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

Digitisation serves a range of purposes and offers many benefits for heritage archives. As a small organisation you may be wondering how you might plan and prepare for digitisation. This is a concise guide on how to get started and what to consider.

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Book on a scanner
Image courtesy of Towns Web Archiving©

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

Digitisation serves a range of purposes and offers many benefits for heritage archives. As a small organisation you may be wondering how you might plan and prepare for digitisation. Here we offer a concise guide on how to get started and what to consider.

Where is the best place to start?

Over recent months and years the motivation behind digitisation has evolved. As archives and audiences gravitate more towards online accessibility, it is your long term goals that should influence early decision making. Do you simply want to safeguard your archive against damage and loss, making internal searches quicker and easier, or do you hope to make your archive accessible online? Either of these motivations is perfectly acceptable, but establishing what needs to be done right now, in order to meet these long term goals, will save added work and costs further down the line.

Survey your archive

Photo with colour checker
Image courtesy of TownsWeb Archiving ©

Surveying will require you to search and handle your items, therefore, it’s important to respect safe handling requirements. For example, The National Archives Policy recommends unpowdered nitrile/latex protective gloves for glass plates, whereas for books gloves should be removed to avoid damage.


In-house or outsource

Now you are ready to decide whether you are going to digitise in-house or outsource to a specialist digitisation provider.


If you opt to carry out the digitisation yourself, you need to consider the necessary resources and processes.


  • Equipment – Decide what specialist equipment you will need for the job. If you have mixed material and different sizes you might need multiple types of equipment to complete the job, which can elevate costs.
  • Costs – Creating a plan for every stage of the process will enable you to pinpoint all necessary expenditure and budget for the overall costs of your project.
  • Training & Experience – Assess your existing capabilities and factor in training and experience and the impact on timescales.
  • Time and staffing – Releasing staff or volunteers from usual duties in order to carry out the digitisation work may impact on existing obligations, such as public services provided. Many organisations call on volunteers which has its pros and cons.
  • Space – Do you have the space to organise your material and the bulky equipment required?


large document on scanner
Image courtesy of Towns Web Archiving ©


  • Best practice – There are specialist handling procedures for different material types and each presents its own unique challenges. Research is key.
  • Workflow – You will want to establish an efficient workflow, a process that everyone follows to ensure consistently high standards. As a very loose guide, capturing a page of a bound book can take anywhere from 5-15 seconds (one side) but this is dependent on operator, experience, recalibration, and capture quality, with some pages needing to be recaptured. These guides should help you master the digitisation process for your particular material type.
  • Organisation – Gather your material into similar sized batches, starting with the largest items first, to reduce time spent recalibrating equipment.
  • Management – Digitisation is a huge undertaking so it is advisable to appoint someone from your team who will be responsible for process, troubleshooting, resolving issues, reporting on progress, and keeping the project on track.



If you’re outsourcing your digitisation project:

  • Shop around – The best deal will be one that produces the best quality results for your budget from an experienced and trusted provider who can help you to achieve your end goals too, such as publishing online.
  • Be realistic – Sometimes it’s necessary to digitise in phases so you don’t compromise on quality. You might need funding to help you progress to the next stage.
  • Safety and Transit – Your items will need to be insured, packed and delivered securely. Check if your provider offers this service.
  • Be prudent – Check what’s included and what’s extra.
  • Free resources – There’s a vast amount of information out there to help guide you. For example, online quote calculators can help you estimate your digitisation costs and put you in touch with an adviser.

There will be plenty of examples of both options; learn from other people’s experiences (and mistakes!) and reach out for advice.

gloved hands holding a sepia glass photo plate  book being scanned

Images courtesy of Towns Web Archiving ©


What else you need to consider

Regardless of whether you digitise inhouse or outsource, our advice and guidance would be the same:

  • Learn about the digitisation process. Attend and follow events, such as Heritage Collections Management 2022, watch service videos, ask questions of other organisations, and speak to providers. You can even request to see example digitisation projects.
  • Get a digitisation plan in place.
  • Understand your archive’s diversity and align guidance with your overall project goals, making adjustments where necessary. For example, capturing very large items at 200ppi (pixels per inch) resolution at actual size is suitable. 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.
  • Note National Archives guidelines for digitisation. Good practice is about achieving the best quality results within the time available and in line with your project goals.
  • For preservation purposes, greyscale may suffice, but, if you want to master archival images for online access, full colour is the way to go. Use a colour key at the beginning of each batch and specialist software, such as Capture 1, to make manual adjustments.
  • Equipment is costly and must be factored into your budget. Using the wrong equipment could affect your results and damage material.

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

Images courtesy of Towns Web Archiving ©


Data capture

Finally, it’s important to decide what metadata you want to capture. Getting this right will mean you can perform quick and accurate internal searches against your archive. If you are looking to move your archive online, the data that you gather will be the golden thread connecting your collection and enhancing its accessibility.

Optical character recognition (OCR) uses software to identify typed text within digital images, converting this to digital text which can be used as searchable metadata. Handwritten transcription seeks to capture the handwriting within your material, to be utilised in the same way, and can be output to a variety of formats, such as Excel or Word.
For records that are handwritten and difficult to decipher, data entry provides a manually entered solution and this is ideal for items such as old burial registers. Data entry means that searches can still be performed and offers outputs to formats such as MS Excel or CSV.

For items of an audio nature, such as old cassettes and oral interviews and histories, audio transcription picks out every spoken word using specialist software, transcribing this to any text format and creating a record of who is speaking and what they say. Time stamping means that names, words and phrases can all be made entirely searchable.

There is a lot to think about here but we hope the above will go some way to helping you get started with planning that all-important digitisation project. 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 small-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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