized.

Our main objectives for digitizing materials are: to increase access to our most heavily used collections or those with high research value; to promote our collections; to enhance preservation of heavily used materials by reducing wear and tear on the originals; and to provide access to those materials that may not be accessible in their original format (because of fragility or format degradation).

Digitization encompasses a series of activities. Among them, we must:

  • Identify and select material for digitization
  • Prepare documents for digitization (including locating, paging, and refiling)
  • Create basic descriptive information about the documents to provide contextual information for the user and to allow for searching in our online repository.
  • Perform quality control of digital copies
  • Upload digital copies and basic descriptive information to our online repository
  • Update finding aids to include links to the digital copies
We use a flatbed scanner for digitizing negatives from our historic photo collection.

We use a flatbed scanner for digitizing negatives from our historic photo collection.

So how do we decide what collections to digitize? Because our material must be paged for our users, it is easy for us to keep track of which collections get used. We maintain an Access database and we run reports to determine which collections have been used the most throughout the year. We also keep track of what collections users search for on our website. We do this because we want to make sure that we’re putting our resources into digitizing resources that patrons actually want to see. With nearly 7,500 linear feet of archival materials, 3.5 million photographic prints and negatives, and 28,000 rare books, it’s hard to imagine that we would ever be able to digitize everything, and it probably wouldn’t make sense to. We want to digitize the material that’s the most useful for our patrons.

Other times, we identify a collection that is at-risk because of format degradation or fragility and digitizing it will enhance the preservation of it. For example, our 3.5 million historic photo collection housed at the Institute of Texan Cultures presents unique preservation and access challenges. The preservation of photographs and photographic negatives is particularly complex and requires special humidity and climate control to slow down the inevitable degradation.  Providing access to negatives is a challenge in that it requires special viewing equipment and the very act of handling the negative too much makes the negative vulnerable. This makes for a very strong digitization case.

After we digitize, we create basic descriptive information prior to uploading to our digital repository

After we digitize, we create basic descriptive information prior to uploading to our digital repository

In short, we are constantly assessing, analyzing, and prioritizing. We pride ourselves on our strong – and smart! – digitization program. So be sure to check our Digital Collections repository regularly because it is growing every month!

 

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