Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Notes from NSLS' Digitization Symposium

Roy Tennant doing a Digitization demo at NSLSYesterday Roy Tennant and I spoke at the North Suburban Library System Digitization Symposium. This one-day event was for those who are considering a digitization program as well as those who have already begun one. Besides talks by Roy and I, six organizations gave overviews of their digitization efforts:
  • Lake Forest Academy
  • Schaumburg Township District Library
  • Northwestern University
  • Lake County Discovery Museum
  • Cook Memorial Library
  • Arlington Hts. Historical Museum
Roy said that years ago he had felt that the emphasis with digitization really should be on access, but then he was converted into believing that the digital assets had to be high-quality (for preservation purposes). Since the release of Shifting Gears: Gearing Up to Get Into the Flow in 2007, he has gone back to emphasizing access. Roy believes that we need to get materials online quickly in order to improve access to them. Yes, you could digitize everything at a high quality and with painstaking care, but that is slow (something we've proven), so why not go for speed? Indeed some institutions are beginning to this this way.

To be accessible, you must also be findable, so Roy talked about the fact that we have been digitizing materials into silos. Instead we need to:
  1. Do whatever it takes to get our stuff online
  2. Expose your digitized content where people congregate
According to Roy, if we learned nothing else from his talk, that was it.

In the battle between access and preservation, access wins.

No one in cultural heritage organization is throwing away originals, so preserve the originals don't worry about making preservation quality digital objects. Surfacing ignored collections can justify their preservation. And...yes...if we need to, we can go back and digitize materials again.

Roy noted that hand-crafted digitization presentations are largely ignored and urged us to forget "special projects."

Roy said that we should digitize everything. Institutions selected the materials for the collections when they brought them in-house, so don't go through another selection process.

In talking about digitizing everything, he mentioned these strategies:
  • Capture materials as they are accessioned
  • Capture on demand
  • Capture "signposts" and devote more attention as warranted
Of course, one of the bottlenecks is describing the materials and here Roy suggested that we minimally describe materials, so we can get them online more quickly. He also suggested that we use tools that will allow our users to add descriptions. He mentioned a test of this idea that was done by

In the battle between quality and quantity, Ry believes that quantity wins. To him, the perfect has been the enemy of the possible.

Roy said that standards are over-rated. Instead of using best practices and blessed guidelines all the time, use them when necessary. Generally you adhere to standards when you are aiming for interoperability. He specifically mentioned the use of cross-walks when you need your metadata to conform to a standard. (If your metadata doesn't conform normally to a standard, that's okay if it meets your needs.)

Roy talked a lot about placing stuff where it can be found (e.g., Flickr and Wikipedia). Place materials -- or pointers to your materials -- in places that will come up in an Internet search. If someone enters a search and it retrieves your materials, then the user has found it in "two clicks". If the search retrieves a site that points to you, then the user will find your site in "three clicks". The goal is two clicks, but three is okay.

Over dinner on Monday night, Roy told me that his emphasis was going to be on access, so I wouldn't be surprised. Actually I enjoyed the insights that he gave (some of which I have captured here) and the idea of "just doing it". It would have been interesting if we could have intertwined our presentations, because I think there were areas unmentioned where we would have been on the same track. And even though I do talk about following guidelines, best practices, etc., I also tell people that if you're going to do something different, understand why (and the implications), and document your decision.

I agree that we don't have enough digitized materials online. I hope that institutions will think about the implications of digitizing faster, so that they understand the decision. I would encourage institutions to make knowledgeable decisions and be ready to live with them. I would hope that institutions would still learn how to do high-quality digitization and recognize when they still need to produce that type of quality.

By the way, I had two hours in the afternoon to do a mini-version of my digitization workshop. I talked about the four S's:
  • Scope
  • Selection
  • "Scanning" (Conversion)
  • Sustainability
Two hours was just enough time to hit the highlights, given them things to think about, and give them topics to discuss with others (including their managers). In fact, I received a nice thank-you from someone because I mentioned taking specific ideas, etc., to management.

The photo at the top of this blog post is of Roy demonstrating that we all have the technology to digitize. He used an inexpensive digital camera to capture an image of a magazine page. And while you may say "that's not good enough quality", let's be honest. Many of us read information that is captured in JPEG files all the time. We photograph signage, documentation, etc. and the read it later. Yes, OCR is useful, but not always necessary (we've proven that).

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