Toolkit

Practical tools for volunteers and staff in small to medium GLAM organisations in Australia that are collecting digital items, undertaking digitisation, and providing online access to their collections.

1. Plan

Things your organisation should decide on before embarking on a collection digitisation project.

Who is this toolkit for?

This toolkit has been created for volunteers and staff in small- to medium-size organisations who are undertaking the task of digitising collections and providing digital access to their collections via the internet. The collections may include art works, paper-based materials (works on paper, archives, newspapers), photographs, objects, born digital material, scientific material, flora and fauna, and anything else held in our collections.

This toolkit is for anyone who:

  • is experienced with collections digitisation and looking for more information
  • has digitised and shared image and photographic collections online, but now wants to know about digitising the objects in their collection
  • has their collection documented in an electronic database, but has not digitised images of their collection, and wants to know how to take the next step
  • has a largely uncatalogued collection and wants to take the first step in cataloguing and digitising their collection and sharing it online
  • has the entire collection catalogued digitally and wants to share the collection online and provide digital access to the community.

Why are organisations digitising their collections and sharing them online?

Digitisation is the process of changing an item from existing in analogue format to also existing in a digital format. The scan, digital photo or audio/visual file created from the item, becomes the digitised version of the actual item, which can be stored and shared electronically.

Providing digital access and making collections available to the wider community means that deeper engagement with our collections is not just in the hands of GLAM sector staff and volunteers, but is expanded to the wider community. It is part of our role to ensure collections are cared for and shared with the community in ways that meet their needs. This includes being able to observe them and engage with them in the online environment.

Digital access opens our collections to those who may not be physically able to visit our organisations and collections across Australia, whether for financial, health or mobility reasons, or any other inhibitors.

Benefits include:

  • increased public access to collections
  • better understanding of our collections and what is held in them
  • connecting with communities from across the world
  • creating opportunities for collaboration
  • telling a more comprehensive story of our communities and collections
  • ensuring the future sustainability of our collections.

A significant example of collections digitisation and digital access was the digitisation and sharing online of the many thousands of records connected to the First World War. Many national and state cultural institutions from across Australia committed to ensuring that those records were digitised and that digital access was provided to the public by the centenary of the First World War. Not everyone wishing to view family records is able to visit national institutions in Canberra to see them. With the records digitised and shared online they can be viewed from anywhere in the world.

A digitised collection provides greater opportunities for sharing the story of our communities and our collections with the world. Digitised images, objects and audio/visual material help bring a story to life.  Online ‘mini exhibitions’ can be created that give visitors a taste of what your organisation has to offer. Some innovative examples are:

Getting started

Decide on your approach

Hold a meeting with your volunteers, committee members, board or staff to discuss collection digitisation and digital access and what these things mean. It is very important that all of those involved understand what the process means and are ‘on board’ with the project. There is little point undertaking a collection digitisation project within a community group if you are the only one who believes in the project and you are trying to do all the work by yourself.

Your organisation may decide to just ‘dip your toe in the water’ when it comes to collection digitisation.  This could involve only digitising and sharing a handful of key significant items from the collection, to see how it goes.

Do your research

There is no one-size-fits-all with collections digitisation and sharing, so look around at what others are doing and see where you can get help to set you on your path.

  • Look at what other GLAM organisations are doing, not just the organisations like yours. Useful information can also come from organisations outside your state.
  • Do web searches on topics you are dealing with, such as ‘How to photograph a painting’ or ‘How to photograph an object’. There are also many video clips on these types of topics that can help you.
  • If a collection management system is required, ask around to see who is using which systems, and what they like and don’t like about the system they are using. If there is an organisation close by, pay a visit to see how their system is working and if it would work for you. Be sure to get advice on a range of options, rather than going with the first thing you see. Some collections management systems allow the option of sharing collection straight to the internet and, even though it is not mandatory, it is worth exploring this option.
  • Contact your state or national GLAM support agency for advice and support (see Useful contacts).

