It's important to digitise heritage collections for several reasons.
Researchers can view digital copies of archive material without needing to handle them. They can also be used in exhibitions. This means popular items from a collection don’t become worn and damaged from over-handling or being on long-term display. You can also digitise collections to document wear and tear, so that you have a record of any conservation work that needs to be done.
Remember, digitisation is not a substitute for good preservation. The emphasis should always be on looking after the originals.
Digital images can be made available both for use by researchers and to engage new audiences from further afield. Sharing images on the internet means that many more people from anywhere in the world can access your collections. You can put images on your own website, attach them to emails, post them to social media accounts or print them in your promotional literature (copyright and data protection permitting).
Some collections only exist in digital form. For example, you may take in collections of Microsoft Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and emails. A donor may allow you to photograph their collection, take back the originals and let you keep the photographs.
Digital collections must be managed in a way that preserves their original form. For example, a printed spreadsheet won’t carry the same meaning or value as the original digital version. You won’t be able to rearrange the information in a particular order, or automatically add up a column of figures.
Digitisation can be a good way of generating income for your community archive. Archives will often provide researchers with digital reproductions for a fee. This can be for private research or for commercial use, such as publication in books and magazine articles. This is assuming this is allowed in a collection’s donation agreement.
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