These guidelines are intended for Wisconsin libraries, archives, museums, historical societies and other Recollection Wisconsin contributing partners.
Digitizing with a purpose
Before you start a digitization project, it’s useful to take the time to consider why you want to build a digital collection. Starting with a specific goal in mind will help ensure that your project will meet your needs and the needs of your audience. Consider how your digital project will support the mission statement of your organization.
Reasons for digitizing collections might include:
- Reaching new audiences.
- Improving access to rare or unique materials.
- Protecting fragile or heavily used materials.
- Supporting research requests.
- Creating educational resources for students or teachers.
- Learning more about specific items or collections.
- Generating revenue (directly, by selling reproductions, or indirectly, by encouraging future donations).
Hardware and software
A basic consumer-grade flatbed scanner can provide good results when scanning two-dimensional items such as photographs, postcards and letters. Books, slides, negatives, and oversized items may require more specialized scanners. Photographing three-dimensional artifacts requires more equipment—a digital camera with manual aperture and shutter speed settings (preferably a digital SLR camera) as well as a tripod, lights, and a backdrop.
For any digital project, you’ll need a computer with image editing software and high-speed Internet access. You’ll also need to invest in long-term storage solutions for your digital files and data (see the Digital Preservation section on this page for more information on this issue).
Potential grant opportunities for digitization projects include:
- The federal Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, provides funding for public libraries in Wisconsin to digitize local history resources. Local historical societies and museums can participate in collaboration with their local public library.
- The Wisconsin Historical Society and the Wisconsin Council for Local History offer mini-grants of up to $700 for local historical societies. These grants are often used to purchase computers or other equipment, archival materials, or software.
- The Wisconsin Humanities Council awards mini-grants of up to $2,000 for projects that “bring together community members and humanities experts in ways that use the knowledge and methods of the humanities to enrich individuals’ lives and the civic life of communities.”
People and time–your most important resources
The biggest investment for any digital project is not a financial one—it’s the many hours staff or volunteers spend learning new skills and procedures, creating digital images and metadata, and maintaining an online collection. Be sure to document your digitization procedures so others can take up the work if a staff member or volunteer moves on. Digital projects often take longer than you expect. To stay on track, it’s helpful to set realistic goals and deadlines to work towards.
Download our Digital Project Planning Worksheet.
There is a common belief that everything worth keeping is worth digitizing, but that may not always be feasible or even desirable. Thoughtfully selecting the materials you’ll digitize will help keep your digital collection focused, manageable, and useful. Consider the question: How will making this item available online help users better understand state or local history? This does not mean the item must reflect only “important” people or events, but rather, it should come with enough information to help the user understand its historic significance and its place in your community’s history. For instance, one image of a walking stick described as belonging to a local resident named John Smith in the 1920s is likely to be of more value to users than images of a dozen walking sticks with no further information.
Types of original materials
Recollection Wisconsin welcomes a wide variety of original materials as long as they have clear connections to Wisconsin’s past. However, it can be challenging to digitize some kinds of original materials, such as large maps, books with fragile bindings, or audio recordings on cassette. If you don’t have the equipment necessary to create a high-quality digital copy of a particular item, you may need to outsource the digitization to a commercial vendor. Remember, too, that you’ll need to digitize complete items–for example, every page in a scrapbook or diary.
Photographs, slides, glass negatives, postcards, drawings, paintings, maps, blueprints, photo albums.
Hand-written documents, including journals, letters, diaries, ledgers.
Books, articles, newspaper clippings, broadsides, handbills, pamphlets, certificates, newsletters.
Three-dimensional artifacts, including sculptures, textiles, housewares, clothing, coins, tools, flags, memorabilia.
Audio and video
Oral histories, speeches, recorded music, film footage. Because these types of materials require special handling, please contact us before working with audio or video.
Not appropriate for Recollection Wisconsin
There are a few types of materials that fall outside our scope and mission. These include cemetery indexes, birth and death indexes, and card files. At this time, we are not equipped to provide training or hosting services for working with newspapers. However, we may be able to harvest existing digital collections of scanned newspapers (originals or from microfilm).
This checklist is designed to help you determine whether individual items in your collection are suitable for Recollection Wisconsin.
Yes/No This item is in the public domain or we have secured permission from the rights holder to make it available online.
Yes/No This item is rare or unique to our collection.
