Digitising audio and audio-visual material

Digitisation Toolkit Information Guide 8

You can digitise audio and audio-visual content (including audio recordings, video, and motion picture film collections) yourself, but as the resources required to do so tend to be more complex and expensive than to digitise image-based material, it will generally be more cost-effective to outsource to a vendor with expertise in this field. See Additional Resources at the bottom of this guide for some help in making the decision about whether to outsource or digitise in-house.

This guide outlines how to prepare to outsource the digitisation of audio and audio-visual materials in your collection that will ensure that the content is accessible in the future. Following this guide will result in a digital product that meets the capture standards used by State Library of Queensland. Take into consideration your own organisation’s needs and capacity when deciding on the file types that you need and the standard to which you digitise your video material and follow best practices whenever possible.

Take stock of your audio-visual material

Before you make a decision about digitising audio recordings, videotapes and cinematic film in your collection, consider:

  • Purpose – are you digitising to make access copies to share the content or for preservation? State Library digitises for access and preservation at the same time. How will you make the content more accessible to others once it’s digitised?  How will you preserve the master files?
  • Content – do you know what’s in your collection and whether it is significant? Are there multiple files of the same content?  Which material is the master? Has the content been digitised elsewhere?  Do you have information about when, where, by and of whom recordings were made? Do you have transcripts of any recordings?
  • Equipment – do you or does the vendor have suitable professionally-serviced analogue playback equipment to ensure preservation and access long term? For example, do the playback machines, analogue to digital (A/D) converters, computer hardware etc. meet international best practices and standards for audio digitisation?
  • Condition – audio and audio-visual materials become increasingly fragile with age. Can you play the tapes or films in your collection? Are any damaged, or more at risk than others? Do they need special storage or handling, or might they need some conservation work before attempting to digitise them? Reliable vendors can assist in unblocking magnetic tape, cleaning and removing mould from collections and other similar conservation steps before digitising the material.
  • Digital media asset management and preservation planning – do you have a way to manage your digital media files? The Open Archival Information System (OAIS) provides information about how to ensure that digital content is properly preserved and accessible over time. Having archival storage, data management, preservation planning and access will provide proper custodianship of digital objects. Consider these issues before beginning digitisation, especially with audio visual as these files can be quite large and complex.. Some vendors are able to host and preserve your content for a fee if you don’t have a way to do so. Make sure you have storage and backup storage!
  • Access Rights – do you have a record of the rights and permissions that apply to the material, including copyright, moral rights and cultural clearance where appropriate? Will these permissions cover the new use you want to make of the content by digitising and making it available online? Do any other special access conditions apply to the material?  Make sure that you provide this metadata in your digital preservation system.

Having your analogue collection reformatted

To help with locating a vendor to digitise your items, see Information Guide 6: Digitising in-house or with vendors. When you are making your digitisation request, be sure to:

  • Specify the way that the digital files should be named, see Information Guide 5: File Naming
  • Specify the file  format, file compression format, bit rate, bit depth, sampling rate, audio channels; in addition, definition, frame rate and colour space for video that you will need and how they will be delivered to you
  • If you are not sure what about specifications for vendors, ask!

As an example, if having an audio collection digitised, State Library would provide an external hard drive and request the following from the vendor for each audio recording:

  • Original straight transfer (archival) – Uncompressed LPCM BWF 24 bit, 96 kHz according to International Association of Sound and Audio-visual Archives (IASA) specifications and includes:
    • Digital files identified according to provided file naming
    • Embedded metadata such as running speed, equipment used etc. (list to b provided to vendor) Fixity check – MD5 checksum file
  • MP3 derivative for access purposes

Once you have your digital files, perform a quality control check on the content. Ask the vendor to hold copies during the QA period. Use a tool e.g., MediaInfo to check the technical information about media files to ensure that your vendors are delivering to your specifications.

Preserving your digital content for the future

You should already be thinking about how to preserve and manage your digital files for the long term before embarking on your digitisation project. Digital files can be affected by a number of factors, including handling, storage conditions and technological obsolescence. Consider:

  • Storage / media costs
  • Data management including cataloguing, metadata, rights management
  • Backing up, costs
  • File Fixity with checksums such as MD5
  • Format obsolescence - converting/ rewrapping/ migrating files

Additional Resources:

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