See what others are doing

Take a look around your area for those who may have already undertaken a digitisation project and provided digital access to their collection. Or look for similar organisations to yours that have done it. Consider:

  • What advice, tips or pointers can they give to get you started on collection digitisation and sharing?
  • Are there websites with good advice they can direct you to?
  • Is there someone at your local council you can ask for advice or assistance with digitisation?
  • Is there someone local with equipment such as scanners and cameras that you can borrow whilst you get started with digitisation?
  • Is there someone at a local gallery, library, archive (such as a university archive) or museum that you can contact to seek advice and direction on collection digitisation?
  • It may be worthwhile to look beyond your own sector and see who outside could help. Is there a local education facility that has students that could help? These could be computer or photography students who need to develop a project.
  • Consider applying for grant project funding to undertake collections digitisation projects with other local organisations. Discuss how you can work together, to digitise your collections. Also consider getting your local council involved in the project. 
  • Collaborating with other organisations can bring great benefits as you pool your resources, funds and expertise leading to a shared result. Below are links to virtual museum websites where the creators have worked together as a collaboration to develop virtual museums using their digitised collections. For example:
    • Our Rivers Our History was created with a group of museums in collaboration with their local arts officer and local tourism staff on the mid-north coast of NSW
    • Wollongong Heritage and Stories was created using objects from 12 GLAM organisations on the south coast of NSW
    • Carnamah Museum in Western Australia has been working with its digitised collection to share stories online.

Once you have gathered all of the information you need, you will be ready to make a digital access plan.

Useful contacts

State and federal support agencies for the GLAM sector

Arts NT
Arts South Australia
Arts Tasmania Roving Curator Program
Australian Library and Information Association
Australian Society of Archivists
History NT
History SA
Museums Galleries Australia
Museums Australia Victoria
Museums and Galleries NSW
Museums and Galleries Queensland
Public Galleries Association of Victoria
Regional Galleries Queensland
Western Australian Museum Development Program

State and national cultural institutions

National organisations

Federation of Australian Historical Societies
Museum of Australian Democracy
National Archives of Australia
National Film and Sound Archives
National Gallery of Australia
National Library of Australia
National Museum of Australia
National Portrait Gallery
National Trust of Australia
NETS (National Exhibitions Touring Support) Australia
Oral History Australia
Public Libraries Australia
Royal Australian Historical Society


Australian Capital Territory

Canberra Museum and Gallery
Libraries ACT


New South Wales

Art Gallery of NSW
Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences NSW
State Library of NSW
State Records NSW and archivesoutside.records.nsw.gov.au


Northern Territory

Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory
Northern territory Archives Service
Northern Territory Library


Queensland

State Library of Queensland
Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art
Queensland State Archives
Queensland Museum


South Australia

Art Gallery of South Australia
South Australian Museum
State Library of South Australia
State Records of South Australia


Tasmania

LINC Tasmania
Tasmanian Archives and Heritage
Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery


Victoria

Museum Victoria
National Gallery of Victoria
Public Records Office Victoria
State Library Victoria


Western Australia

Art Gallery of Western Australia
Art On The Move
State Library of Western Australia
State Records Office of Western Australia
Western Australian Museum

2. Prepare

Writing a digital access plan, sourcing software and equipment and other pre-digitisation considerations.

Create a digital access plan

A digital access plan sets out details such as: what will be digitised, the resources and equipment needed, and how it will be made accessible to the public.

A digital access plan does not have to be about the whole collection. If you are going to dip your toe in the water with collections digitisation, choose a small section of the collection to highlight. Alternatively, use significance to help determine which are the most significant items in the collection; these can then become the priority for digitisation and digital access.

When you are ready to write the plan, hold a team meeting and consider the following:

  • Why are you digitising your collection? Clarify why the organisation is doing this work and what you hope to gain from it.
  • What will you digitise? Will you choose a section of the collection to digitise first, such as the most significant items, or a collection such as photographs or machinery? Or break the overall collection into smaller pieces and choose one section to work on, so that the task doesn’t seem so overwhelming.
  • Who will be involved? Consider who will be involved and write down their role. This should include a photographer, collections manager, data entry, website coordinator, etc.
  • What equipment will you need to do the work? For the digital access plan consider scanners, cameras, lights for photography (or a photo tent set up), collections management software, an account with an online collection sharing platform, and other cataloguing equipment such as pencils, tape measure, and so on. See Equipment and software.
  • What do you already have? Do you already have a scanner, or is there one you can borrow for this project?
  • Where can you go to get the information or equipment that you need? Consider:
    • contacting your state-based support agency or GLAM organisations close to you
    • the nearest office equipment store to purchase the equipment you need – would they make a donation or discount to your organisation?
    • is there anyone at council who can help? Does council have any equipment they can lend you?
  • How will it be done? What software will you use for the collections digitisation? Will you need a grant to purchase equipment or the software you wish to use?
  • How will you provide digital access to your collection? Will the collection be shared online, on a collection sharing website, or on your own website?
  • Are you going to use the digitised collection to make social media posts? Are you going to sell digitised versions of your 2D collection, such as photographs or artworks?
  • When are you going to do this? Write down a timeline for the project that includes a start date. If this is ongoing work, which it is for most organisations, try to set goals for how much you will have done. The amount of time it takes to digitise an item will become clearer to you, once you have done a few and become familiar with the process.
  • Where will it happen? Where will the scanner and photographic space be set up? If there is data entry to be done, does this need to be done at the organisations site, or can it be done remotely by volunteers in their homes?
  • Where will you store all the digital data that will be produced by the collections digitisation process? Storing image files takes up a lot of space on your computer. It is worthwhile to plan ahead for where the data will be stored. External hard drives are a good solution to providing more space for the collection and providing a back-up.

