Museums that care for historical documents have the potential for even greater impact by digitizing their collections. Once digitized, not only can the original document be kept safe from the damaging effects of over-handling, but metadata and optical character recognition (OCR) provide a way to increase the utility of the collection.
After carefully scanning a document, OCR software “reads” and transcribes the text in the scanned page, then overlays the digital text layer onto a high-quality image. This provides users of digital collections the ability to perform full text searches of the documents, making research more efficient and preventing damage to the original materials.
Similarly, metadata improves searchability through carefully curated keywords and subject matter information. It works in tandem with OCR to build the most robust search features available. Full text search of an author would bring up any works including that name. With metadata, pseudonyms or alternate spellings could also be included, so that a search for Mark Twain would also return items for Samuel Clemens. Accurate and thorough search results like this are impossible with a solely physical collection, leaving many researchers with only a partial picture of what is available to study.