Partying on a Budget: The Cost of Digital Commemoration


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  • Hi everyone, thank you for joining our session - “Partying on a Budget: The Cost of Digital Commemoration”. I’m Kelli Babcock, Digital Initiatives Librarian at the University of Toronto Libraries and formerly an archivist at UTSC Library with my colleague, Sara Allain, who is a Special Collections Librarian (archivist!) at UTSC Library in their Digital Scholarship Unit.
  • Sara and I’s interst in the cost of digitization comes from the fact that a) we were both archivists working in a digital scholarship and b) we did a presentation at the CAIS conference in Scotland in 2013 that highlighted the danger of using digitization as rhetoric to decrease funding to libraries and archives. While researching for this 2013 presentation, we came across a quote that stuck with us. The quote is from Nancy Maron and Sarah Pickle’s ARL and Ithaka report on “Appraising Our Digital Investment: the Sustainability of Digitized Special Collections in ARL Libraries”. They point out that there is a disconnect between the excitement libraries and archives have around creating digitization projects, versus the sustainability and costs associated with preserving or upkeeping old projects. This quote especially hit home with Sara and I, as at that time we were both archivists working in a library department where the sole goal was to enable digital access to collections. We had to ask ourselves whether or not we were creating cost-effective, sustainable projects. So we began to look at our work-flow and consider the most cost effective ways to complete our digitization projects.
  • So that’s what we are going to discuss with all of you today - we know that a lot of commemorative projects are happening in the digital realm. If we’re going to continue down this path, and we undoubtedly are going to continue down this path, we have to consider costs - and, for smaller institutions, look for ways to even build the capacity to create digital projects when you’re already overwhelmed with your-day-to-day work of running your archives. We’re going to share some of the tips and tricks that were and are a part of Sara and I’s work flow and we hope that some of you will find these tips useful in creating cost effective digitization projects of your own.
  • I feel that it’s likely that a lot of you already know everything that I just said about costs and digitization. It’s no surprise to you that digitization projects are expensive. But let’s just do a little survey of everyone’s practices… I’m mostly talking about private records here but, how many people budget the cost of processing a collection, from appraisal through description, before accepting a donation?
  • What about digitization - how many people budget the cost of digitization after you’ve invested resources into appraising and describing it?
  • What about this - how many people budget the cost of digitization before you’ve invested resources into appraising and describing it?

    My point is - often we go through our “regular” archives duties, like appraisal, without considering digitization. Digitization is something that comes up for a special occasion or it’s not made to be part of our entire work-flow of appraising, processing, and describing a collection. But it should be. If, more and more, we’re putting our content online, why not plan ahead and include digitization as part of the planning process? That way, we can factor in costs. And by factoring in costs, we can clearly evaluate the benefits of digitization versus the resources we invest in it. So the idea that I’m proposing to you is to move to a “digital-first” work-flow...

    See this blog post:
  • So what does a “digital-first” work-flow look like within the broad activities of how we work with collections?
  • A digital-first work flow means that you’re evaluating digitization costs at the outset of considering the donation or while conducting appraisal. You’re asking yourself “how much is this going to cost to digitize?” at the same time that you’re asking yourself what types of resources you’ll need for storing, preserving, and processing the collection.

  • It means that you’re conducting processing concurrently with digitization selection – so at the outset of planning you already have a plan for what type of content you’re going to digitize and you’re using processing time to mark objects for digitization at a later point.

