To Digitize or Not to Digitize, That Is the Question

February 17, 2014

I am an adjunct at the University of Buffalo, and the main course I teach is Digital Libraries. We take a hands-on approach to the whole digitization process, from planning, grant processes, and procedures through the physical scanning of objects to the actual uploading and presentation of the images online. I also discuss in detail the various reasons we should or should not digitize because it also will help determine what to digitize and also what are the next steps in the process.

Many different factors contribute to deciding whether or not to create a digital repository. The condition of the items might be so bad that special handling would be required, driving up the cost. Items that never get used should not be considered unless a need for the materials becomes apparent. Priority items would be those that have heavy use and are in physical danger from that use. These will mostly be items that your local library is well known for providing, such as local histories, diaries, newspapers, and items that are held nowhere else.

Turning to CFI’s Libraries, should we look into further digitization? We have many items that are not held elsewhere or are very scarce. Because we are located in Amherst, New York, we are somewhat off “the beaten path,” and it is often easier for us to send materials electronically to scholars. We have many fragile items whose intellectual content makes them a higher priority to digitize. Of course, the primary consideration is cost, and we need to look into grants to make large-scale digitization a reality.

Since I have been teaching, we have been able to get interns to assist with many digitization projects of our materials. We have three collections located on the website, a digital repository for New York State libraries, museums, and cultural organizations, and these items are going to be included as a part of the Digital Public Library of America ( within a short period of time.

Digitization of materials solves many problems for small, special academic libraries like ours. We are in a unique position to digitize materials as well as train librarians to create and provide access to our materials here at CFI.