Skip to Content

Session 7: Reformatting and Digitization



1 Standards and Guidelines

Unlike preservation microfilming and photocopying, standards for digitization are ever-evolving and will continue to change as hardware, software, and user expectations evolve.

There are, however, a number of projects and publications that have set forth best practices for creating high-quality digital copies of analog formats. If you choose to undertake a digitization project, you will need to create your own technical guidelines that reflect your institution's needs and your project's goals.

Some current digitization resources include:

See Additional Resources for links to other online resources that provide guidelines for creating digital collections. 

2 Digitization Procedures

Despite the possible variations in technical requirements, there are several standard steps in digital imaging. As with other reformatting methods, most institutions will find digitization too complex and expensive to undertake in-house; contracting with a vendor experienced in working with historical paper-based collections is recommended.

The Digitization Process

The basic steps in the digitization of paper-based collections are as follows:


The image capture process in a professional lab.

  • Capture—Document(s) or other materials are captured in digital form using a scanner or digital camera. Decisions made about the desired image quality during benchmarking (e.g., the type of scan, the resolution of the scan, the bit depth) are implemented.

  • Image processing—This includes image editing if necessary (e.g., compression of files, sharpening of images) and the creation of metadata (sometimes defined as "data about data"). Metadata indexes and describes the scanned materials. A table explaining the types of metadata can be found within Moving Theory into Practice: Digital Imaging Tutorial.

  • Delivery—This is the process of getting the digitized content to the user. Delivery methods, file formats, file compression, and acceptable image quality will differ depending on various user characteristics. It is crucial to consider image delivery needs during project planning, not after the images have already been created.

  • Quality control—This involves both initial and ongoing evaluation of whether the technical requirements for image capture, processing, and delivery are being met. At the beginning of the project, it is a good idea to digitize a representative sample of documents to be sure that all quality requirements are being fulfilled.

Storage and Maintenance

After digital objects are created and appropriately indexed and described, they must be stored on-line, near-line, and/or off-line. Over time, however, obsolescence of hardware and software (the technology chain used to access digital objects) becomes a major concern. If a hard disk drive survives intact for 10 or even 50 years, but no device survives that can retrieve the data, then the data has effectively been lost. A further examination of digital preservation and repository management is presented later in this session in Managing Reformatting & Digitization.