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Selecting material for digitisation
"`Why' is the most important question when you digitise."
Börje Justrell, National Archives of Sweden, DigiCULT ERT, Stockholm, June 14, 2001
The overwhelming amount of cultural information to be digitised requires selection in
one or the other way. As digitisation is an extremely time and cost-intensive process that
involves many risks and problems, memory institutions need to have a clear understanding
of why and for which purpose analogue cultural materials are digitised. Nevertheless,
Malcolm Ferris, Director of the Center for Research in Art and Communication at the
University of Hertfordshire, UK, notes the lack of a clear contextual awareness, the "how,
where, when and why these newly digitised collections will be used, and how they can
relate to enhance the existing collection." (DigiCULT Delphi, July 6, 2001)
What we still see today is a more or less ad-hoc and accidental approach to digitisation
that lacks clear planning and understanding of future use.
What is to be digitised should be part of a master plan that is anchored in a national
policy that clearly sets priorities to avoid duplication of work. Based on this general
framework, cultural heritage institutions should then formulate an organisational policy that
clearly addresses questions of why and to which end analogue materials are digitised, and at
which quality. As the final selection should be based on the qualitative assessment of the
material to be digitised, no common selection procedures or agreed-upon guidelines on
criteria of selection can be offered. Instead, memory institutions should develop and
formulate their own methodology for digitisation.
Developing methodologies to select material for digitisation
Seamus Ross, HATII, University of Glasgow, UK, noted the lack of methodology in
archives, libraries and museums and strongly recommends to take a methodological
approach to digitisation. (DigiCULT ERT,Vienna, June 25-26, 2001) One such
methodology is Ross' Source-Oriented, User-Driven, Asset-Aware Model (SOUDAAM)
that focuses on three important aspects to be considered when deciding on what and how
to digitise:
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First, institutions need to understand their sources: Is this material already available
at other locations? What standards are required? What are the preservation risks
involved?
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Secondly: Cultural institutions need to understand user demands and expectations:
What do users want, and what kind of quality of digital resources do they need?
How and in which contexts do users exploit this material?
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And finally, memory institutions need to think on how they intend to manage their
assets in the future: Should those digital resources be preserved, and why? How can
institutions encourage future use? How do institutions exploit digitised resources for
sustainability?
User-centred approach to digitisation: Who will be the end user?
"Lots of information is only of interest to experts", as Jennifer Trant, AMICO, USA,
noted."A database can offer 297 different types of lizards, and 75 types of Delft lace.Yet, to
the uninformed they all look alike." (DigiCULT Interview, August 8, 2001)
The results of this methodological approach to digitisation are two documents:The
Intellectual Asset Survey (IAS) focuses on understanding the value of the holdings and
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