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Selection and preparation

Selecting material for digitisation

Make a list of collections or items that are a priority for digitisation. There are several things to think about:

  • It is a good idea to only digitise items that have already been catalogued. You will be able to match up an item's catalogue entry with its digital copy. It will also mean you have information about a digitised image.
  • If you are borrowing a collection to digitise before returning it to its owner, make sure there is a digital catalogue structure in place for this material so that it will be easily accessible - in the same way as a physical collection. See our cataloguing guide.
  • Prioritise material that is unique to your archive and is not available elsewhere. For example, it may not be necessary to digitise copies of trade directories.
  • Focus particularly on items that are frequently requested by researchers, and those in a poor or vulnerable condition. These will benefit most from being digitised, by providing researchers with access copies and reducing wear and tear on originals.


Next, prepare a step-by-step process for digitisation. Write down the steps needed to capture, save and manage digital copies to ensure consistency, now and in the future. Keep steps simple and easy to follow, eg:

  • Prepare a space for digitisation
  • Prepare the item for digitisation
  • Check the correct camera settings
  • Photograph the item, transfer the files from the camera to the computer, rename them and save them in your file structure
  • Store the files in folders in the cloud storage system or on more than one hard drive
  • Delete files from the camera's memory card

If you can, test your digitisation procedures on a small collection or part of a collection. It's also helpful to start with easier items, such as photographs or leaflets, rather than large volumes or posters. Doing a test run gives you the chance to fine-tune the steps in your working procedures and to sort out any problems.

Which digitisation method should you use?

The easiest form of digitisation is to take a digital photograph of an item. Scanning is another common option but we recommend that community archives use overhead digital cameras rather than scanners where possible.

Cameras are:

  • More versatile because they can be used to digitise both 2D and 3D material such as photographs and artefacts
  • More forgiving and adaptable, particularly when digitising bulkier items such as books or deeds. Placing bound volumes on a scanner is bad for the bindings. It can also damage seals on deeds.

We recommend you use a good quality camera, such as a Digital Single-Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera. This will capture the detail in the items in the best possible quality.

Preparing a space for digitisation

Once you have selected items from a collection, prepare your digitisation space.


Take care when handling the material:

  • Be aware of staples and of existing tears and creases
  • Make sure your hands are clean and dry
  • Use gloves when handling photographs, slides and transparencies
  • Place the item gently on a flat, clean surface
  • Place fragile items on a book cushion
  • Weigh down rolled items (such as maps and posters) with soft weights

See the handling techniques section of our Preservation guide for further details.

Camera stability

Use a digital camera with a tripod or copy stand if you can. This will keep the camera stable and make sure every item is photographed at the same angle. Ideally, the camera should be placed directly over the item, facing straight down. Make sure you can see every part of the item through the camera viewfinder - unless you are photographing a large item that takes more than one photograph. You can use software to 'stitch' these photographs together and make a photograph of the whole item. Check the Norfolk Archive Network for examples of stitching software.


Make sure light is evenly spread across the document. Think about buying a lighting kit as part of your digitisation equipment. If there is bright sunlight outside, close a curtain or blind slightly to soften the light. Expose the item to light for the shortest possible time.

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