Digitising archives

Digitising is the process of creating digital copies of items from your collection. This will help you preserve the content from physical damage or wear and tear, as well as making them easier to access in future. You can do this using a flatbed scanner or digital camera. Take a look at our tips for digitising your archives at home:

Before you start

Scan if you can

The easiest format for digitisation is using a flatbed scanner. You can use this for flat items such as paper documents, photographs, slides and certificates. As long as they are handled carefully, you may also be able to scan slim books – but make sure you don’t damage their spines.

Make a digital master file

You only need to scan the document once. This should be an accurate representation of the actual document. It should be created at the highest suitable resolution and bit depth. All other copies can be made from the digital master and amended as necessary.


Make sure the numbering system you apply to the digital image ties in with the archive number you’ve given the actual document. An easy way is to add a number at the end of the archive number to denote the digital image.

For example: Archive number: 110M85, Digital image number: 110M85_1


Metadata will help support your catalogue records. These cover all the technical information related to an image, usually compiled in a spreadsheet. One advantage of keeping this kind of information is to check if the digital images have deteriorated over time.

You may not wish to keep such detailed information about the image, but a few key pieces may be useful, for example, if the items you are digitising are on temporary loan.

Metadata to include could be:

  • digital image number
  • digitising date
  • name of digitiser
  • size of original document (width x height)
  • file size and format (such as TIFF, JPEG, web JPEG)
  • additional notes (such as copyright information)

Tips and tricks

It’s good practice to store images in two locations. If you’re working through a large collection of images, transfer them to CD or an external hard drive.

Remember that every archive is unique and the process of digitisation is merely a tool to aid in the formation of your individual collection – don’t let it dictate or take over the project!

Nothing can substitute the original document. The emphasis must always be on taking good care of your original documents.

As technology is changing all the time, anything stored digitally has a limited time span.

Let us help

If you’d like to digitise your collections but don’t know where to start, we can help you. Visit our digitisation page to learn more about what options are available.