Steps to Build a Digital Archive: Screening

In my previous 2 posts I have dealt with why it is going to become critical for organisations and institutions to build a digital archive and I have looked at the the first step toward building a digital archive – Scoping. In this post I will cover the second step to building a digital archive, which is Screening.
The Scoping process sought to align the goal of building a digital archive, with the vision and mission of your organisation. It helps your organisation decide why you would “build a digital archive”. The Screening process, on the other hand, involves a process of asking probing questions about your collections, the potential audience for the collection and the broader context in which your institution operates to check that the theoretical goals established in the Scoping process are applicable to the realities of your collections.
Let’s take a newspaper organisation as an example. What may be a fundamental part of its vision and mission, along with keeping the community it serves informed about what is going on in the World, is also to make a profit out of that activity. The Screening process, then, may look closely at the newspaper’s actual collections of old papers and photographs and look at its audience and see whether its audience is not only interested in its archive but is also prepared to pay for access, to make the exercise of digitisation and making it available, economically viable. If, for instance, the Screening process discovers that there is great interest, but few are prepared to pay, then the conclusion may be that it is not the right time to build a digital archive or that an alternative funding source other than the newspaper’s own resources, is required in order to ensure that the exercise of building a digital archive aligns with the vision of the organisation to be a profitable entity.

Collections managers and archivists are often the best people to assist in answering key questions of your collections. They know the collections and they also know what parts of the collections are used most often. Here Vuyo Feni-Fete, archivist at the National Heritage and Cultural Studies Centre (NAHECS) is seen in one of the vaults that holds the ANC Archive. PHOTO: David A. Larsen

To carry out the Screening process well is going to require the input of important people in your organisation:

    • those who know the collections really well, such as collections managers, can answer the questions that you need to know of your collections such as the size of the collection, the fragility of the materials, how comprehensive each subcollection is, the availability of metadata, the copyright status, and so on
    • those who know the audience for your collection really well, such as your marketing department, can answer questions  such as who is likely to be your potential audience and should they be paying for access and then of your potential audience such questions as what materials in your collection is of particular interest and will this interest change over time, would digitisation enhance access to the material and what impact will it have on the demand for the original materials, would they be prepared to pay for access, and so on
    • those who know the wider context in which your organisation operates, such as the leadership, can answer questions such as what the organisational priorities are, what the budgets available might be, what sources of funding are there, what resources such as equipment, people and expertise might be available, what legal implications are there in making digital collections available, what other institutions or organisations may be interested in partnering in the project, and so on (1)

So the Screening process is really the first part of the question “What, if anything, are you going to digitise and what born-digital materials are you going to make a part of your digital archive?” Scoping answered the “Why?” and Screening begins to answer the “What?” In the next article we will look at the Selecting process. Where the Screening process helps you identify the subcollections in your collection that should be incorporated into your digital archive, the Selecting process helps you determine what items within those subcollections should be selected for digitisation (in the case of physical materials) or ingestion (in the case of born digital or already digitised materials).
Previous blog posts on the topic of Building a Digital Archive:
1. Why Build a Digital Archive anyway
2. Steps to Building a Digital Archive: Scoping
(1) UK based JISC Digital Media used to have a good article explaining many of these questions. Sadly it is no longer available. Their site, however, has a wealth of information.