How to protect original works during digitisation

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By | Digital Developments

In any digitisation project, the physical condition of the items to be digitised is crucial. A digitisation condition survey is used to ascertain if the items meet criteria for digital photography. Where there are a large number of items, a random sample is selected for initial survey. Here’s how we developed our Condition Survey and Tracking Template.

After several years of collaborative work with the Wellcome Library’s Conservation Team, we were able to draft and share a new tool, the Condition Survey/Tracking Template. This new tool can help the project team by standardising the surveying process.

Conservator working on Histoires Prodigieuses, by Pierre Boaistuau, c. 16th century.

Conservator working on the original handwritten and hand-painted copy of Histoires Prodigieuses, by Pierre Boaistuau, c. 16th century. Wellcome Images reference: C0020698.

Aim of Condition Survey/Tracking Template

The aim is to plan and provide the right level of support for digitisation. This template allows conservators, for instance, to move away from a typical conservation survey and focus on identifying what is required for each project based on the principles and criteria we have established.

There are several reasons for developing this particular tool:

  • To streamline our survey processes to save time. Scoping studies are generally very useful but it can be extremely time-consuming. Therefore, a structured assessment is essential.
  • To capture information needed for wider teams involved in digitisation.
  • To produce a summary table that replaces a lengthy report and is clear and provides figures needed for planning.
  • To facilitate the sharing of data collected as a result of the survey before or during a project.
  • Improve the efficiency of tracking items during a project.
  • To allow the data collected during a project to be easily retained and be accessible beyond the duration of the project.


Selecting sample size in tracking template.

Selecting sample size in tracking template.

The template has a built-in randomiser so that a random sample survey can be carried out. Once a master list is imported, the desired sample size figure is entered. This instructs the tool to automatically select random items from the master list and fill in the survey worksheet. The whole process only takes a few seconds.

Text fields in tracking template

Text fields in tracking template.

There is a free-text field where notes can be recorded. However, most fields will contain drop-down lists. This helps us analyse the data collected more easily. The template includes a report table with pre-set formulae, so there is no need to produce a lengthy document – unless required for some other reason. The number crunching is done for you as you carry out the survey, so you can review the findings at a glance during the survey.

Tracking template showing report table.

Tracking template showing report table.

Our plan is to develop a new database that incorporates the functionalities of a randomiser and summary reports. It will enable us to store all of the data collected through our digitisation condition surveys and condition assessments. Furthermore, it will allow us to search across different projects quickly and easily.

A more detailed version of this post is available on the Book & Paper Gathering conservation blog.

Deborah Leem

Deborah Leem is Digitisation Project Coordinator at the Wellcome Library. She is trained in medical history and her current interests are in 3D technologies and many other areas of Digital Humanities.

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