When your archives are digitized, they can be used in new and innovative ways that you may not have thought of before.
Our history as humankind began as an analog process. Most art, documents, painting and written materials before this century remain analog. However, in the last 25 years, the potential of digitization has developed, connecting the past with the future, well anchored in present needs.
Digitization has done archival practices much differently than they used to be, giving both archivists and preservation technologies a major role in this process. Some theories of the archive emphasize both its ubiquity and its algorithmic post-humanism.
Why do archivists digitize records?
Archivists have to preserve not only old artifacts but also ensure they are accessible worldwide. They must consider preservation technologies, digital archives, and how their collections will be held. Digitization saves information, getting an excellent approximation of a dimension of the record, but it isn't the record itself.
Digitizing is a way to make documents and records accessible to the public. They can be consulted at a distance and available in multiple locations with less physical handling. Furthermore, the digitization of archives can help save space and money.
The digitization process has accelerated after the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing people to share and access information more efficiently than before. An innovative approach to the digitization of archives can promote institutional resilience in times of dynamic cultural, social and economic changes. In addition, large economic potential is linked to digitization.
Reasons to digitize
When your archives are digitized, they can be used in new and innovative ways that you may not have thought of before. Let's consider some reasons for data digitization:
- To preserve fragile and high-use materials
- To enable re-use in new contexts
- To allow full-text searching
- To regroup scattered collections
- To give access to material that may not be physically accessible
- To promote collections
- To facilitate collaboration
To preserve fragile and high-use materials
Digitizing materials is not simple and requires expertise to find the perfect solution to the preservation and access equation. Sometimes, a digitization process is the best way to preserve fragile documents, provide access to materials without damaging them, and make them available to be consulted regularly.
Documents that often require consultation -such as parish registers- can benefit from data digitization too. In these cases, digital surrogates could be printed or digitized, so they can be used in place of the original document when damaged or fragile.
To enable re-use in new contexts
Let's say you have a collection of photographs. By digitizing them, you can make them available for publication. Maybe historians and researchers might be interested in studying them. Or, you could use them in a digital exhibit on your website or social media platforms.
Digitizing archival materials bring order and permit to search across the entire collection. Sometimes, the digitization process could even open up an unexpected revenue stream for the archive.
To allow full text searching
For anyone who has used a search engine, it is clear that the ability to search for keywords or phrases is invaluable. This ability can also be a critical tool for researchers and students.
The digitization process sometimes uses an OCR technology - Optical Character Recognition- that makes text searchable. Usually, this is best for published items, like historical books, newspapers, and scientific papers. In these cases, data digitization makes the text more accessible than the physical copy, enabling researchers to analyze it with techniques such as text mining.
To regroup scattered collections
In an ideal situation, an institution holds together all the documents related to a case, family, individual, or another organization. But, in reality, this usually is not the case. Correspondence with various receivers and senders, as well as emigration, family break-up, or business acquisition, are some causes of scatter.
Digitizing archival materials is one excellent solution to bring these archives all in one place and create more research environments and more opportunities that you couldn't have with the physical documents.
To give access to material that may not be physically accessible
The digitization process can provide access to material that may not be physically accessible such as rare books or old documents. It also enables people to access community archives and records that were previously inaccessible because they were too remote or too expensive to procure.
It is logical if a community, a family, or an institution wants to keep close a vital part of their identity -such as their archives-. But thinking about bringing access, data digitization is something we can do to ensure the availability of these files. So it is not just about getting the material online but also about making sure it is available for whom may need it.
To promote collections
Today, most researchers work almost totally online. Archivists are aware of that, helping find and provide information much faster. They can digitize some highlights of their collection to promote them online, hoping this will attract researchers looking to conduct their research.
To facilitate collaboration
The digitization process can be a collaborative strategy by itself, bringing together an ongoing effort that involves diverse factors. It connects researchers with the resources they need to make their work more efficient. This way, digitizing archival materials can be seen as an interdisciplinary approach.
Furthermore, researchers from different fields can work collectively on this process to improve it. Working together towards a common goal becomes much easier when everyone is on the same page.
So, consider digitizing your archives if you're looking for ways to make them more accessible and valuable. It's a great way to ensure they'll be preserved and used for years.
Ready to get started with digitization? You'll need an efficient, high-quality digital archiving system like the Navigating.Art platform.
To learn more about how our software can help you, you can simply request a free demo online.
 ‘Place a book and walk away’: archival digitization as a socio-technical practice. Ringel, Sharon; Ribak, Rivka, 2021
 Twenty-five years of digitization: Ten insights into how to play it right. McKinsey Global Institute, 2019