When these have been discussed, write down who will do the tasks required. That way, everyone will know who is responsible for which part of the project. Use the template below to help you get started.

File Digital Access Plan template

Equipment and software

There is a wide range of equipment and software available for use in collection digitisation. Do your research and find the ones that will work best for you.

Scanners

A scanner is used to capture an item in digital format. It is generally used for scanning flat documents, photographs, glass plate negatives, transparencies, maps, plans, etc. It is worth considering purchasing an A3-size scanner to enable scanning a wider range of items. If there are large scale objects that require scanning see if there is another local organisation that can assist with this. There may be a large scale scanner at a local library, or architect’s office, or at a local university archive.

In the Digitisation Toolkit of the State Library of Queensland, the following is recommended as the minimum capability of a scanner. Anything that exceeds these minimum standards would be suitable. Take this information to the office supply store when you are considering your scanner options.

  • Size: A4
  • Resolution: 700ppi for flat objects, and 2700ppi for slides
  • Interface: USB2

More information
Scanning and handling tips – State Records NSW
Digitisation: A simple guide for museums – UK Collection Trust

Cameras

A camera is used for photographing objects in the collection. This is everything that can be photographed from a chair, to a framed artwork to a tractor.

There are online videos and websites that provide useful information on how to photograph objects and artworks, especially those held within frames and with glass that may be proving difficult to photograph.

In the Digitisation Toolkit of the State Library of Queensland, the following is recommended as the minimum capability of a camera. Anything that exceeds these minimum standards would be suitable.

  • Type: DSLR
  • Resolution: 24 mega pixels
  • Sensor: DX
  • Lens: 50mm.

When making a purchase, talk to the sales staff about the capabilities of the camera you are looking at, to ensure it will achieve your aims.

Other photography equipment:

  • tripod – a tripod is essential for keeping the camera very still when taking photographs of objects and will provide better quality photographs.
  • lighting – to provide adequate lighting for photography it is advisable to have two lights set 45 degrees either side of the object to provide an even level of light.  These needn’t be expensive and do not need to be professional photographic lights.  Lights can be purchased from places such as hardware stores or you can use two desk lamps. It is best if they are on stands that can be moved around.  Use white or daylight globes.  There is more information about photographing objects in this video from Museums Australia Victoria.
  • backdrop – a backdrop can be a large white sheet or large white piece of cardboard. A length of white fabric attached to a cardboard roll, such as those used when purchasing fabric, is very handy as it can be rolled up and put away when not in use.

Alternatively, purchase a photographic set up that comes with lighting to photograph the small to medium sized objects in your collection. An internet search of ‘shooting tables photography’ or ‘tent cubes photography’ will lead you to suppliers of this kind of equipment. Set ups can be purchased for under $300.

Computer hardware

You will need a computer to view and store the digital assets that are created. It will also be required for cataloguing the collection.

Files of digitised material can take up a lot of space in your computer’s hard drive, so consider purchasing an external hard drive. These small devices hold a lot of information that can only be viewed when connected to a computer. They are available from office supply stores.

Audio visual equipment

Audio and audio/visual digitisation requires a range of specialist equipment in order to transfer old taped recordings into digital format. Because of this, it is a task best done by professionals. See the section about 'audio or audio/visual items' in Methods of digitisation for more information.

Back-up systems

External hard drives can be used as a back-up for the digital data creating through the collections digitisation process. Data may also be stored in cloud-based storage. Whichever method is chosen, be sure to back up regularly and often.