Yes/No This item holds a particular significance in our community.
Yes/No This item is frequently requested by our patrons/visitors.
Yes/No This item or very similar items are not found anywhere else on the Internet.
Yes/No There is enough accurate information available about the item to add useful context for our audience (for example, we know or can find out names of people, locations, dates).
Yes/No We have the appropriate equipment to create an accurate digital copy of this item (for example, item is not too large to fit on scanner), or resources available to outsource digital imaging if necessary.
Yes/No This item is in stable condition and will not be damaged by scanning or other handling.
If you answered “no” to any of these questions, the item may not be a good candidate for digitization.
Further resources for selecting materials
- “Selecting for Digitisation,” Digital New Zealand
- Digitization Guidelines, Chapter 2, “Selection,” North Carolina ECHO (Exploring Cultural Heritage Online)
“A good [digital] collection respects intellectual property rights.”–A Framework of Guidance for Building Good Digital Collections, NISO (2007)
Determining the copyright status of each item you make available online is an essential part of the materials selection process—in fact, it’s so important, we gave it its own section. Before sharing an item in your collection online, you must ensure that you have the rights to do so, or have at least done your due diligence in attempting to secure permission from the copyright owner to make it available online. Be aware that owning a physical item does not necessarily mean you hold the copyright to that item.
Some of the items in your collection may have passed into the public domain, which means that copyright protections no longer apply and the item is open to any public use. In the United States in 2015, materials in the public domain include:
- Works published before 1923.
- Works published between 1923 and 1977 without a copyright notice.
- Unpublished works whose authors died before 1945.
- Unpublished anonymous works and works made for hire produced before 1895.
A detailed reference chart, “Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States,” is maintained by Peter B. Hirtle for the Cornell Copyright Information Center.
Seeking permissions from rights holders
If an item is not in the public domain, you’ll need to secure permission from the copyright owner before making the item available online. The copyright may lie with the original photographer, artist, or author; his or her heirs; or, in the case of works for hire, with the agency that authorized the creation of the original work. Contact the rights holder to request permission to make specific items available online.
If you are unable to determine the rights holder (as in the case of anonymous works) or you are unable to locate the rights holder after a diligent search, the item may be considered an orphan work. Some libraries, archives, museums and historical societies choose to make orphan works in their collections available online.
For more information, see “Orphan Works: Statement of Best Practices,” Society of American Archivists (2009) and “Well-intentioned practice for putting digitized collections of unpublished materials online,” OCLC Research (2010)
Use of your digital content
Whether items are in the public domain or under copyright, the low-resolution digital files and accompanying metadata you make available online can be used by the general public for activities defined as Fair Use by Section 107, United States copyright law, including teaching, research, and news reporting. To obtain high-resolution copies of your digital files for use in publications or other activities, users will need to contact you directly. You may wish to have a plan in place for responding to requests for reproductions, including any fees you might charge.
For more information about Fair Use, see “Copyright and Fair Use,” Stanford University Libraries.
Sample rights statements
You’ll need to include a rights statement in the metadata for every item you make available online through Recollection Wisconsin. The following examples offer suggested language for your copyright and permissions statements, based on the copyright status of specific content.
For an item presumed to be in the public domain:
There are no known restrictions on the use of this digital resource. Contact [your institution] to purchase a high-resolution version of this image.
For an item under copyright; copyright holder has granted permission to put online:
This image has been made available with permission of the copyright holder and has been provided here for educational purposes only. Commercial use is prohibited without permission. Contact [your institution] for information regarding permissions and reproductions.
For an item in which copyright status is undetermined:
This material may be protected by copyright law. The user is responsible for all issues of copyright. Contact [your institution] for information regarding permissions and reproductions.
Creating Digital Images
Digital imaging should be done at the highest level of quality you can achieve with available resources. Your goal in scanning or photographing your collections should be to provide a faithful representation of the historical items.
Follow a “scan once” policy—do not anticipate returning to re-digitize an item. To avoid going through the imaging process more than once, the scans you create should be of sufficient quality that you’ll be able to use the digital files for all potential future needs—on the web, reprints, in publications, and even poster size.
Scanning images and texts
These instructions are intended as a general guide. Software settings terminology can vary from scanner to scanner. Additional considerations may be necessary if working with negatives, slides, tintypes, daguerreotypes, or other non-standard materials.
