By Kwong Bor Ng & Jason Kucsma

For more than a decade, digitization has been both a critical need and a formidable challenge for libraries, archives, and museums around the world. To support these important projects, the Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO) has been awarding annual grants to support digitization projects in New York City and Westchester County since 2005. Thus far, METRO has provided support for approximately 40 digitization projects at 25 different institutions. In those five years, we have learned a great deal about managing digitization projects effectively. In these efforts, METRO members have also shared best practice strategies in digitization through project showcase events and through the work of the METRO-sponsored Digitization Special Interest Group.

All digitization projects begin with some critical questions. How do we start a digitization project? What standards should we use for digital conversion and metadata? What are the best practices for workflow? What equipment or software should we use? Should we digitize in-house or outsource? What organizational or technological obstacles should we anticipate, and how should we negotiate them? Where can we turn for help in the middle of a project?

Naturally, the response to these questions will differ for different institutions. Even discrete projects within an institution will have many unique characteristics and challenges. But shared stories of successes (and failures) can be immensely helpful in supporting future digitization projects. To that end, Professor Ng came to METRO in the summer of 2009 with a great suggestion. Why not collect some of the most compelling examples of recent digitization projects? Many of us are familiar with the large-scale mass digitization projects of recent years. But Ng suggested — and we agreed — that there was a great opportunity to share insights from lesser-known examples from the “real world.” That’s not to say that large-scale projects don’t pose their own unique issues and learning opportunities for librarians, archivists, and technologists. But many libraries are more likely to proceed with smaller-scale digitization projects made possible by a special need or unique opportunity, a first-time grant, or the special dedication of a team of library professionals. Collectively, these efforts can provide many invaluable perspectives and procedural models.

This book was initially conceived as an opportunity to highlight digitization efforts in the New York metropolitan area. Our research quickly showed that there were many other project examples worth sharing. The response to our initial call for proposals was overwhelming; we received hundreds of chapter proposals from all over the world in just the first few months. Contacts from many of the world’s leading knowledge-based organizations, cultural institutions and university libraries presented examples of projects representing a wide range of topics, perspectives, approaches, concerns, and lessons-learned.

The effort to choose from among these examples the examples that would be presented in the book was a daunting task. We were unable to include many great case studies. Each of the chapters presented was reviewed in a double-blind peer-review process to assess quality, accuracy and relevance. The 34 papers presented in this book represent our best effort to present a diverse and comprehensive overview of key issues in the management and realization of digitization projects.

We have divided the case studies into four primary groups. The first section focuses on small projects. They are digitization endeavors that moved forward with limited resources and staffing. The second group showcases digitization projects from diverse cultural institutions including public libraries, museums, research institutes, and cultural organizations. The third group consists of digitization projects based on medium-sized collections at universities and their libraries. The last group features projects that brought together multiple institutions to work in collaboration on a project of mutual interest.

This book would not have been possible without the participation and hard work of all of the authors and reviewers involved, including those who submitted chapters that we were not able to accommodate. We’re also greatly indebted to Dottie Hiebing, Executive Director of METRO, for recognizing the need for this important resource and for supporting this effort from inception. This is the first of what we hope will become a series of instructional self-publishing projects supported by METRO in the years ahead.

This is, above all, a book written by practitioners for practitioners who together recognize the critical needs and goals in digitization in our industry. Our hope is that it will be useful to students who are preparing for a career in library or research science and to practitioners who will shape the future of digitization for the library community. We know reading these stories has been enlightening for both of us, and we hope it will be for you as well. Thank you for reading.