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University of Alberta Library
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See also Digital libraries | Dublin Core | EBooks | Google Books | Institutional repositories | Metadata | Resource Description and Access (RDA) | Vannevar Bush

"What is digitization? Digitization may be defined as "... the managed conversion of analog materials into digital formats for ongoing access by electronic devices during the intended life cycle of [a group of] needed digital objects."— IFLA, 1998"

Digitization (or digitizing and digitalizing) is a process of taking traditional library materials usually in the form of print books and papers and putting them through a process to convert them into electronic formats where they can be stored and manipulated by a computer (Witten & Bainbridge, 2003). The term is used to refer to the scanning of analog materials in older formats into electronic or digital form. The United Nations (2011) describes digitization as the process of converting analog items, such as a paper records, photographs or graphic items, into an electronic representation or image that can be accessed and stored electronically. It involves translation of data into digital form (binary coded files for use in computers). Scanning images, sampling sound, converting text on paper into text in computer files, all are examples of digitization (Lopatin, 2006.)

Digital preservation is a series of activities that ensure access to digital materials over time. In a limited sense, digitization provides a way to create digital surrogates of analog materials (ie., books, newspapers, microfilm and videotapes) and these surrogates provide a measure of preservation but not completely. Digitization is one way to preserve the intellectual content of materials by creating an accessible facsimile of the object, and to put less strain on fragile originals. For audio and visual items, digitization of analog recordings may be useful in terms of insurance against technological obsolescence. It must be said that "to digitize something" is not the same as preserving it. To digitize is to convert from analog "born" formats into those readable on computer screens and monitors. A good example is the scanning of photographs and having digital copies available via the web. This is essentially the first step in digital preservation, but who will maintain the server on which the images reside? How will these copies be preserved if the server crashes or is hacked? As you can imagine, preservation of digital artifacts is in itself a sophisticated and complex process.

To see the process of digitization, preservation and access at a Canadian organization whose mission is to provide access to Canada's documentary heritage, see Canadiana. Digitization Services. The records and collections held by Canadiana form part of Canada's cultural memory, and Canadian society benefits from access to this documentary heritage. The benefits are social, scientific, economic, political and legal. Documents are evidence of our sovereignty, define borders, document history, mark social development, and celebrate Canada's creative accomplishments.

Towards a stable definition of digital libraries

Borgman (1999) defines digital libraries as "a set of electronic resources and associated technical capabilities for creating, searching and using information".

The common components of the above and other existing definitions of the digital library are:

  • Organized information collection
  • Electronic or digital form
  • Preserved information
  • Online access

A digital collection consists of digital objects selected and organized for their discovery, access and use by users. Objects, metadata, and the user interface together create the user experience of a collection.

According to National Information Standards Organization (NISO), a good digital collection is created according to an explicit collection development policy; is curated, which is to say, its resources are actively managed during their entire lifecycle; is broadly available and avoids unnecessary impediments to use. Digital collections should always be accessible to persons with disabilities, and usable effectively in conjunction with adaptive technologies. In this case, interoperability is an important part of access provision.

DPLA Digitization Curriculum


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