DIGITIZE ALL THE THINGS!?! Selection Criteria Keep Us Sane

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I think that the discussion of selection criteria and assessing the cost-benefit relationship of what we choose to digitize is a very critical but easy to overlook.  The librarian motivation for digitization is deeply rooted in the desire to preserve and provide.  I think it’s in our professional psyche to then be drive by the overwhelming urge to DIGITIZE ALL THE THINGS, in order make all those things available to all the people, or at least our patrons (and where appropriate to preserve all of those things too).   As wonderful that scenario sounds in an idealized world, we all know that it is not physically, financially or logistically, and perhaps even technically possible.  And any attempts to try will probably makes us crazy.  We know this conceptually of course, but I can’t help but wonder that once one is the in the weeds of a project looking, sorting, sifting through the materials, how critical those selection criteria are in helping to ensure that the best, most useful, most cost-effective materials are added, that the collection remains manageable, while still accomplishing its objectives.

When selection criteria are not established, the result I can attest is a wee bit of a mess, that can be very difficult to sort out, especially when there are no written guidelines to help in assessing what is important and what is not.  I am learning about this first hand in one of my current jobs, where former employees decided to scan and digitize a large collection of materials, but provided no documentation or rational of how those materials where selected.  Some items are seemingly unrelated, while others seem to be duplicates or different versions.  Its luckily a pretty small scale project but even still, moments of insanity at trying to figure it all out have threatened to take hold.

Yet, I can relate to this desire, at least in my own personal life.  For our first assignment I shared a few of the MANY photos of or by my late grandmother I have been charged with archiving for my family.  In my desire to preserve all of the photos, and to make sure that all of my family members will have access to at least some representation to these treasures, I started scanning in an ad-hoc fashion, with out regard to content, condition, etc.  Its been slow going, and over the time I’ve been away from the project, I’ve realized that while the context and cost/benefit analysis is different for a personal collection than a library collection, the thought exercise of examining why all of the materials should be scanned or what shouldn’t be scanned, is nonetheless a worthwhile endeavor.

This week’s readings spoke outlined clearly and simply why this step in project planning for digitization is so critical.  We will have better, more manageable products for our patrons (not to mention happier co-workers or future project managers), if we establish and document clear selection guidelines.

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3 responses to “DIGITIZE ALL THE THINGS!?! Selection Criteria Keep Us Sane

  1. So, for the project that you’re working on, are you trying to put together selection criteria now? Or are you just dealing with the mess left behind? If it’s the former, are you trying to write the already selected items into the new guidelines or are you just grandfathering those items into a new scheme?
    Sorry about the questions, but it has intrigued me 🙂

  2. It is a prior digitization effort, that was basically left behind with little documentation. A portion of some archived materials were digitized, I think with the intention of digitizing the entire archive collection. It appears that the project proponents just started to digitize materials, with no assessment of what to digitize, but without clear documentation, even if they had a rational, I have no idea really what it was. I think it was a situation of we have funds/time/people/resources to digitize this stuff and digitization is a good thing because that is what our patrons tell us they want, so lets just scan everything! We have a hard drive full of documents, so, yes, I am essentially trying to go back and create a selection process of what to do with the digital files, what are worth trying to make accessible, what can we legally make accessible, and how…so, an after the fact process.

  3. really good point about sometimes having a desire to digitize anything and everything…. it seems like this desire has gotten stronger over the last 10 or so years, and that the decisions can often be made without thinking the entire thing through (cost, time, employees, etc.) in addition, not all patrons have access to digital collections and, unfortunately, I think we sometimes forget that…

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