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Significance of Preserving Historical Records in Digital Format

Historical Records in Digital FormatInformation technology has revolutionized the concept of libraries and today most libraries are in the process of digitization with the support of document scanning companies. These service providers offer solutions such as microfiche scanning, document conversion, and digitization of photographs among others. Digitization implies conversion of documents and artworks into digital images. The idea behind a digital library is to preserve resources such as valuable documents, photographs, microfiche etc. and provide easy access to library resources. Digital collections include research and scholarly works, books and other valuable documents that reveal the past, books from the present generation, manuscripts and so on. It is a form of preservation and conservation of recorded knowledge.

Many digitization projects are happening in the US as well as on a global level. One such digitization drive was on in Tucson this March.

With the intention of providing the residents of Tucson an opportunity to have family and personal records professionally digitized and shared among the public, the University of Arizona Libraries conducted a Community Digitization Day on March 4 at Special Collections. Community members were requested to bring printed materials with a maximum size of 14 by 16 inches. The materials could be letters, photographs, certificates, brochures from organizations, church programs and so on belonging to the 1900 – 1970 period, related to Tucson and its surrounding areas. Each person could bring up to 10 items that the librarians scanned and digitized. The digitized materials were provided to the owners on a USB drive.

Jennifer Jae Gutierrez, the Arthur J Bell Senior Photograph Conservator at the UA Centre for Creative Photography said that she would encourage community members to focus on photographs they know to be unique. During the event Gutierrez gave a formal presentation on the ways people can appropriately care for family and personal photograph collections. She also gave advice on ways to be an informed consumer when purchasing archival material for storing personal collections, and recommendations for best storage. The community members were asked to focus on photographs that capture memorable events, moments and people that will not be featured in the collections of other community members.

Digital images make valuable resources accessible to a wider audience. Today, with more museums and archives becoming digital domains and electronic resources becoming the main tool for gathering information, everything left behind in non-digital form may disappear altogether from the cultural memory. This will lead to creation of gaps in the historical narrative. Local archives and libraries are treasure houses of knowledge and there are many resources there waiting to be digitized.

In spite of the ambitions and far-reaching efforts at digitization, there are many items that still remain in their physical forms and may remain so. Copyright issues, money and technology are considered the main impediments to digitization endeavours. At the Library of Congress and the National Archives for example, only a small percent of their entire collections are likely to be digitized and put online mainly on account of prohibitive costs. There are thousands of other smaller, local collections around the U.S, where most of the material is lying on media such as paper, magnetic tape, film and LPs.

Archivists around the country are always on the lookout for business partners that can offer a helping hand in their digitization ventures. Private partners supporting various digitization projects include Google providing support to the Library of Congress, and Reuters, I.B.M, and the Andrew W. Mellon foundation that have financed digitization projects on a global level. All efforts are focused on ensuring that new generations of scholars and researchers don’t lose track of important political and cultural history details.

As mentioned at the outset, a document scanning company can provide valuable support for ambitious digitization projects. The outsourced solutions such companies offer are affordable and efficient and will help avoid huge investments for in-house solutions. By ensuring electronic versions of priceless materials such as historic and contemporary photographs that document a nation’s achievements, challenges, history, ways of life and creative expression, these institutions can help future generations better understand, interpret and value history.

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