  • Probably most important in my mind of how a digital-first work flow affects how we work with collections – it means that you’re creating structured data when doing your description and the finding aid. This is so, so, so important. Seriously. We cannot be creating finding aids as Word documents anymore - we have to be structuring our box lists and finding aids in either EAD, Dublin Core, or plain old HTML. Even just an Excel spreadsheet with organized headings is an improvement over Word documents.
  • Here I’ve shared a link to a spreadsheet that I created when I worked at UTSC to remind myself that I needed to assess digitization costs during the appraisal process. For some archives, maybe the appraisal process isn’t so tied to cost estimates but at UTSC, where we had an unofficial archive and were still a very new unit, cost estimates were constantly being requested for every project. So I grabbed the estimates from the Canadian Council of Archives Time Guidelines for Arrangement and Description Projects to assess costs for those and then added estimates on how much digitization time we would need as well.
  • Here’s the bottom of the spreadsheet – I think it’s important to note that there isn’t actually a great model for estimating digitization time because it obviously depends on the dpi you’re scanning at ; whether you’re editing the images ; there are a lot of factors. So these times – scanning 20 items per day at 600 dpi, that’s just an example.
  • In terms of processing, I don’t have any fancy tricks for a digital first work-flow but with the Doris McCarthy fonds at UTSC Library, Sara and I knew that, aside from meeting a CCPERB deadline, our main goal was to ready the collection to be digitized. So while we were processing we were also selecting and had that curatorial eye happening while we were going through the mountains of files (left) we marked out special items that we would want to include in the final project (right).
  • So here’s the important part of a digital first work-flow: stop creating Word files for your finding aids. I don’t know how many of you are still doing this, maybe some of you are using AtoM (which is great) or another type of software, but if you’re creating Word files, you’re creating more work for yourself. In a digital first work-flow you need to be creating structured data right from the start. If you’re entering description into a database of some sort that can export that data as a .csv or an excel spreadsheet – great. But if not, you should be using your Box Lists and you should be creating metadata as you’re processing. This slide shows a box list for the UTSC Photographic Services collection. What Sara and I realized is that the box lists we were creating, all of our descriptions were being copied and pasted by our metadata assistant into our content management system anyway – so we decided it would make more sense to create a box list that was mapped to our metadata standard, which was qualified Dublin Core, and could then just be imported into our content management system. This also meant a move to either more item level description, which I know seems like it would make life harder, but if you already know you’re digitizing that item, you would need an item level description for it anyway. And we also realized that for some batches of photographs, we could upload them as compound images, so multiple images per metadata record, with just a file level description. And I have to confess that we were creating Word finding aids at UTSC in the beginning – but now I recommend to everyone to throw it in some type of metadata standard, whether you want to use EAD or Dublin Core or even just encode it in HTML so that it’s already web-accessible.

  • In December of 2013 I joined the IT department at UofT’s Robarts Library. So now, instead of just Sara and I dealing with these issues, I’m supporting departments across UofT in their “how do I get my archives online quickly and efficiently” problem. I can’t control their work-flow for creating finding aids, although we are looking at installing AtoM for departments this Summer, but I can assist people in how they’re creating metadata. I’ve distributed a Dublin Core metadata template to departments and one of our programmers created an application that converts the template into XML files that can be easily ingested into our system. Some of you may want to play around with these, so I’ve included links to both of them. So far, I think it’s working out quite well.
  • I’m actually not going to go into too much detail on our software, but I wanted to give an example of what a digital-first work-flow can look like. This is a screenshot of collections UofT – it’s still in beta but feel free to go to and check everything out.
  • We’re using a system called Islandora, which is great and open source so it’s free. Though I wanted to mention that open source and free don’t automatically equal no resources. Islandora is great for UofT because we have a team of programmers and network services folks. For a smaller institution, I’m not sure that I would recommend it. What I would recommend…
  • Is – will provide you with free hosting and you can easily export your content out of the system if you change your mind and don’t want to use it anymore. You can build really beautiful digital exhibits, timelines, maps, with it and it’s something that I’ve been recommending to a lot of librarians and faculty members who want to create digital projects for don’t have a lot of technical skills. I’m not going to go into detail about how to use it but if you’re looking at software for digital projects and you’re a small archives, definitely check it out. And now Sara is going to discuss more tools and specifically talk about open source options.
  • Partying on a Budget: The Cost of Digital Commemoration

