I’m a medium-sized heritage organisation, how do I plan for digitising my content?

As a medium-sized heritage organisation with a valuable archive, and possible brand identity too, how do you go about planning for the digitisation of your content? This guide seeks to offer some practical advice, points for consideration, and signpost some really informative resources to get you started.

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photo slides being scanned

I’m a medium-sized heritage organisation, how do I plan for digitising my content?

As a medium-sized organisation with a valuable heritage archive, and possible brand identity too, how do you go about planning for the digitisation of your content? This guide seeks to offer some practical advice, points for consideration, and signpost some really informative resources to get you started.

1. The best place to start

The motivation behind digitisation has evolved and there has been a significant shift towards online accessibility, especially for medium-sized and large organisations. It is important to work out, from the start, what your long term intentions are because these should influence your early decision making, ensuring a logical, streamlined and joined-up process.

There are two main reasons for digitisation:

  • Safeguarding valuable, historical content against damage and loss, making internal searches quicker and easier;
  • Safeguarding and online accessibility (either immediately or at some point in the future).


2. Get stakeholder buy-in

As a medium-sized organisation you will likely need to get stakeholders onboard across a number of different departments. They will all have competing priorities and demands against the organisation’s finances so you will want to think about their specific concerns in advance to understand how your project might actually benefit them.

people in a meeting room
Image courtesy of TownsWeb Archiving. Photo by Christina Morillo ©

Possible questions each department might raise:

Finance: “Digitisation is expensive, where’s the return?”
IT: “You need how many extra machines! Where are we going to store 2TB of images?”
Marketing/Communications: “It’s not our area, how does this benefit us?”
Human Resources: “It’s digitisation, why should we care?”
Management: “What will be the impact overall?”

Contemplating questions like these will help you to get stakeholder buy-in for your digitisation project.


3. Review your funding options

Depending on your type of organisation, you might be able to apply for funding. It can help to know how to write a successful funding bid. The National Lottery Heritage Fund offers a number of grants that you should at least be aware of, and it’s important to learn about how to approach funding.


4. Survey your archive

  • What is the extent of your archive? As a medium-sized organisation it’s likely to be quite large and comprehensive.
  • Your budget as a medium-sized organisation might be reasonable, yet you might still have to consider digitising in stages to stay within costs.
  • Do you have mixed material types as these can slow the process and increase costs?
  • What’s the condition and will any conservation measures need to be taken?


Image courtesy of TownsWeb Archiving©

5. In-house or outsource

You need to decide if you will digitise in-house or outsource your project to a specialist digitisation provider. Consider the following two options:


An overview of resources and process:


  • Mixed material types will mean additional equipment and elevated costs so consider the specialist equipment required.
  • Assess your capabilities and factor in time and costs related to training, as well as the increased risk of damage to your material. As a medium-sized organisation you will likely have many responsibilities, which will compete for your time.
  • Staff will need releasing from current duties so consider any public services that may be affected. Some medium-sized organisations call on volunteers who can bring valuable skills, but always closely monitor and be mindful of potential errors, such as duplicated files and misplaced items. See also question  24. How do we find digital volunteers to help us carry out our digital activities?
  • Consider the space required for large equipment and for the organisation of your material into batches. You will need to allow room for staff and volunteers to move freely and safely, which might be easier for medium-sized organisations.


large document on scanner
Image courtesy of TownsWeb Archiving ©


  • Adhering to specialist handling procedures is vital and each material type presents a different set of challenges. For example, The National Archives Policy recommends unpowdered nitrile/latex protective gloves for glass plates and no gloves for books.
  • Establish an efficient workflow that everyone has to follow to ensure consistently high standards. Capturing a page of a bound book can take anywhere from 5-15 seconds (one side) but there are many things that can impact this, especially when relying on volunteers. Inevitably, some pages will need to be recaptured, adding to time and costs. Master the digitisation process for your particular material type.
  • Organise material into batches or similar size and type and begin digitising your largest items first to avoid constant recalibration, making the process faster.
  • It is prudent to appoint a project manager to keep everyone, and everything, on track. This might be an existing member of staff, or you might need to appoint outside of your organisation, creating an additional role and elevating costs. This person will troubleshoot, problem solve, report on progress and keep your stakeholders happy.


6. Outsourcing

Outsourcing can take the stress out of your digitisation project but specialist services do come at a cost.