Collections management systems

Most organisations are using a collections management system to manage their collections. The digitised images are attached to the item record in the collections management system for easy identification. For more information about using a collections management system see Museums and Galleries NSW’s fact sheets on Collection Management Systems and Computer Cataloguing Databases.

Copyright

Copyright is a legal right that gives copyright owners the right to control certain activities with their works. These activities include copying and re-use, such as publication, adaptation and communicating the work to the public (for example, by making it available online). If a work is in copyright you may need to seek the permission of the copyright owner.

The duration of copyright in published materials is generally 70 years from the death of the creator, or (for sound recordings and films) from the date of publication. For unpublished materials the duration may be even longer.

Before making a digital copy of a work or item publicly available you should:

  • determine whether a copyright permission is necessary
  • get permission, if it is required
  • adhere to moral rights, such as crediting the works’ creator.

Australian copyright law is set out in the Copyright Act 1968 (Commonwealth).

Public domain works

Public domain works are commonly defined as works that are ‘out of copyright’ because the duration of copyright has expired.

Making digital copies of public domain works that are freely available for personal, research or study purposes provides greater opportunities for innovation, engagement, creativity and deeper understanding of collections. Usage should respect any creator and/or community moral rights and acknowledge the collection from which the work has been sourced.

Creative Commons

Some copyright owners choose to make their work available under a Creative Commons license which – depending on the type of license chosen – allow their works to be shared, adapted and reused. It is suggested that GLAM organisations set a policy that anything created from their collection be made available under a Creative Commons license. Where other copyright restrictions do not impede it, this should be the copyright form of choice for cultural institutions.

Creative Commons Australia has published a Creative Commons + GLAM resource kit.

More information

The Australian Libraries Copyright Committee and Australian Copyright Council have a range of user-friendly fact sheets on various aspects of copyright, including information specifically for cultural institutions.

Working with Indigenous collection items

Some collecting organisations have material culture connected to Indigenous communities in their collections. Those considering displaying these items, digitising, or sharing these collection items on the internet, should consult with the Elders within their local Indigenous community first.

There are significant protocols around Indigenous materials that have important meanings to their communities. These protocols vary from place to place and community to community. The protocols not only ensure appropriate interaction with the materials but also protect Indigenous intellectual and cultural property rights. There may be considerations around which gender may observe or handle an object, whether it can be photographed or not, and whether a scanned photograph should be shared on the internet.

To determine the best course of action, consult with the Elders in your local Indigenous community. Chat with your contacts in the community to see if someone you know could assist you in making contact. Consider whether there is someone at the local council, a local Land Council, the library or other local GLAM organisation such as a gallery, who can help connect you with the appropriate people. You could also consult with staff of Indigenous units of your state cultural institutions.

For general advice about managing Indigenous materials in collections, including their preservation and description contact the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies reference desk or email collectionenquiry@aiatsis.gov.au.

More information

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Protocols for Libraries, Archives and Information Services – ATSILIRN

Working with Community: Guidelines for collaborative practice between libraries and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities – National and State Libraries Australasia

3. Digitise

The process of digitising items, saving them correctly, applying metadata and managing digital assets.

The Golden Rule: Do it once and do it right

It is important to note that when digitising an item – be it a sheet of paper, a book, a horse saddle, a shoe, a painting or a vehicle – your aim should always be to do it once and do it right.

Digitising requires handling the item and can be a time consuming process that will take volunteers and staff away from other tasks in the organisation. It is important to get it right the first time so that it doesn’t have to be done again. Gather as much information as possible before purchasing equipment or taking your first scan or photograph.

Once an item has been ‘captured’ digitally, copies can be made and used in whatever format is required. It is highly recommended throughout the GLAM sector to save digital image files as TIFF files. The resolution should be as high as possible and uncompressed. This initial image capture becomes the Master File for that item.

Methods of digitisation

Different methods are used to digitise paper-based materials, three-dimensional objects and audio/visual materials.

Photographs, documents or other paper-based materials

A photograph, document or other paper based-item is digitised when it is scanned and a version saved in a digital format. Holding a digital version of a photograph allows a number of digital uses, such as:

  • linking the image to its catalogued record in the collections database
  • sharing the image on social media or on collection sharing platforms
  • selling digital prints of the image.

As an example, after scanning a photograph from 1887, the original can be stored safely in appropriate conditions, protecting the photo from excessive handling and potential damage. The digital version captures the photograph as it appears now, with little further deterioration. This means that those who view the digital version in in the future will be able to see the photo as it exists today, even if the original has suffered deterioration.

