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Digitizing - Reasons

Q. Why should I digitize?

The two most frequent reasons that physical collections are digitized are to provide more widespread access to the items, and to help preserve these items by reducing their handling. Digitization can make "invisible" collections visible, even if only finding aids are digitized and not the entire collections. Beyond discovery, digitization can provide the data for new types of scholarship and analysis. Researchers can use new forms of analysis on digitized text, sounds, images, and video resulting in scholarly use not possible with analog collections. Digitization also fosters integration of related materials from multiple institutions in virtual collections.

While the idea that by creating digital surrogates to books and other physical information items, the information will be preserved in perpetuity persists, this is not true and not a reason for digitizing analog materials. Because digital objects carry with them their own preservation challenges, stewards of digital materials must grapple with these issues in addition to preserving the analog originals. The costs of preserving digitized objects must be seen in addition to, rather than a replacement of, the costs of preserving analog materials.


Take action

  • Create a strategic policy document that clearly states the your institution's reasons for conducting digitization projects.
  • Establish criteria for selecting materials to be digitized, including costs and benefits.



  • Puntoni, Pedro.  "Public Institutions Must Ensure Public Spaces on the Internet."  FLi Multimidia, 9:39, April 2010.


    Interview with historian and coordinator of the Brasiliana USP project.


  • Conway, Paul.  "Overview: Rationale for Digitization and Preservation."  Handbook for Digital Projects: A Management Tool for Preservation and Access. Andover, MA: NEDCC, 2000.  Last modified May 13, 2003. 
    This chapter provides a foundation for understanding the preservation implications of digital conversion projects. Following a brief description of the advantages and disadvantages of digital technologies, the author defines preservation in the digital context and describes how the underlying principles of traditional preservation practice relate to the creation of digital products.
  • Coyle, Karen.  "Mass Digitization of Books."  Journal of Academic Librarianship 32 no. 6 (2006): 641-645. 
    Compares mass digitization with non-mass digitization and large-scale digitization and discusses the issues involved in mass digitization.
  • Grindley, Neil.  "Saving for the Future."  Research Information (February/March 2009). 
    Describes the importance of preserving digital information and some of the major projects that are helping with this.
  • Johnson, Richard.  "In Google's Broad Wake: Taking Responsibility for Shaping the Global Digital Library."  Special issue, ARL 250 (February 2007): 1-15. 
    Analyzes the agreements for digital materials as negotiated by Google and seven other organizations.
  • Smith, Abby.  "Why Digitize?"  Council on Library and Information Resources, February 1999. 
    This paper was written in response to discussions of digitization at meetings of the National Humanities Alliance (NHA).  NHA asked the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) to evaluate the experiences of cultural institutions with digitization projects to date and to summarize what has been learned about the advantages and disadvantages of digitizing culturally significant materials. This report remains a classic statement as to why institutions should digitize materials and what issues they need to consider.
  • Tibbo, Helen R.  "On the Nature and Importance of Archiving in the Digital Age."  Advances in Computing 57 (2003): 1-67. (requires UNC Onyen for access) 
    Argues that archiving, and the preservation tools to facilitate it, must become ubiquitous if society is to preserve its memory in the digital age.


Last updated on 10/03/13, 2:17 pm by emilykader



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