Embarking on a digitisation project is an exciting and challenging process, and it is a good idea to ensure that you choose the right partners to work with! There are many specialist digitisation providers on the commercial market, with varying degrees of understanding of the specific challenges of digitising heritage material.
Always remember when choosing your partner that an honest relationship based on mutual respect and shared goals will get you through challenging times better than the most advanced technical knowledge!
Onsite, outsourced, or both?
Some digitisation partners operate in offsite digitisation facilities that are often run along much the same lines as your museum. These offer efficiency of scale, and because they can industrialise or automate elements of the digitisation process their throughput can be faster than a smaller onsite facility.
Other partners will bring the digitisation equipment to you – either by using a mobile facility or setting temporary or semi-permanent equipment in your museum or store.
Many digitisation partners will offer a combination of these approaches, varying the setup according to the nature and fragility of the items you are digitising.
If you are thinking about outsourcing your digitisation or even moving collections internally between one location and another you will obviously need to take into account risk factors and potential insurance liabilities.
An increasing number of commercial digitisation providers are entering the cultural heritage market with relatively little specialist knowledge or experience of dealing with sensitive heritage material.
Large-scale digitisation in other fields is often a question of converting physical material into digital information so that the original can be discarded. This sometimes means that the process offers very high throughput but may involve increased risk of damage to the collections or archival material.
It is always wise to discuss with any potential digitisation provider their relevant experience in the field. Look out for examples of projects involving similar kinds of material, or evidence that they understand the specific nature of your collections.
You may want to consider contacting the Association for Historical and Fine Art Photography (AHFAP) or using their Find a Photographer section to find AHFAP members that offer commercial imaging services to the cultural heritage industry in the UK.