That was the essence of last week's discussion question I posted to my graduate students. I often joke that we went from a word that people understood (scanning) to a word that people don't understand and often mispronounce (digitization). [Actually, I tell that joke in groups where people are having a hard time saying digitization correctly. It seems to put people at ease.] So if the word "digitization" is not instantly known, how to we tell people what it is? And given all that digitization entails, what are the most important concepts to get across before the listener's eyes glaze over?
Of course, you think I have "the answer", but I don't. I struggle with this constantly especially since many people I talk to at business events are very clueless about this area. But we do expect them to use materials that we have digitized, so it is important that even the clueless be able to understand what this is and then find digitized collections to use. So what do I say? I generally talk about taking books, photos, etc., and converting them to electronic images that can be viewed online. That, though, sounds so simple...so easy...but we know it isn't. (Digitization does require knowledge, training and special equipment.) So perhaps I should mentioned something about those areas in digitization that need to be considered, but which are not easy? For example, access and preservation are very important.
So could a simple explanation of digitization be that it is taking materials like books, photos, and ephemera and converting it to electronic form, and paying special attention to how the electronic materials are accessed and preserved for future generations?
BTW some of my students use Amazon.com in their explanations. They point to the book pages available through Amazon.com and the fact that those has to be scanned (digitized) in order to be available online. They know it isn't the best example, but evidently eyes don't glaze over immediately when they say it.