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    Sean Kheraj

    Why don’t archivists digitize everything?

    Connor Pantaleo

    archivists don’t digitize everything for various reasons. These reasons have to do with various categories of criteria. examples of these criteria is are volume of the information, size and size of the documents, copying does not produce an exact replica, quality of the copy, maintenance of the digital copy. All these things go into to the preservation of a document, which require a vast amount of time and resources. Because of this archivists much pick and choose what is important enough to focus these resources on.


    2D vs 3D

    Many people think that archivists sole purpose is to digitize every single piece of information given to them. In fact that is actually not the case. At first glance we may think it is as easy as; copying everything through a scanner and saving it to a drive. However, because each document is one of a kind it needs to be manually scanned separately. This takes time, and one box of archives can take days to complete. Another reason is because certain documents are not on paper, but on cardstock, or even painted on canvas. Digitizing items like this can take away from its ‘realness’ because the public cannot visualize the thickness, depth, or smell from the original. Also just because an archivist digitizes a documents does not mean it is safe forever. Documents can suffer from ‘bit-rot’ causing them to disappear or become damaged. Regular archives have survived 100’s of years and can continue to do so.


    Although digitizing historical records can provide the advantage for people to access the resources, it is also evident that there are also possible pitfalls that archivists should be cautious to digitize every record. Firstly, the machines for scanning the records might not be able to scan the exact copy of the texts. For instance, the paper that is used originally when establishing the documents, and sometimes they are the hints in seeing the progress of histories. Secondly, capturing the contents that are not on the historical records, such as a side sticky notes. Furthermore, ensuring the quality of the scanned documents is also unpredictable that some scanner might do a better job than others in scanning the text to digital format. Maintaining the digitized records is also an important aspect in digitize everything. It is evident that there is no 100% guarantee for the technologies that keeping the digital files. Over the past few years, there were many news reports that highlight how medical records of patients in hospitals that were missing, and one of the main causes was due to technological errors. Seeing the possibilities that can happen with hospital digital records, it is also to possible reflect on the dilemmas that archivists may encounter. Moreover, the cost in using a high-quality scanner is expensive, and the maintenance of the scanners can also be expensive by taking in consideration of the usage on an everyday basis.


    As nice as it would be to digitize everything we in a collection the main reason why it is not an option is the cost and the amount of labour involved. One point in the article that I would like to draw attention to is that in order to preserve the material in a manner that will make it stay relevant for future generations very expensive scanners and technology is required which can put a severe strain on small collections who do not receive much funding. As technology improves and becomes more readily available people will have access to higher resolution screens in their home or workplace. If they try to view a file that was originally scanned in a resolution of 720p then it will look distorted if viewed at full screen on a 4k panel for example. Therefore, when documents are going through the digitization process electronic copies must be at or very near to the highest quality available at the time.


    One of the reasons why archivists do not digitize documents is do to the overall size of the images or articles being copied. The larger the document the more labour is needed in order to copy each page and digitize it. However, through this process the authenticity of the image diminishes due to the fact that someone is looking at an online copy rather then in person. The person looking at the digitized document, may not be able to clearly read the words or see the images that are being depicted. Often times when this are copied, the quality of the image weakens. If you were to zoom in on these images, they would often look blurry or pixelated. These documents were not created to be digitally copied, causing them to often look this way. These documents are also old and may be fading as well which can attribute to this. The digitization of documents is also quite costly. Digitizing technology can be expensive and is constantly changing and updating. Small collectors may have a hard time gaining access to printers or scanners that can fit the thicker pages of the documents due to the overall cost.


    A few simple examples of the complications of digitization are:

    File Format: Simply because a digital copy is made of something does not guarantee that the file format will always be easily accessible. Nor does it guarantee the file will not eventually become corrupted, or deleted/destroyed somehow.

    Physical Elements: A digital copy will sometimes not contain information such as the type of paper or ink used, markings or stains on the pages, an audio file will not contain the anecdotal notes written on the CD case, etc.

    Cost: The monetary cost of the equipment and labour needed to create digital copies. The information might be considered so niche, that it is not deemed as cost-effective to digitize.

    Quality: A scan of a document can have discolouration or a fold which cuts off information, a video can have too low resolution, etc.


    One of the most pressing issues as to why archivists do not digitize everything is because not everything it able to be digitized and made available on a designated platform. If the donor has wished that their material not be digitized until a certain time, archivists cannot do anything before that. Similarly, if something that is in the archives is not out of copyright it cannot be digitized. Another reason why archivists do not digitize everything is because it is very costly in terms of money and time. There needs to be money available to hire adequate staff who will meet the project’s deadlines and the technology used is very costly. Exceptional scanners are not cheap but are required to do the job.

    Sean Kheraj

    Wonderful responses this week. You’ve touched on many of the limitations to archival digitization projects.

    One that comes to my mind is from this week’s reading. The author noted that digitization is simply one step in a process of digitally archiving a record. The digital object itself cannot be put to use until it has been organized. A random assortment of digital images of documents would hold little meaning for the user. Metadata is one method of organizing large sets of digitized archival materials.

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