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:


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.