  • Look for quality and timing from a trusted and experienced provider – shop around.
  • Your survey will establish if you need to digitise in phases.
  • Check your provider is adequately insured.
  • Does your provider offer a collection and return service?
  • Be clear on what’s included and discuss your long term project goals to ascertain if they can help you to achieve these too. For example, help with online publishing.
  • There are online quote calculators to help you estimate your digitisation costs, as well as lots of other resources.
  • Talk to other organisations, learn from their experiences (and mistakes!) and reach out.

gloved hands holding a sepia glass photo plate  book being scanned

Images courtesy of TownsWeb Archiving ©


7. Additional considerations

Regardless of the option you choose, similar digitisation guidelines will apply:

  • Learn about the digitisation process, follow industry events, such as Heritage Collections Management 2022, watch service videos, speak to other organisations and providers, and request example digitisation projects.
  • Have a digitisation plan.
  • Follow the right guidance for your material type and make any necessary adjustments. For example, capture very large items at 200ppi (pixels per inch) resolution at actual size. Medium sized items can be captured at 300ppi and smaller items at 600ppi. If you are looking to offer reprints and publish online 300-600ppi will be adequate, but if you just want to capture your material for preservation purposes then 300ppi will suffice.
  • Follow National Archives guidelines for digitisation for good practice.
  • For preservation, greyscale will suffice but, if you want master archival images for use online, you’ll need to capture in full colour, using a colour key at the beginning of each batch. Specialist software, such as Capture 1, can be used to make manual adjustments.
  • Using the wrong equipment can affect results and damage material.
  • It’s also really important to appreciate and understand your legal position in terms of copyright and data protection, whether you intend to publish and share your digitised assets or not. This resource by Naomi Korn Associates provides lots of information to help you understand compliance. Here you will find a digital guide for working with volunteers, free webinars, an exploration of copyright and social media, and much more, all there to support you in meeting your legal obligations.
  • You will also want to consider how your digitised content will be used and are likely to want to make this more accessible under a CC BY creative commons licence. However, it’s important to understand your funder’s accessibility requirements, which will be stated in their terms and conditions. Read working on open licences, contained in the National Lottery Heritage Fund’s (NLHF’s) guide, to explore this point further.
  • It’s never too early to consider the future of your digitised assets. What are your plans post digitisation? Many people look to a DAM system as an ideal way to store, organise and manage their collections, especially where this might be quite large, while publishing platforms can take your metadata and use it to enhance the accessibility and engagement of your collections, steadily growing your online audiences.

photographs being scanned large-scale scanning equipment photo slides being scanned

Images courtesy of TownsWeb Archiving ©


8. Data capture

Finally, decide what metadata you want to capture. If your priority was safeguarding and internal searching then you will want to capture the data that will enable you to do this. If you are looking to move your archive online, the data you gather will be the golden thread that connects your items and collections, enhancing their accessibility.

There are four main forms of data capture:

  • Optical character recognition (OCR) uses software to identify typed text within your digital images, converting it to digital text which can be used as searchable metadata.
  • Handwritten transcription captures the handwritten entries and is utilised in the same way as above, outputting to a variety of formats, such as Excel or Word.
  • Data entry provides a manually entered solution for items such as old burial registers and where handwriting can be difficult to decipher. This outputs to MS Excel or CSV.
  • Audio transcription picks out every spoken word using specialist software, transcribing this to any text format, creating a record of who is speaking and what they say. Time stamping means that names, words and phrases all become searchable metadata. This supports the accessibility of old cassettes, oral interviews and histories, for example.

There is a lot to consider here but we hope that the above, along with further reading around the subject, will help to ensure that you are as prepared as you can be to take your digitisation project to the next stage. You can find many of the resources, and more, on the TownsWeb Archiving website. Best of luck!

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Published: 2022
Resource type: Articles

Creative Commons Licence Except where noted and excluding company and organisation logos this work is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 (CC BY 4.0) Licence

Please attribute as: "I’m a medium-sized heritage organisation, how do I plan for digitising my content? (2022) by Jess Sturman-Coombs supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0


More help here

Digital Heritage Hub is managed by Arts Marketing Association (AMA) in partnership with The Heritage Digital Consortium and The University of Leeds. It has received Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and National Lottery funding, distributed by The Heritage Fund as part of their Digital Skills for Heritage initiative. Digital Heritage Hub is free and answers small to medium sized heritage organisations most pressing and frequently asked digital questions.

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