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Putting a Price on Peace of Mind

Budgeting for Your Archival Project
One of Anderson Archival's team members

by Marcia Spicer

No one likes to talk about cost, especially not the ones sending the bill. In the world of digitization, pricing without context can be a deciding factor for many clients, and it is understandably one of the first questions we field.   

However, digitization is much more than simply scanning a document. Here’s why pricing questions don’t always have easy answers.

Why Doesn’t Anderson Archival Offer Flat Per-Image Rates?

Many digitization companies offer per-project and per-image costs, and this kind of flat fee isn’t necessarily a bad thing! This can be a great solution for truckloads of documents with the same quality and needs, like an office going paperless.

In Anderson Archival’s perspective, it all comes down to time. The amount of time necessary to completely capture a collection without cutting corners varies significantly due to many factors. Those factors are different for every collection, with very little standardization between them. We’ve found that, due to these differences, the best cost estimate comes from a detailed review of the collection itself as well as the needs and requests of the collection owners.

What Affects the Cost of a Digitization Project?

By-Hand Processing vs. Auto-Feed

Machines and automatic processes are essential in many areas of preservation and technology, but one place they don’t belong is in the capture of historical material. Many digitization vendors have a set-it-and-forget-it approach, running stacks of loose paper through auto-feeders to save on man hours and lower the cost. Unfortunately, auto-feeders can introduce damage, miss pages, and incompletely (or incorrectly) capture the collection. On top of that, auto-feeders have the added limitation of size and type of materials they can digitize. For example, this could require permanently disbinding a book you’d prefer to keep in its original condition.

Number of Items and Number of Image Captures

Three hundred books take longer to capture than thirty. The same is true of pages. Be wary of vendors who offer a flat per-item rate with no regard to additional details. Many times, collections reach us with an underexaggerated tally of items or pages, adding to the final cost of the digitization project.

Type of Media

Collections may be all one type of media, like handwritten letters, or they may be made up of many, such as a box of family heirlooms, letters, documents, pamphlets, books, journals, photographs, and slides. The type of media helps to determine the method of image capture, and can give a clue as to how difficult it will be to capture.

Damage and Fragility

When material is on the verge of tearing or has already begun to degrade, additional care is essential when assessing and capturing an item. Photographs, thin paper, and brittle pages are common culprits that require slow and steady handling to capture accurately without causing more damage.


Sometimes metadata—the information included in a digital file or added in a library or catalog—is simple and obvious. Other times, metadata needs to be edited on an ongoing basis, requires custom fields, or sends digital archivists on an information-gathering mission to ensure items are correctly and completely tagged.

Post-Digitization Clean-Up

There are many circumstances where a digitized item should be displayed in its unaltered state, like in a museum exhibit. However, many clients look for services like complete digital restoration to remove signs of age, use, and damage for reprinting or display. This work is time consuming! Depending on the state of the original and the desired end state, hours certainly add up.


Automated optical character recognition (OCR) is just that—automated. Depending on the quality of the image capture, the font, and any obscuring qualities, this automated OCR can be anywhere from decent to significantly flawed. The differentiators in Anderson Archival’s approach lie in the human eyes reviewing the computer’s work, correcting common errors, and manually adding text to areas that the computer couldn’t read. If a collection needs hyper-accurate full text search, the scale tips towards more time.

Display, Sharing, and Consultation

Beyond providing digital files, Anderson Archival is a full-service digitization and preservation partner. We look at all your needs, whether that is rehousing the collection in archival-safe storage or finding a way to share your collection online. We want to know your needs and will work to fulfill your requests, even if it’s a service we don’t list on our website. With questions of scope, solution-seeking, and open-ended consultation, a customized bid is created for your individual collection.

What is “Doing It Right” Worth?

The answer to that question is going to vary just as much as a collection itself. My advice? Look for a firm who shares goals and values with you. Something digitized is almost always better than nothing, but beyond that check mark is a vast landscape of options to navigate with your vendor.

Ready to see if Anderson Archival’s approach is the right one for your collection? Reach out any time. We offer a free consultation.

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