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How to Determine the Feasibility of Digital Archives Projects

Posted by Margot Note on 5/7/2018
Margot Note
How to Determine the Feasibility of Digital Archives Projects

Over the years, I have directed or have been a subject matter expert on a number of projects using born-digital and digitized cultural heritage materials. With each new experience, I have gathered a series of questions, an aide-mémoire, to be explored before commencing a digital initiative.

Asking these questions during the project planning phase will save an incredible amount of time, money, and resources later on. The project team, its sponsor, and stakeholders should be in agreement about these elements before the project begins. You will be amazed at how simply considering these questions as you formulate your project will provide you with the foresight to accept new opportunities and minimize the challenges that come with visionary archival projects.

Macro Level Planning

  • What are the short-term benefits of the project?
  • What are the project’s strategic benefits in the long-term?
  • What are desired outcomes of the project?
  • What is the project workflow?
  • What are the critical milestones or deadlines?

Staffing Considerations

  • Does the institution have the expertise and resources to plan and implement the project?
  • What skills, experience, or training will be required?
  • Who will oversee the project?
  • What institutional support and leadership can be expected?
  • How will this project affect staff roles and service at the institution?
  • Is there appropriate staff to support the growing size and scope of the collections and access to these items by users?
  • Who will be responsible for each stage of the project?

Audience Needs

  • Who is the intended audience for this project?
  • Are they specialists, generalists, or both?
  • What are the needs of the users, and how can they be best served?
  • What will this project enable them to do that is not possible now?

Technology Considerations

  • Is there sufficient technical infrastructure to create and manage digital projects?
  • What hardware and software is required for this project?
  • Are there sufficient storage facilities to meet the needs of the project?

Funding Specifics

  • Who will be responsible for fundraising and grant writing?
  • What are the funding sources?
  • Who will manage budgets?
  • What parts of the project will funding support?
  • Are the costs of the project in line with its anticipated value?
  • What will it cost to maintain access to the project into the future?

Item Selection

  • Do the items reflect the institutional mission and collections policies?
  • What is the intellectual value of such a collection and their informational content?
  • What are the items that are most valuable for teaching and scholarship?
  • What items or collections are used most frequently, and how are they used?
  • What items or collections are unique to the institution?
  • Do the items have sufficient intrinsic value to ensure interest in their digital surrogates?
  • Will digitization significantly enhance access or increase use of the items?
  • How much of the collection is well documented?
  • What items are of highest monetary value?
  • What items are judged to be at highest risk and why?
  • Are there any restricted or sensitive items or collections to be excluded?
  • If you are digitizing images, are they well captioned?
  • Will the proposed scanning technique be able to capture the appearance of the item accurately?
  • Will disparate collections be unified?
  • Are the items duplicated well elsewhere?
  • Do the materials selected represent the collection’s strengths?
  • Is there a danger of over- or under-representing specific themes?

Physical Characteristics

  • How many items have to be digitized?
  • What are the formats of the collection?
  • What is the physical condition of the items?
  • How do the originals need to be handled during scanning to prevent damage?
  • Will the items be able to withstand handling during the scanning process?
  • What size are the items?
  • Are they oversized?

Intellectual Property Rights

  • Who will be responsible for determining the copyright status the items?
  • Who owns the rights to the items?
  • Are they in the public domain?
  • If not, can permissions be secured?
  • Are there legal or cultural considerations to be addressed?
  • Are the items free from donor restrictions that would prevent them from being digitized or publicly accessed?


  • Will the items be conserved before being scanned?
  • Will it be necessary to clean the items before scanning?
  • Will items need to be encapsulated or de-encapsulated before scanning?
  • Will items need to be transported before digitization?

Digitization Strategy

  • Will the digitizing take place in-house or through a vendor?
  • What are the resolutions and bit depths needed?
  • Will the files be compressed?
  • Should the items be faithful reproductions or optimized for presentation?
  • How will copies of the items be stored?
  • Are there specific image guidelines specified by the funding source?
  • How will master and derivative files be created?

Description Requirements

  • What type of description already exists for the collection?
  • At what level will the metadata be: item, collection, or both?
  • Is there sufficient metadata available to match user needs and project aims?
  • What metadata scheme will be used?
  • If there are several versions of an original, which version will be cataloged?
  • Is it possible to create metadata that satisfies both general and specialized users?
  • What level of granularity will most likely benefit users?
  • Are there other fields necessary as access points that might be of interest to users?
  • Will extensive research time be required to record even the minimal metadata requirements?
  • Is there enough information readily available about the items to provide a useful context to potential audiences?

Quality Assessment

  • Is digitization complete?
  • Are items missing?
  • Have the file naming conventions been adhered to?
  • Are the files named for the correct original items?
  • Have the items been captured in the correct mode (color or grayscale)?
  • Are the items in the correct format and, if appropriate, are compression rates correct?
  • Are the resolutions and bit depths correct?
  • Are the tonal values and color balances correct?
  • Are the brightness and contrast settings correct?
  • Is there noticeable interference, noise, or artifacts?
  • Does the item accurately represent the qualities of the original?
  • Have the significant details been successfully reproduced?
  • Have the items been checked on a variety of monitors?
  • If printing is required, have the items been output to a variety of printers?

Evaluation and Measurement

  • How will evaluation of the digital resources be undertaken?
  • What measures exist to demonstrate the project has succeeded?
  • How will user perceptions and expectations of the project be addressed?

Access and Discovery

  • Will the items be linked to existing systems, or will it be necessary to develop a new access method for the items?
  • At what level will access be provided: item, collection, or both?
  • Will the items be accessible and deliverable online?
  • How will users locate the collections, items within the collections, and relevant subsets of the items?
  • How will items be viewed?
  • One at a time or several together to facilitate comparisons?
  • Will zooming in to see details be required?
  • Will access be appropriately controlled?

Outreach and Collaboration

  • Will the project have a collaborative component?
  • Is the collaboration local, national, or international?
  • Is there a community outreach component?
  • What will the instruction and end-user support be?


  • How and where will the archival items be stored?
  • What kind of backup mechanisms are in place in case of hardware or software failure?
  • What are the data migration and refreshment plans?
  • Is there demonstrable long-term support in place to maintain the project and ensure its longevity in the future?

Each question you consider should give you pause. Some can be answered instantly; others need further discussion. These considerations can be used to determine if your digital project is worth pursuing.

Topics: Archives Collections Management Software, Digital Archives