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Session 7: Reformatting and Digitization


Managing Reformatting & Digitization

1 Selecting Paper Collections

Identifying Collections in Need of Reformatting

Reformatting can provide preservation copies of collections that have only informational value, service copies to lessen handling of valuable originals, and/or security copies to guard against loss of information.

To identify collections that are good candidates for reformatting, consider the following:

  • Is the collection extremely deteriorated?
  • Does the collection have informational or artifactual value?
  • How important is the collection to the institutional mission?
  • Is the collection frequently used?
  • Is the collection important in the context of other local, regional, or national collections? Is it a good candidate for a cooperative reformatting project?
  • Have the materials been reformatted elsewhere?
  • Is the collection a particularly good candidate for grant funding (perhaps because of its format or subject matter)?
  • Does the collection have copyright or donor restrictions?
  • Are there a variety of formats within the collection, and how easily can the materials be filmed, digitized, or copied?

Choosing a Reformatting Method

Once you have prioritized a particular collection or collections for reformatting, the next step is to decide which of the various options for preservation reformatting is the most appropriate. Keep in mind your overall goals of ensuring continued access to the information, protecting the original from additional damage, copying originals in poor condition only once, and creating a copy or copies that will last as long as possible.

In general, it is best to start by thinking about the end results of the project. Is microfilm needed for security or preservation purposes? Is a hard copy also needed? Is an exact reproduction needed (e.g., do images need to be color, or is black and white sufficient)? Is an enhanced version of the material, such as an online searchable text, needed? In many cases, a combination of more than one reformatting method will be appropriate, such as preservation photocopying and microfilming, or digital imaging and creation of a bound copy on permanent paper.

2 Selecting Media Collections

Reformatting audiovisual materials is very expensive, and there is rarely enough funding available to reformat large numbers of items at once. While general concerns about level of use and importance to the institution apply to all types of collections, selection issues to be considered for specific types of audiovisual collections include:

Photographs and Negatives

Cellulose nitrate or cellulose acetate negatives that already exhibit signs of deterioration should be a priority, as should color photographs, slides, and negatives. Deterioration of acetate negatives can be very quick, so frequent monitoring of their condition is essential. Priority for duplication may also be given to valuable negatives and to negatives that are frequently used, whatever their type. If you cannot store nitrate negatives according to the guidelines given by your insurance company and local authorities, their duplication and disposal should be a priority.

Motion Picture Films

For films, cultural significance must be determined, as well as whether or not the institution's copy is the best surviving copy. Completeness of the copy, the number of generations your copy is from the original, and the physical condition of the film must be considered. Films on nitrate or acetate base that already exhibit signs of deterioration should be a high priority. In general, if materials can be placed in cold storage, individual films can be copied as time permits, with the most significant and deteriorated films duplicated first. As is the case with nitrate negatives, if you cannot store nitrate films according to the guidelines given by your insurance company and local authorities, their duplication and disposal should be a priority.

Audiotapes and Videotapes

In addition to determining cultural significance, you must identify damaged tapes, recordings made on obsolete or unusual formats, recordings made early in the life of a format (these may be of inferior quality), older tapes, and unique copies (e.g., the only master). All of these should have priority for copying.

3 Working with a Vendor

For most small institutions, contracting out to an experienced vendor for preservation reformatting and digitization will be easier and more cost effective than trying to reformat in-house.

Evaluate the Vendor's Experience and Services

High-volume commercial microfilmers do not have the equipment or expertise to film fragile materials without damaging them. For valuable collections and/or materials that are being filmed because they are too fragile to withstand extensive handling, it is best to use a special service filmer who is experienced in dealing with hard-to-film collections (e.g., tightly bound books, faded documents).

For digital imaging, the vendor should have experience working with historical materials, as well as current equipment and the expertise to use it. While the chief advantage of working with a digitization vendor is that the cost of equipment and staffing is shifted to the vendor, another benefit may be the broad range of services that a vender might offer, from conservation preparation of the materials to be digitized to intellectual control, file processing, and even storage and archiving.

For audio and video recordings, an audiovisual or multimedia lab experienced with library and archives collections (as opposed to commercial customers) must be chosen. Professional-quality equipment and properly trained staff are essential to the production of preservation masters and service copies for audio and video recordings. Video recordings are especially vulnerable to data loss during the copying process because of the large amount of data in video signals.

Similarly, a specialized commercial film laboratory is needed for film duplication. Some duplication laboratories have developed particular specialties, such as specific formats or types of film (e.g., 8mm film, color film, nitrate film, soundtracks).

Contact several different vendors to compare costs and services. You will need to estimate the size of the project, which will allow the vendor to provide a cost estimate. Visit the vendor to make sure that housekeeping, environmental control, and security are acceptable for temporary storage of the collections. This is especially important to prevent damage to original materials that will be retained rather than discarded after reformatting.

Draw Up a Contract

Once you have identified the vendor you wish to use, negotiate a contract. Be sure to find out whether your institution has specific procedures that must be followed for bidding and contracts.

You will need to specify standards and guidelines to which the vendor must adhere (e.g., for image quality, quality control measures, etc.) in the contract. Insurance and shipping requirements must be covered in the contract, as well as any special services (such as the creation of microfilming targets) that the vendor will provide.

For a full examination of the advantages and disadvantages of setting up an in-house reformatting project vs. outsourcing the activities to a vendor, as well as an overview of the contract process (including links to sample RFPs), refer to the NEDCC Preservation Leaflet 6.7 Outsourcing and Vendor Relations.

4 Managing Reformatting Projects

For institutions that contract with an outside vendor for reformatting services, the basic elements of project management are:

  • selecting the collections to be reformatted;
  • determining which reformatting method is most appropriate;
  • creating a project plan (often as part of preparing an application for grant funding);
  • preparing the collections for reformatting (initial collections condition assessment; creating an inventory and packing list; and packing the collection);
  • keeping in touch with the vendor during the reformatting process to ensure that all is proceeding as planned; and
  • examining the final result to ensure that all technical specifications provided by the institution were met.

Planning a Reformatting Project

Begin with the following questions: Will you be instituting a systematic, ongoing reformatting program or undertaking just one or two special projects? Do you have the expertise in-house to determine the condition of collections and decide which merit reformatting? Will you need a collection survey by a specialist prior to making reformatting decisions?

Who will plan and manage the reformatting project(s)? A professional staff member is usually recommended, but in some cases a paraprofessional may perform this function. Choose someone who can successfully interact with other institutional staff as well as with the outside vendor.

What will be the responsibilities of various staff members within the institution during the project? How will you fund the project(s)? You will need to estimate the size of each specific project and determine how much in-house staffing and time will be needed. If the project is to be grant funded, this will be done as part of your grant application.

Most importantly, what are your goals for the project? This is particularly important for projects that include digitization, where you must begin by deciding what products and results you want from the project, and then determine the technical requirements for producing those results. See Considerations for Project Management in Handbook for Digital Projects: A Management Tool for Preservation and Access for a detailed discussion of digital project management issues.