U5.4.1 Digitise – Technology requirements

The main digitisation techniques for OFC projects are scanning and photography regardless if you do it yourself or use a service. In addition, a large variety of other digital technologies may be useful in the course of an OFC project. Each of these aspects is discussed below.

Mainstream digitisation technologies

The main technologies you will need to undertake OFC projects are a scanner, a camera, and a computer system.

Scanning: For scanning, a flatbed is usually necessary as not all documents will be able to go through a sheet feeder. Of course, a scanner with both a flatbed and a sheet feeder provides the best of both worlds. Most scanners are capable of handling up to A4 size paper and this is usually adequate. However, A3 scanners are available if you have a lot of larger sized items to deal with – but they are more expensive and bigger to house. If you only have a few larger sized items, you may find it expedient to simply photograph them rather than buying an A3 scanner. When scanning documents, 300 dpi (dots per inch) is usually a sufficient resolution setting, and the scans are probably best output in PDF format. For images such as photographs, it is worth increasing the resolution to 600 dpi, and the scans can be output in JPG format. Documents that are purely black and white are best scanned in black and white; but all other documents and all images are probably best scanned in colour.

Photography: For photographing items, a modern camera, including those on more recent mobile phones, will provide very acceptable images of both objects and of large documents which are too big to scan. They are also useful for digitising groups of objects, such as birthday cards, which you may not want to go to the trouble of scanning each one. Cameras of around 10 megapixels and above will produce document images which can be enlarged sufficiently to view detail and read text. However, two other factors need to be taken into account to ensure a useful image. First, the photos need to be taken in a place where reflections and glare do not appear on the images; and, second, for documents and other flat objects, the camera needs to be held in exactly the same horizontal and vertical planes as the item being photographed, otherwise the image will appear shorter on one side than the other. A tripod can help to avoid this latter problem – but the camera still has to be positioned correctly on the tripod in the first place.

Computing: A computer system (i.e. a computer, keyboard and screen) will be required to store, manipulate and view the digital objects. Most modern systems with, for example, an i3 processor or above and a 500Gb+ disk, have sufficient power and storage to be able to handle the digital objects emerging from standard OFC projects. However, anything out of the ordinary such as very high volumes of items, very large file sizes, or applications with complex manipulation functions (video editors, for example)  may need a system with a slightly higher specification. Desktop systems are fine, but laptop systems take up less space and are certainly more portable. Tablet computers probably don’t currently have the functionality needed to act as the master OFC system, though this may change in the future (however, they are excellent secondary vehicles for providing easy, quick and convenient access to the digitised objects). Most modern computer systems include the basic software to display and manipulate images, to play music and videos, and even to rip (i.e. digitise) CDs. However, you may need to obtain word processing software to manipulate PDFs, and spreadsheet software if you are intending to create indexes.

Digitisation Services

You may have some items for which you are simply not equipped to digitise. For example, old reel-to-reel tape, cine film, 35mm slides, negatives, or VHF videos. For such requirements, a wide variety of services are available and advertising on the net. As always, you should check for reviews to try and ensure that the price is reasonable and that the quality of service is good. It may be best to use a local service, if one is available, so that any issues which might arise can be resolved face to face. Similar services also exist for scanning documents (which may be useful if you have very large volumes), and for more esoteric requirements such as 3D photography of objects. It’s really just a matter of weighing up the time and money you will have to spend doing something yourself, against the cost of having someone else do it for you – possibly to a higher standard.

Other useful technologies

A variety of other technologies may be useful in OFC projects including the following:

  • Recording: the ability to record someone talking about an object, or to record the sounds at an event or location, is easily acquired by downloading an app onto a modern mobile phone. The app will be either free or low cost, and the output will probably be of good quality and in MP3 or M4A format.
  • USB turntable: If you want to digitise a 78, 45 or LP record, a USB turntable will send its output in digital form to a cable which can be plugged into the USB port of a computer. Tape cassettes can also be digitised either by feeding the output from a cassette player’s headphone socket into the turntable, or directly if the turntable unit includes a cassette player as well. The digital sounds can then be edited using sound and music editing software (see below).
  • Sound and music digitising and editing software: This software allows digital sounds to be edited and output in a variety of formats. A very well known and widely respected application of this type is the free, open source, cross platform, package called Audacity which can be downloaded from the Audacity web site.
  • Movies: most modern cameras and mobile phones have excellent movie-making capabilities.
  • Video editing software: You may need such software to edit a video that you have, or to combine two or more videos. Some computer systems include video editing software, however, if yours doesn’t, there are plenty of free or low priced software packages available.
  • RFID: Radio-frequency identification (RFID) uses electromagnetic fields to automatically identify and track tags attached to objects. The tags contain electronically stored information. Passive tags collect energy from a nearby RFID reader’s interrogating radio waves. Active tags have a local power source (such as a battery) and may operate hundreds of meters from the RFID reader. Unlike a barcode, the tag need not be within the line of sight of the reader, so it may be embedded in the tracked object. The cheaper RFID systems can be acquired for a few hundred pounds – but prices are continuing to fall.

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