    1. 1. Partying on a Budget: The Cost of Digital Commemoration Sara Allain, Special Collections Librarian University of Toronto Scarborough Library / @archivalistic Kelli Babcock, Digital Initiatives Librarian University of Toronto Libraries / @kelllib May 29, 2014 – 1:00 – 2:30 AAO 2014 Conference UOIT, room UA1220
    2. 2. Background Libraries cite “funding of [digitization] activity was their greatest sustainability concern… Aggregate figures show the cost of ongoing support for all digitized special collections is just a fraction of the amount spent in any one year to create new ones, and the raw figures often represent small fractions of someone’s time. This suggests a scenario where digitized collections, once created, are intended to essentially run without much active management, a situation that could ultimately hamper the ability of these institutions to sustain their projects and achieve the impact they desire.” – Maron, Nancy L., and Sarah Pickle. Appraising Our Digital Investment: Sustainability of Digitized Special Collections in ARL Libraries. Washington, D.C.: Association of Research Libraries and Ithaka S+R, 2013, p. 2
    3. 3. Abstract For the past decade, digital commemoration projects have become more and more common in our libraries and archives. In planning these projects, the cost of digitization is often underestimated - costs associated with digitization projects are also often not something that all archives can afford. In a post- NADP environment, how can we “party on a budget” and continue to pursue digital commemoration projects while working within our library or archive budgets? In this session, University of Toronto Digital Initiatives Librarian, Kelli Babcock, will outline common costs in digitization projects and offer tips and tricks to save your pennies in planning and implementing digitization projects. UTSC Special Collections Librarian, Sara Allain, will discuss the practical implementation of a commemorative digitization project by discussing the Doris McCarthy fonds digitization project. She will also discuss the value in commemorative digitization projects as they build stakeholder support - linking the initial investment of costs when implementing digital commemoration projects to an eventual growth in stakeholder investment.
    4. 4. Survey! How many people budget the cost of processing a collection, from appraisal through description, before accepting a donation?
    5. 5. Survey! How many people budget the cost of digitization after appraising and describing the collection?
    6. 6. Survey! How many people budget the cost of digitization before appraising and describing the collection?
    7. 7. “Digital-first” work flow ● Appraisal ● Processing ● Description / Finding Aid
    8. 8. “Digital-first” work flow ● Appraisal > evaluate digitization costs ● Processing ● Description / Finding Aid
    9. 9. “Digital-first” work flow ● Appraisal > evaluate digitization costs ● Processing > concurrent with digitization selection ● Description / Finding Aid
    10. 10. “Digital-first” work flow ● Appraisal > evaluate digitization costs ● Processing > concurrent with digitization selection ● Description / Finding Aid > using structured data (EAD ; HTML ; DC)
    11. 11. Appraisal - Collections Cost Worksheet (blank) - Collections Cost Worksheet (example)
    12. 12. Appraisal - Collections Cost Worksheet (blank) - Collections Cost Worksheet (example)
    13. 13. Processing
    14. 14. Description
    15. 15. Description Excel Dublin Core template: Excel to XML Dublin Core Converter download (java application):
    16. 16. Examples
    17. 17. Examples
    18. 18. Examples
    19. 19. Open-source culture ● Well-established, widespread adoption throughout the university ● Some platforms: ○ Publishing: Open Journal System, Open Conference System ○ Library website: Drupal ○ Repositories: DSpace, Islandora, Omeka
    20. 20. Why F/OSS? ● Free and/or Open Source Software works for us because: ○ Licenses for Photoshop + Illustrator + Dreamweaver = $1700 ○ Dissemination of workspaces/freedom of movement ○ Formats are open and malleable (and therefore easier to preserve!)
    21. 21. ImageMagick (Photoshop replacement) ● Free and open source ● Suite of command-line image manipulation tools ● Converts, resizes, reformats, crops, adjusts colours… ● Can be used in the command line or through a user interface
    22. 22. ImageMagick (Photoshop replacement)
    23. 23. GNU Image Manipulation Program (Photoshop replacement) ● Free and open source ● Creates non-proprietary image formats (no more .psd files!) ● Supports layers, vectors, and other advanced formatting ● Also supports actions
    24. 24. Inkscape (Illustrator replacement) ● Free and open source ● Creates non-proprietary image formats (no more .ai files!) ● Supports layers, vectors, and other advanced formatting ● Also supports actions
    25. 25. Sublime Text or Github Atom (Dreamweaver replacement) ● Both free, and Atom is open source ● Used to author XML, Dublin Core, MODS, python, etc... ● Supports snippets, macros, and other helpful automating features ● Extensions and plug-ins developed by the community enhance functionality
    26. 26. Best Practices ● Free and open source software: ○ Supports agile workflows ○ Allows all staff members to have all the tools they need, wherever they are ○ Prevents version concerns - upgrades are free ○ Uses non-proprietary software that’s easier to migrate in the future ○ Build strong user communities, which means there are strong support systems
    27. 27. Discussion Sara Allain / @archivalistic Kelli Babcock / @kelllib