What was especially great about writing the blog entries for Rare Books Revealed and Rare Books Revealed 2 for Senate House Library was being able to see digitisation in action on the books I had selected to blog about. I was shown the different scanners and cameras used to obtain varying quality pictures and also to deal with different sized and shaped items (Special Collections has many oddly shaped, and sometimes very large items!). Digitisation is still a relatively new service provided at Senate House Library, and is an area that is rapidly increasing and becoming very prominent in modern day libraries.
Of course, when you hear ‘digitisation’ and ‘libraries’ in the same sentence, you instinctively think of e-books, and how wonderful for user access it is that libraries are digitising their collections so that they are availble online. And of course, this is a great and wonderful thing, and will certainly play a large part in the nature of libraries in the future.
On hearing ‘digitisation’ and ‘libraries’, you may also think ‘expensive’, and true, this is certainly the case.
However, digitisation of collections made available on library websites not only increase access for users, as you first think, but can also be used to advertise collections and actually attract more visitiors to come and visit the physical collection in person, particularly if the library possesses special collections or rare books. As such, digitisation can be used to generate revenue by increasing the number of visitors to the library. Digitisation equipment may be initially expensive to purchase for a library, but can prove to be very proftable in the long-term. More and more libraries are using digitisation to generate profit; one of the more famous examples being the British Library’s eBook Treasures, where the British Library has digitised some of its most precious items such as Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures Under Ground andLeonardo da Vinci’s Codex Arundel, and are selling them as eBooks for prices as high as £14.99. The British Library have also created a 19th century Historical Collection app available from iTunes here, which provides cloud-based access to over 45,000 historical works and has recently won the Publishing Innovation Award.
Other ways of generating income through digitisation is to display the collection online using low quality images (which accomplishes displaying the collection while ensuring a low webpage loading time for users), but offer the service of providing high quality images of scans from books. Libraries with special collections or rare books would particularly benefit by implementing such a service; not only by generating income from sales of digital scans, by increasing access for users and by promoting and advertising the collection to attract new visitors to the library. An example of a memory institution who has applied this service very successively is the National Gallery. The National Gallery offers the purchasing of high quality images not only online, but also in the Gallery itself, where you can crop and edit the picture before purchasing a print or digital copy.
In conclusion, digitisation can be very expensive both to purchase and to maintain, and it must be taken into consideration how long it will be before the equipment becomes technologically out of date and will be unable to provide the high standard of files that users may be expecting in ten years time. However, although digitisation is initally expensive, the financial benefits achievable through the promotion of the library collection to a world-wide audience in addition to the potential sales of high quality images or e-books, is certainly worth considering for libraries with special collections.