R. Sumi Matsumoto

MSLIS Portfolio, Class of 2021

Difficulties with Digitization

Digitization projects are widely popular with cultural institutions as a way to increase access and protect physical objects. However, digitization is a relatively new preservation technique, and there are many debates about its benefits versus dangers. This paper explores three main problems with digitization projects: project costs and resource inefficiency, copyright and ownership, and the future of digital assets. Digitization is resource-heavy, but many institutions do not allocate budget or fundraise to support digitization projects. Digitization requires an institution to gain the right to reproduce a work. There is also currently no legislation addressing mass digitization or copyright of orphan works. The long-term viability of digital assets is currently unknown, and there are already obsolete file formats. Even though the process is imperfect and unstandardized, digitization is an important investment for cultural institutions to make as demand for digital access increases.

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Digitization projects are being widely undertaken, but most of the literature about digitization is case studies and recommended standards. I was interested in studying the theoretical efficacy of these projects. I do not discourage digitization projects, but believe they are too big an undertaking to take on hastily. Digitization offers benefits such as broader access, reduced wear on physical originals, and may increase physical and intellectual control of material. However digitization is also costly and labor-intensive. Digital assets help retain intellectual content, but are not archivally stable. Understanding the goal and limitations of a digitization project from the outset will create a more successful process.

For this research paper I consulted a wide variety of resources: videos, case studies, articles, and institutional guidelines. In order to provide thorough coverage of the research topic, I looked at materials that did not explicitly discuss digitization: specifically, materials about international copyright law and orphan works copyright law as well as quantum computing. These sources bolster my points about digitization’s pitfalls and help to apply knowledge to the field of information in a new way.