Digitisation is a relatively new phenomenon that converts text, sound, images and audio/audio-visual into a digital code that can be read and processed by electronic devices and computers. There are many benefits to digitisation that include accessibility through the internet to a bigger audience rather than the reliable, but archaic library/physical museum. There is also the space-saving element, and in some cases the digitisation of objects such as ecclesiastical texts and delicate artefacts preserve and add longevity to the artefacts because one can access them from their computers rather than physically handling them.
Although there are many positives to digitisation, there are also negatives and limitations in terms of the funding an institution needs to buy the specialised equipment necessary for the digitisation and employment of specialists who can use that equipment. Another negative aspect of digitisation is that librarians/museum curators from underdeveloped nations would most certainly offer a high level of resistance to change due to the fact they would not be computer literate and would not have the necessary resources. In developed nations, the older generation of librarians/museum curators would also need additional triaining and might feel threatened by the the advances in technology.
Another drawback is the complex issue of copyright/ownership details of digitisation and scanning of artefacts/texts. These issues are problematic due to the confusion over the ownership of a digitised scans from a museum collection. Museums have ownership over their collections, but they are not the real author/creator of the artefacts which they are in possession of. The museum offer contracts to those scanning and recording items in the museum’s collection, which in theory means that even if a person scans an artefact, the scan is the property of the museum. There appears to be a void in the law concerning copyright in relation to museum artefacts, so advances in technology such as digitisation only add to the confusion that already exists in relation to scanning and cataloguing for private use or for work purposes.
Other limitations include the rather difficult categorisation and labelling of meta-data such as photographs. The change over from the physical world to the digital world has its challenges and can be painstakingly laborious. Some of these photographs are much more problematic than text-based information (Baca, 2002) to identify and search for on the internet due to their ambiguity and misleading nature.
A good example of this scenario is when the photographer Jean Mohr conducted an experiment with ten interviewees with the subject matter being ten photos. He asked each participant to identify a photo showing a young man carrying a camera in a tree. Each participant gave a completely different answer ranging from being a peeping tom to being a Spanish worker in an orchard full of blossoms (Scott, 1999). This exercise Scott carried out proved how difficult it was and still is to interpret an untitled/un-captioned photograph, this explaining the difficulty with web search when not knowing the title of the photograph.
Baca, Murtha. “A picture is worth a thousand words: Metadata for art objects and their visual surrogates.” ALCTS Papers on Library Technical Services and Collections (2002): pp1-19.
Scott, Clive. Spoken Image: Photography and Language. Reaktion Books, 1999.