Some paper-based items are too fragile to withstand the scanning process. These are treated as objects and photographed instead.

See also:

Objects

Three-dimensional objects are digitised when they are photographed using a digital camera. The original object can then be viewed in digital format without having to be handled. An example is the photographing of a sculpture or painting from a gallery collection, or photographing an object from a museum collection, such as a dress, a tractor or an insect specimen.

Some two-dimensional items may also be photographed rather than scanned. These include artworks such as watercolours and drawings, and fragile books that may not withstand the physical requirements of being scanned.

Audio or audio/visual items

Your organisation may have some audio tapes or audio/visual tapes that are still in analogue format. These may include cassette tapes of oral history interviews with members of your community from the 1980s, or video recordings of a performance piece held at a gallery in 1992. In order to be digitised, the original tapes are played through equipment linked to a computer, which will convert the content into digital code, making it readable by computers and other digital devices.

Due to the cost of this kind of digitisation, consider the significance of the material very carefully to help you prioritise what should be digitised first. What is oldest and therefore needing digitisation first? Or have you got a special exhibition coming up that you would like to include digitised recordings in? What items in the collection are at risk, and should be given priority?

This type of digitisation is best done by professionals with the required equipment. You can plan for the digitisation of this kind of material by being aware of the available grants and seeking support and funding to digitise the material. Consider other fundraising activities that you undertake such as seeking sponsorship or a crowd funding campaign. Consider collaborating with other GLAM organisations in your area, such as the local studies unit of the local library, on a project to digitise this kind of material.

If you feel that your organisation has the skills and knowledge base to undertake this work yourselves, a simple internet search will reveal sites with information on how to do this. You could also contact the National Film and Sound Archive for advice and information.

The storage and care of this kind of material is very important. The National Film and Sound Archive has extensive information on how to care for these items, to prevent rapid deterioration and destruction.

A note on ‘born digital’

Born digital material culture requires management, storage and care, just as physical items require management, storage and care. There are issues to consider such as:

  • where will the born digital material be stored – it can be stored on any digital storage device such as USB and discs, however an external hard drive will hold a lot more data
  • how will it be organised and arranged
  • keeping up with technology.

National and State Libraries Australasia has produced a useful 9-minute video on caring for born digital material. The Personal Digital Archive Toolkit has been produced for the general public, but it is also very helpful for those caring for born digital material in GLAM organisations.

Scanning and saving scanned data

Scanning is used to digitise photographs, documents and other paper-based items.

When scanning items, aim to obtain the best digital image possible with the equipment you have or can afford. If purchasing a new scanner, talk to the sales staff and make sure it will achieve your planned outcomes.

When scanning, capture the whole image. If there is writing around the side of the image, or the item is in a frame, it is generally recommended to capture these parts of the item, as they make up the story of the item. If there is information on the reverse of the item, scan that also.

There are many variables in scanning, such as resolution, pixels per inch, dots per inch, bit depth, file type and so on. These all relate to how the item is scanned and the digital format in which it is saved. The way an item is scanned and saved effects how much digital space it takes up. 

Image capture standards vary depending on what the item is. The basic standard for scanning is to scan at:

  • Resolution 600 ppi
  • 24-bit colour
  • Save as a TIFF file.

Text-based items require less resolution and may be scanned at 300 ppi. 

More information

Technical specifications – State Records NSW

Photography and saving photographic data

Photography is used to capture digital images of three-dimensional objects, and some two-dimensional items – such as watercolours and drawings, or fragile books – that may not withstand the physical requirements of being scanned.

Setting up a dedicated space for photography is very useful. It does not need to be permanent and can be temporarily set up for a photographic session and taken down again. See Equipment and software for information about equipment to consider.

If you have very large scale objects, such as vehicles or outdoor sculpture, that will not fit in your photographic space it is prudent to photograph them in situ. Once the photographic space is set up, organise the items to be photographed and have them ready for image capture. Remember object handling guidelines when handling any items in the collection. There is extensive information on how to handle objects correctly in reCollections.

There are different reasons for photographing objects, including for social media, for the collections database or for inclusion in a catalogue or other publication. When taking basic photographs for collections database or for online sharing, it is useful to include an accession or catalogue number in the photo, so that it can be easily identified and linked to the collection database. This may be in printed form on a piece of paper included in the shot, or written on a small whiteboard so that it can be changed for each item being photographed.