Our short video tutorial covers the basics of scanning historic photos. These steps are transcribed below.
1. Before Scanning
- Always keep a clean workspace, with enough space to safely accommodate the original materials.
- Clean the scanner bed (glass) to ensure it is free of dust, dirt, or other particles.
2. Preview & Pre-Sets
- Place the original item on the scanner, leaving a small amount of space between the item and the edge of the scanner glass so that none of your image gets cut off.
- Position the item as square and straight as possible.
- In your scanning software, check the following settings:
- Scan photographs in color.
- Scan manuscript items in color.
- Scan text/print items in grayscale.
- Make sure any auto settings are turned off.
- Click PREVIEW to do an initial scan of the item.
3. Scanning Settings
- If the longest side of the item is shorter than 7 inches, then scan at a resolution of 600 dpi.
- If the longest side of the item is longer than 7 inches, then scan at a resolution of 300 dpi.
- Scan text/print items at 300 dpi.
- Scan manuscript items at 300 dpi.
4. Saving & File Naming
- When scanning is complete, save the scanned image as a TIFF (.tif). This file is your high-resolution master scan that you will use for printing, providing copies to researchers, etc.
- Assign a unique file name to your scan, using only lower case letters, numbers, dashes and underscores; do not use spaces or punctuation.
- Use leading zeroes for consecutive numbering: 001, 002, 003; not 1, 2, 3.
- Examples of good file names: portrait_001.tif; madison_003.jpg
5. Image Editing
- Now that your high resolution master TIFF file is saved, you may choose to make adjustments to a secondary file using Photoshop or other software.
- Select the histogram/Levels function to adjust the highlights and shadows of your scan by moving the left and right sliders in to the edge of the graph. Do not use Auto Levels or other auto corrections.
- Sharpen the image if it appears “soft” or slightly less sharp than the original. Choose Filter – Sharpen – Unsharp Mask, then adjust the amount of sharpening to be applied. Try to avoid a look that is over-sharpened. The effect should be subtle, and result in a slightly clearer image.
- Rotate the image using the ruler tool. Make a straight line, then rotate arbitrarily.
- Crop as needed, remembering to keep a small, even border around all four sides of the image.
Further resources for digital imaging
- Personal Digital Archiving: The Basics of Scanning, The Signal, Library of Congress
- Moving Theory into Practice Digital Imaging Tutorial, Cornell University Library
- “Photography and Imaging,” Digital New Zealand
- “Photography Standards and Instructions,” Maine Memory Network
A consistent file naming system will help keep your growing digital collection organized and is essential for ensuring future access. File names should be unique, alphanumeric (letters and numbers only), lowercase, and free of spaces and punctuation. Consecutive pages or volumes should be numbered sequentially using leading zeros (e.g. 001, 002, 003; not 1, 2, 3).
The State Library of North Carolina’s four-part series of short video tutorials provides an excellent overview of file naming.
- Why is File Naming Important?
- How to Change a File Name
- What Not to Do When Naming Files
- File Naming Best Practices
The Library of Congress defines digital preservation as the active management of digital content over time to ensure ongoing access. Just like the physical items in your collection, your digital files must be carefully protected and preserved in order to ensure they will remain accessible to future users. Following good digitization practices like the ones offered here (saving files in non-proprietary formats such as TIFF, systematic file naming and structured, standardized metadata) will help ensure future access to your digital content.
Digital preservation quick tips
- Save at least two copies of each file, on different types of storage media. Your computer’s hard drive does not count as a means of long-term storage!
- Save the files in more than one physical location, e.g. off-site at a partner institution; on distributed servers with a cloud storage service provider
- Document what, where, when–keep records of which files have been stored where, any passwords needed to access, etc.
- Spot-check annually–open files to ensure DVDs are still readable, etc.
- Migrate as necessary–move to new storage media if existing format shows signs of failure or obsolescence
- “You’ve Got to Walk Before You Can Run: First Steps for Managing Born-Digital Content Received on Physical Media,” Ricky Erway, OCLC Research (2012)
- “Digital Preservation Management: Implementing Short-term Strategies for Long-term Problems,” Cornell University
- “Digital Preservation Toolkit,” Canadian Heritage Information Network
Protecting Your Physical Collections
Undertaking a digital project provides an excellent opportunity to assess the current condition of the physical items you’re digitizing and rehouse items in appropriate storage as needed. Don’t compromise collections care in order to digitize.
