Conducting a successful reformatting project requires thoughtful planning that addresses three major questions:
Answering these questions before the project gets underway will help the reformatting process run smoothly and avoid issues that may arise from having an incomplete understanding of available funds, team roles, and steps to undertake when receiving digital files. The following subsections provide guidelines to consider when making decisions regarding the reformatting project. Existing literature on effective project planning and management is rich and addresses many of the concerns relevant to AV reformatting projects. Where appropriate, this textbook provides excerpts from important works on project planning.
Available staff and funds will invariably play a critical role in determining the scope of the project and the pace at which it is completed. This makes it important to identify available funds and staff hours as soon as possible when planning a reformatting project so that expected goals are realistic and the projected timeline is manageable. However, identifying these resources is only the first half of the first step of project planning. The second half is allocating resources and delegating roles to staff effectively. A valuable reference that addresses both of these topics is the Handbook for Digital Projects: A Management Tool for Preservation and Digital Access.1 Specifically, a section in Chapter 3, "Project Management: Creating a Plan of Work and Budget," discusses approaches to committing staff and resources in great depth. And while this reference places a focus on scanning and microfilming, its advice regarding project planning remains true and applicable to audiovisual reformatting.
Having a project manager on the client side is critical for a smooth and successful project. The project manager oversees all parts of the project, including, but not limited to: vendor interfacing; managing the client staff; monitoring scheduling and timeline; keeping track of quality control issue resolution and rework status; coordinating with client stakeholders; troubleshooting issues that arise; and proactively working to anticipate and identify prospective issues. Whether this resource is internal to the organization or a third-party provider, it is a critical role that must be filled.
The client will be responsible for drafting the RFP, identifying vendor candidates, vetting proposals submitted by vendors, and ultimately selecting the vendor or vendors with which they wish to enter into a contract. This process should be driven by the project manager with the inclusion of other key stakeholders.
Once a vendor or vendors have been selected, a formal contract should be written up. If the client has contracting, procurement, and/or legal resources on staff they will likely be responsible for this step. If not, the vendor can be asked to provide a draft agreement, but the client should be sure to have a legal advisor review before signing.
A pilot project is a project phase in which a sampling of items is selected to run through the entire process in order to identify and resolve any problem areas or gaps in the processes, protocols, specifications, or understanding. This allows both the client and the vendor to identify and resolve any issues in the process and specifications before launching into full production mode. A pilot phase is highly recommended, especially the first time a project is being performed, the first time a project with a new set of specifications is being performed, or whenever a client and vendor are working together for the first time. Usually it is best to select a sampling of items that will represent the variances and test as many aspects of the SoW as possible.
There really is no “right” size for a pilot project. Generally the size is based on a combination of factors including the amount of time it will take the vendor to complete, the number of items needed to represent the variables and diversity of the project, and the number of items seen as sufficient to serve as a proper test. The more complex the specifications and the larger the project, the more important a pilot phase is.
In cases where a pilot project proves very challenging, or in cases of very large projects, it may make sense to perform multiple pilot projects. In the former case this will help ensure that the process is fully ironed out before launching into full production mode. In the latter this may allow a ramping up period where each pilot is successively larger before hitting full throughput.
This is particularly important in the case of large projects where items are being digitized quickly, errors propagate at scale, and much time, energy, and good will can be expended in dealing with identifying and resolving errors. It is much easier to do things right the first time than to have to go back and fix things. This is almost always true, but it’s particularly true with larger scale projects.
Pilot phases tend to be challenging because they often reveal more issues to be resolved than anticipated and resolving those issues tends to take collaboration between parties, which takes time. Essentially, the pilot process takes time, and it is important to allow for an appropriate amount of time. And as frustrating as it can be to iron out details when everyone wants to get working in full production mode, the up-front hard work pays major dividends throughout the rest of the project. Rework and re-performing quality control on a small number of items at the beginning of the project is far less painful for all parties than doing the same on a large number of items at the end of the project.
Depending on the size of the project and how the original items are stored, this step could take a significant amount of time. Client staff are responsible for carefully packing up all assets to be sent to the vendor(s) and creating a detailed manifest for each box and for each shipment. Packing and shipping recommendations by carrier type were outlined in Chapter 1, Section 6: Shipping of Media Carriers. In some cases there may be work to do before items can be packed. Some organizations have requirements regarding the minimum amount of processing that must be performed on items before they can be sent for digitization. These requirements are usually focused on registering items with the organization’s system of record, assigning or capturing an identifier, and perhaps capturing one or more additional metadata fields. If these requirements exist, then completing them can take a lot of resources and time. This should be identified and accounted for as a process that precedes packing and shipping. Also remember to account for the fact that you will be receiving and reshelving these materials, too. Additionally, make sure to account for all staff time as well as the costs for materials and supplies for all of these processes.
Upon receipt of digitization deliverables from the vendor, client staff must perform quality control. These measures may include testing that ensures that file specifications align with the requested target specifications, checking file naming conventions, making sure all files are accounted for, validating any XML files, and performing qualitative tests such as playing back files to check for audiovisual quality issues. The quantitative quality control may be performed with less expert, but well trained staff. The qualitative quality control benefits greatly from using staff that has audio knowledge and is able to identify, interpret, and articulate audio quality issues. The quality control process will take significant staff time and should not be overlooked when preparing timelines and budgets. It is frequently the case that client organizations do not adequately staff this role, resulting in a project bottleneck that can put the success of the project at risk. Aside from human resources for quality control, it is critical that client organizations use the appropriate specialized equipment and environments that quality control requires. Performing quality control using sub-par equipment or while in a poor environment can hinder quality assurance. For AV quality control it is important that clients have, or procure, equipment and use an environment that keeps the following in mind:
Failure to perform good quality control not only stands to waste time and money on the process itself, but also puts the goal of preservation at risk and all of the finances dedicated to the project. If there are concerns about the ability to perform this work, in-house clients may consider hiring a third party to perform quality control for them.
When digitization takes place in a preservation context, it would be remiss for the client organization not to prepare for the eventual return of the digitized files. Chapter 4: Managing Digital Audiovisual Collections addresses this topic and provides guidance on the necessary protocols and infrastructure. Organizations should consider this in advance of creating significant quantities of files; they should create plans and be prepared to accommodate both the ingest of media and metadata files into access and preservation systems as well as the long-term storage and management of these files.
Now that the physical assets have been digitized, it may be tempting to assume that they are no longer necessary. However, the physical assets still play a role in the overarching preservation strategy. As long as the original assets are able to be reproduced, they offer risk mitigation against loss of digital files, poorly performed reformatting transfers, and future technological advancements that may bring improved reformatting capabilities that the client may want to keep open as an option. Follow the recommendations outlined in Chapter 1 in order to maintain these backups for as long as possible.