Capture as many sides and angles of the item as possible. Include locations such as the underside of a vase for example, as important manufacturing information can be held in those sorts of places. If it has many images painted around it, capture all sides of the object.

Once photographs have been taken, they need to be uploaded onto a computer. It is recommended that images be saved as RAW files on the camera. A RAW file is an unprocessed file that retains all information captured by the camera. It is then recommended that when digital images are uploaded to a computer, they are saved as TIFF files.

More information

Photographing collection items (video) – Museums Australia Victoria
Digitisation: a simple guide for museums (pages 6-7) – UK Collection Trust

Image capture and file formats

Image capture is the moment the physical object is turned digital, by the process of being scanned or photographed. How you capture the item and how you save the data effects the longevity and functionality of the digital asset.

Remember, the golden rule is to only do this work once and to make sure that you do it right, so that time and efforts are not wasted and the work does not need to be done again.

The National Library of Australia has image capture standards that advise on the tonal resolution (the number of bits per pixel) and spatial resolution (the number of pixels per inch) for different types of 2D materials. These standards have been developed over many years of working with collections.

Image file formats

There are various formats for saving images, but the two main ones are:

  • JPG or JPEG - Joint Photographic Experts Group. In this format the information is highly compressed and ‘unnecessary’ information is removed from the item to make it smaller and save space. This changes the digital asset slightly from the original analogue asset if it is a scanned asset, but these changes are generally not able to be seen by the eye.
  • TIFF – Tagged Image File Format. This format is uncompressed, meaning that no information has been removed from the digital asset, so it should match the original analogue item as closely as possible.

JPG and other file formats like it, are referred to as ’lossy’ because of the information that is lost when the digital asset is compressed.

TIFF files are referred to as ’lossless’, as every piece of detail about that digital asset has been retained in the scan. This is why TIFF files are considered Master Files.

Saving digital images as TIFF files is the recommend standard as it preserves as much information and data within that image, as it possibly can. JPG files may be smaller, but detail and information will be lost from the original image.

When other versions are needed, copies can be made from the Master and saved in the appropriate format for their intended use. For example, TIFF files are not suitable for use on the internet. So, when an organisation wishes to post an image of an item to social media, a JPG copy can be made from the Master File for use online. The Master File remains unchanged. Importantly, the item has been captured once and handled only once.

Data management

A catalogued collection held in a collection management system, and photographs and scans of collection items, are digital assets that require care and management

In order to manage these digital assets, concise files should be created on organisational computers for collections management purposes. Files should also be created for the storing of digital image files of the collection. A clearly defined place for digital audio and audio/visual material should also be created.

Because these are digital assets and easily copied, it is also a good idea to make copies of catalogue and digital image assets, and keep them off-site. You may even have two copies kept in two different locations to ensure their safety. Consider storing copies with places such as the local library or council.  If copies are kept off-site, ensure they are updated regularly, so that no new data is lost.

You may also consider storing your digital material in cloud-based storage systems, which are always up to date.

Metadata

Metadata is information about information. Metadata makes things searchable and therefore easier to find when they are needed. It is not just about computers and digital information. Metadata has been used in libraries since they first began to organise items and make them retrievable by users. The Dewey Decimal system is a system of metadata used to organise and retrieve books.

Digital images on a computer have metadata attached to them. Photographs will have background information about the photograph such as when the photo was taken, on which camera, the pixels, the bit depth, the dpi (dots per inch), the colour compression and so on. But it won’t tell you who is in the photo or what the photograph is of, so metadata is also the information that can be applied to the item such as title, maker, location, etc. If you have ever written down who is in a photo, when it was taken and where it was taken, you have been using metadata. You may have used it when you wrote on the back of a printed photograph, or when you organised your digital family photos on your computer.

You can set up a simple metadata system for the digital images in your collection, so that it is easy to find an image when needed. Metadata for scanned photographs in a collection can include basic information such as:

  • accession number of the item scanned (if accessioned)
  • a simple title for what the image is of
  • where it is
  • approximate date of the image.

Some organisations use a system for their metadata that includes indicators to users such as:

  • 't’ for images of the town
  • ‘p’ for images of people
  • ‘b’ for images of buildings and so on.

Keep these indicators concise so that there are not too many. A collection should be able to encapsulated in a small group of terms.