Quick tips for safe handling of original materials
- No food or drinks near collection items.
- No pens near collection items—pencil only.
- Wash hands regularly or wear white cotton gloves when handling original materials.
- Always have plenty of room in your workspace to accommodate the material you are working with.
- Never use collection items as a work surface.
- Do not stack different items together such as books and photos.
- Return items to their storage area at the end of the day.
Recommendations for collections storage are outside the scope of our guidelines.
Places to go for help on this issue include:
- Wisconsin Historical Society Field Services Program
- Wisconsin Archives Mentoring Service
- National Park Service Conserve-O-Grams
Adding Value With Descriptions
Adding metadata (descriptive and technical information about digital objects) is typically the most time-consuming part of any digital project, but it’s also one of the most important steps. Metadata allows users to search and sort your collection as well as learn more about individual items.
Recollection Wisconsin asks that contributing partners use a specific set of metadata elements based on Dublin Core, including eight required fields (see sample below). If you’re creating a collection hosted by the Milwaukee Public Library, we’ll provide customized metadata templates you can use to enter your data.
Sample metadata for a photograph
|Field Name||Notes||Sample Data|
|Title (REQUIRED)||A descriptive title for the item. If a title or caption has been assigned by the creator, transcribe it.||DiVall barber shop, Middleton, 1925|
|Creator||Name of photographer, author, artist, publisher, or other creator.||F. C. Bartle|
|Date||Date the item was created. If exact date is known, use format MM/DD/YYYY. If exact date unknown, provide a year range. DO NOT use ca. or c. (circa).||09/12/1925 OR 1925-1938|
|Materials||Term(s) describing original physical item.||Glass negatives|
|Subject (REQUIRED)||Subject terms or keywords describing the content of the image. Use a controlled vocabulary such as the Library of Congress Thesaurus for Graphic Materials (LCTGM).||Business enterprises; Barbershops|
|People||Provide names of people depicted in image, if known.||Ralph DiVall; Edwin T. Baltes|
|Community||Name of city or town where item was created.||Middleton|
|County||Name of county where item was created.||Dane County|
|State||Name of state where item was created.||Wisconsin|
|Description||A brief description of the image. Provide any history of the buildings, people, places or events depicted. Cite the source of the information if possible.||Ralph DiVall (left) and Edwin T. Baltes (right) shave two men seated in barber chairs. According to a family history on file at the Society, DiVall operated this barber shop from the 1920s until his retirement on July 1, 1966. The shop was located in the Odd Fellows Hall on the corner of Elmwood Avenue and Parmenter Street.|
|Collection||If item is part of an existing collection or accession group, provide the name of the collection or donor.||DiVall Family|
|Submitter (REQUIRED)||Name of submitting organization.||Middleton Area Historical Society|
|Type (REQUIRED)||Type of original material. Choose from DCMI Type Vocabulary.||Still Image|
|Format (REQUIRED)||Format of digital file. Choose from Internet Media Type vocabulary.||image/jpeg|
|Identifier||Accession number, folder number, or other local identification number.||P78-2-3|
|Date digitized (REQUIRED)||Date digital file was created.||2012-05-23|
|File name (REQUIRED)||Name of digital file, including three-letter file extension.||P78_2_3.jpg|
Our short video tutorial introduces a formula for assigning titles to historic photographs, one of the most common types of material in Recollection Wisconsin.
Further resources on metadata
- “Demystifying Metadata: Describing Digital Content,” Wisconsin Heritage Online workshop for Wisconsin Local History and Historic Preservation Conference (2011)
- “Introduction to Metadata,” Getty Research Institute (2008)
- “Introduction to TGM,” Library of Congress (1995). See especially Section II, “Indexing Images: Some Principles.”
Promoting Your Project
While your project is in progress, you might use your organization’s newsletter, website, or Facebook page to give your audience a look behind the scenes and highlight your hard work. When the project is completed, you can announce it with a press release to local media. Some organizations plan public events such as an exhibition or slideshow presentation to share their collection with the local community.
The following resources are recommended for more in-depth and advanced information on digitizing historical materials and other cultural heritage content.
- Digitization Activities: Project Planning and Management Outline (2009), Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative
- A framework of guidance for building good digital collections (2007), National Information Standards Organization
- Daniel J. Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig, Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web, Center for History and New Media, George Mason University