The Journey to Digitization: Free Training for Your Library

Has your library embarked on a digitization project? Or have you wanted to, but you're unsure where to even start? If so, you're not alone. During our February digitization webinar, we asked hundreds of library attendees about their experiences with digitization:

  • About 30 percent had worked on a digitization project.
  • Forty-one percent answered that they were just getting started.
  • Twenty-three percent said they had not begun any digitization projects at their library.

Digitization can be a daunting project to take on, but there are many benefits to digitizing your special collections. It can expose your library to new audiences, help you build partnerships with other organizations, and showcase your library's collections and services.

At the end of last year, the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) released a free self-guided curriculum for public libraries to get started on digitization. TechSoup for Libraries invited Franky Abbott from the DPLA to discuss the curriculum for our February webinar. We also invited Jennifer Birnel from the Montana Memory Project, who helped develop some of the training content, and Sarah Hawkins from the East Central Regional Library, who participated in the trainings.

The DPLA'S Public Library Partnership Project

The DPLA is a free, national digital library that provides access to materials from libraries, archives, and museums across the U.S. It is also a network of partners who make their content available through the DPLA website, where you can find collections from more than 1,800 institutions.

In 2013, the DPLA got funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for the Public Library Partnership Project. The goal of the project was to develop free digitization skills training for public libraries. The training was created in collaboration with libraries in Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, and Utah.

How the Curriculum Works

Digitization process

The six self-paced online curriculum modules are designed to follow the flow of the digitization process. The curriculum is designed for libraries and other organizations with no (or some or however much) experience with digitization.

  • Planning: This module discusses why you should digitize content and the resources that are required.
  • Selecting: This covers the considerations before deciding what collection to digitize, such as its uniqueness, subject matter, format, quality, and so on.
  • Copyright: This course discusses the general concept behind copyright law, how to identify content in the public domain, the permissions process, fair use, risk management, and privacy concerns.
  • Describing: This covers metadata as well as descriptive metadata. It also covers how to make metadata useful for global users, which is an interesting question.
  • Reformatting: This course teaches the actual process of taking a physical or analog item and making a copy. It also shares best practices for working with vendors or getting support from other institutions.
  • Promoting: Once you've digitized the content, how can you promote its use? This module also discusses how to track and assess this use.

Each module includes a video of the presentation, slides, and notes, and you are free to share, reuse, and adapt content for any trainings you might hold at your library.

Digitization Planning Tips from the Montana Memory Project

Jennifer Birnel from the Montana Memory Project, a project of the Montana State Library, shared her experience in developing the curriculum and some of the benefits of digitization.

"Creating an online presence takes time, but a digitization project can increase the visibility of your institution."

She stressed the importance of partnerships in the digitization process. Linking up with local historical clubs or long-standing community organizations, churches, or museums can help reveal more resources or collections. Partners also improve your reach to new audiences.

Jennifer shared five tips for getting started with digitization:

  1. Where? Decide where the content will live. Can a partner host it for you? Can you host it locally? Do you need to purchase space? Find out if there's a DPLA hub in your area or a local institute.
  2. When? Know your timeline. Work backwards from a deadline date. You may encounter problems on the way, so have extra time.
  3. How? Consider the staff and resources required. Will partners help with the work? Will you use a vendor (is the expense worth it)? Do you need to purchase equipment?
  4. Why? Be ready to explain why it is important to create digital collections to your administration and stakeholders.
  5. What? Select the items you will digitize.

A Participant's Perspective

Kids design glass

Sarah Hawkins of the East Central Regional Library (ECRL) in Cambridge, Minnesota shared her library's experience with the DPLA training. She explained how the courses turned the theoretical concepts of digitization into real practical things her library could do.

"We went in with absolutely no knowledge and came out feeling like we could tackle a digitization project — and we did!"

One of the projects the ECRL developed with the Minnesota Digital Library (MDL) was a digitized version of glass sculptures. Kids Design Glass was part of a summer reading program where kids could submit drawings for a chance to have them turned into sculptures by a local artist. The Minnesota Digital Library took images of the sculptures on a turntable so you can get a 360 view of them.

Sarah said the project strengthened the ECRL's relationship with the MDL, improved the digitization knowledge of staff, and allowed the ECRL to showcase its history and services. It also strengthened the ECRL's relationship with community organizations and introduced new partnerships. Overall, a digitization project was a winning situation for the ECRL.

You find all of the archived materials for the webinar at TechSoup, and you can learn more about the DPLA's digitization curriculum. Have you embarked on a digitization project? Tell us about the experience in the comments.