Metadata for photographs of objects in a collection can include basic information such as:

  • The accession number of the object
  • Title/name
  • Approximate date.

Some organisations use a system for their metadata that includes indicators to users such as:

  • ‘m’ for machinery
  • ‘f’ for furniture
  • ‘c’ for costume.

More information

Dublin Core International metadata standard
Metadata and Access – State Records NSW
What is metadata? (video) – EDINA Data Centre

Archiving hardcopy collection information

Once an organisation’s collection information has been digitised, what should be done with the ‘old’ analogue information? This may be a bound book or register, receipt books, a card file catalogue or an old digitised database on the computer.

This information is still important, and should be archived and retained in case it is needed for future reference.

  • Clearly mark old data (analogue or digital) as ARCHIVAL so that it doesn’t get confused with current information.
  • Create a new folder on the organisations computer and mark it as ARCHIVAL. Also, restrict access to that information so that it isn’t accidentally deleted by someone who isn’t familiar with the collection.
  • Copies can also be made onto digital storage devices and keep one off site, for safe keeping.
  • Old analogue paper based collection information can be stored in boxes, clearly marked ARCHIVAL – NOT FOR REMOVAL. It is also a good idea to mark the box with the name and contact details of the person responsible for the collection information, so that anyone who comes across it, knows who to contact.

4. Share

Providing digital access via open data platforms and enhancing your organisation’s profile with social media.

Providing digital access

Collecting organisations are providing digital access to their collections in two main ways:

  • organisational website – these include both photographic and object-based collections. Some organisations also allow users to request and/or purchase a copy of photographs via their website.
  • collection sharing platforms where organisations upload their information, or the site ‘harvests’ their ‘open data’ (openly-shared information) via the internet. Popular platforms in Australia include:

There are collection sharing platforms all over the world, such as Culture Grid and Europeana, which has over 3000 cultural institutions from across Europe contributing items from their collections to the site. The Digital Public Library of America has over 14 million items that are easily discoverable online. Private collectors are also sharing their collections through platforms such as The Collecting Bug.

Some collection management systems, such as Victorian Collections, work as both a collections management system and as a sharing platform. Sharing on social media can also be an effective way to engage interest in your organisation and its collection.

Open data and Trove

Open data is defined by The Open Data Handbook as data that can be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone – subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and sharealike.

Open data allows systems to talk to each other, to become ‘interoperable’, and this interoperability means that different sets of data can be joined together to create new services and products. An example of this is the history of Bathurst High School on Trove, created from digitised historic newspapers and photographs in the collections of the National Library, State Library NSW and Royal Australian Historical Society.

Getting your collections on Trove

Trove uses a variety of methods to obtain data from contributors, including harvesting rich metadata directly from websites, the Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH), Harvest Control List, RSS feed, Sitemap, and custom APIs (application programming interfaces).

For detailed information see the Trove technical guide and the case study Easy as ABC – a triumph of re-usable metadata.

Using the Trove API

The Trove API provides data in a machine-readable form, enabling users to create new applications, tools and interfaces. The API allows developers to search across the records for books, images, maps, video, archives, music, sound, journal articles, newspaper articles (full text) and lists and to retrieve the associated metadata.

With the API, it is possible to:

  • display results from Trove on another website
  • harvest Trove records to include in another database, or for offline analysis
  • retrieve tags or comments added to records
  • create new tools and visualisations

See the Building with Trove API overview for more information on steps to getting started.

Other ways of making your collections accessible online

There are many ways of making your collections available online using free services available on the internet. One example is the photo sharing site Flickr. Images added to Trove: Australia in Pictures on Flickr flow through to Trove itself. The images must meet certain criteria in order to be added (listed under ‘Group Rules’ at the bottom of the Flickr page).

Social media

In this age of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest, our visitors are keen for a range of ways to visit us and our collections, and they are also keen to share their views and ideas about our collections. A post about an item in the collection can gain great interest and encourage people to visit the organisation. These posts tend to be fun and offer viewers the opportunity to engage with your organisation

If you have photographs with unidentified people in them, consider using social media to allow the community to help you with identification. ‘Crowdsourcing’ helps an organisation to build a more complete picture of their collections and history of their communities. Social media posts often generate great interest with people identifying who might be in images, but also sharing their stories of events from history that happened in the community.

Guides to getting started

Getting started with Twitter
Getting started with Facebook
Getting started on Instagram
Using social media to promote your digital collections