Anderson Archival logo

5 Factors That Can Affect the Timeframe of Your Archival Project

desk calendar with flying pages

Is it finally time to kick off that digitization project you’ve been delaying for so long?

Many collectors don’t realize how much time and planning go into digitizing a box of old photo albums, let alone a collection that fills an entire room or basement. If you’re applying for funding to help your or your organization’s rainy day dream become reality, you’ll need to have some idea of the amount of time it will take to do it right.

How much time should you plan to spend digitizing before you see the end result? Or, more likely, how long should you expect your archival team to keep and analyze your collection until you have the final digitized project in your hand?

A quality archival company is well-versed in the variables that affect the time it takes to see your project through to the end. Doing it right the first time is going to take more time than a lower-quality job that will need to be re-done in a few years. Every collection has its own needs, quirks, and significance. Here are four of the most common factors that determine how long it will take to complete your digitization project.

  1. Handling and Scanning Materials

The time it takes to physically process the individual materials in your collection is an important factor to consider. The size and composition of the collection determine how the materials should be handled at every point in the process. Unless you work in-house, your collection will need to be transported to the scanning facilities (and eventually back to you).

Historical paper documents, especially those severely damaged or suffering from acid deterioration, require the gentlest touch at every step of the project.

Once in-house, a trained team carefully categorizes each document and prepares it for scanning, which may include a page-by-page examination to note any handwriting marks, rips, or smudges. This process can take hours or weeks to complete, depending on the breadth of your collection.

Scanning the materials is also a much more delicate task than one might think. Unlike an amateur photo album scanning job, professional archival scanning goes beyond slapping a document into a home/office scanner bed and calling it a day. An archivist must observe each page that feeds through the enterprise-grade scanner, taking care to prevent any wrinkles or jams before they occur and damage the original. Bound collections require specialized scanning cradles that photograph pages while preserving the binding and delicate materials that would otherwise be destroyed in a traditional scanner.

  1. Image Cleanup

Once your collection is scanned, the real digital work begins! Historical documents almost always have some sort of blemish; changes in paper quality and printing standards are to thank for that. While copies of the original image can be kept, it is useful to have working copies that can be adjusted for maximum use by the end user. In order to get the cleanest possible result—and fewer headaches during the proofing process—the newly-digitized images are combed over and cleaned in a graphic editing program.

Depending of the needs of the project, archivists can simply erase speckles or splotches that would interrupt the proofing process or perform character or full-text replacements for missing or damaged sections of text. Document age, page size, image resolution, scan quality, and level of adherence to the original material need to be considered to accurately calculate the length of time needed for this step. Not all collections need or want this step, but it’s often necessary for the longevity and use of the final product.

  1. OCR and Proofing

Optical character recognition (OCR) is an essential part of most digitization projects and  cannot be rushed. Being patient during the image cleanup steps pays off by providing cleaner images to process during OCR. Proofing relies on both human and digital eyes, a partnership that can sometimes prove time-consuming.

Older texts often use outdated language and fonts, which can confuse modern text recognition programs.

The human archivists on the other side of the screen inspect any flagged letters or symbols and compare to the original text to confirm accuracy.

With trickier collections, or those needing a character-for-character replication of the original, additional human-eye passes may be needed for precision of detail. Rare cases could require spoken or audio passes, which can add a significant chunk of time to the project duration, but also greatly enhance the quality of the end product.

  1. Tagging and Organization

Building search features into a collection is a lengthy process, but necessary for any collection that may one day be used for study or research. This is accomplished by tagging a document’s metadata during the digitization process. By marking authors, dates, and section types, users can not only search a text for exact keywords but also for these specific features.

Formatting your collection is more than the “finishing touches” it implies. You as the collector will need to reflect on what you want your end product to look like. How will you use it? How will your target audience?

Even collectors who just want digital image replications of their collection cannot ignore this step. The Library of Congress outlines the sustainability of digital formats, so you can ensure the time you’ve invested in this project won’t have to repeated in the future.

  1. Context of Collection

Okay, okay—so this isn’t really a timeframe factor as much as it is one of the proprietary values Anderson Archival infuses into every digitization project that comes through our doors.

But it is an absolutely crucial one when it comes to doing it right the first time. We’ve written before about how much time gets wasted by improper digitization strategies. Understanding the full cultural, historical, and personal context of your collection guarantees success in every step of the process.

It takes knowing everything possible about the collection to catch pages missed during the scanning or find a misprint of an author’s name during proofing. Realizing a step too late that an entire chapter of a document is missing from your copy and a replacement needs to be found could set the project back. The extra time it takes to understand your collection pay big dividends in the end.

Anderson Archival is dedicated to turning your collection into a usable digitized archive—no matter how much detail is involved. To discuss the timeframe of your next digitization project, contact us today!

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Digital preservation is about connecting to history. We do our best to bring you the important news and personal stories you’re interested in. We’re always looking for article ideas. Come learn with us!