Workshop Report: Digitizing A/V Collections – to Outsource or Not to Outsource?

On Wednesday, October 2nd, I attended the workshop “Digitizing Audiovisual Collections – to Outsource or Not to Outsource,” hosted by METRO and the Moving Image Archiving and Preservation program at NYU. Three speakers from different institutions (Chris Lacinak, Jonah Volk, and Julie May) came together to speak about their experiences in deciding whether to digitize audiovisual materials in-house, or work with an outside vendor. Each speaker laid out important criteria and considerations that will prove invaluable for anyone planning to start an audiovisual digitization project, as well as those that need guidance when working with vendors. In my opinion, the presentations naturally split into two categories: how to assess whether to outsource an audiovisual project, and the issues and concerns that you must take into account when working with a vendor. I have listed below some of the more salient takeaways from the workshop that any institution should keep in mind before undertaking any audiovisual digitization process.

  • Planning is all important when deciding whether to outsource.
    • How many objects do you need to digitize? Smaller projects are often less cost effective to send to vendors, and can be done in-house if you have the capability, meanwhile, vendors will often provide better rates for higher volume projects.
    • Do you need the items digitized immediately? Communicating needs to a vendor, developing an RFP, packaging, and shipping materials can all delay the product.
    • Do you have the hardware to undertake an audiovisual digitization project?
    • Does your staff have the technical expertise to perform the work in a timely manner?
    • In what condition are the materials? Incredibly poor condition materials will require extensive conservation work before an institution can send them out to a vendor.
    • Is the collection homogenous? Collections of various formats can often slow down vendors and drive up the price.
    • Performing proper quality control on outsourced materials requires time, which includes performing checksums on any bagged objects, verifying filenames, checking the file specifications against what you provided to the vendor, checking metadata capture, and more.

Towards the end of the presentations, the discussion gravitated towards the specifics of working with a vendor once you have decided to outsource your A/V digitization. And, it became increasingly clear that the considerations and planning discussed earlier, will later aid in RFP creation, and create much of the information your institution will want to send to the vendors. Collecting information about the original track length, playback speed, expected naming conventions, track channels, delivery methods, as well as metadata capture is essential when working with a vendor to reduce any unnecessary complications or delays in receiving your finished product.

  • When working with vendors, clarity is king.
    • Before selecting a vendor it is important to understand their hardware and software capabilities, take note of their responsiveness and the quality of their responses, their tone in communication, and make sure that they think critically about your project while engaging in open discussion about your needs.
    • Clearly define the project’s start date and end date, including when you absolutely need all digital objects. This will help the vendor plan for and adjust to any complications on their end, while still meeting your deadline.
    • Additionally, having an accurate inventory of all source types, quantities, and general lengths to provide to the vendor will help them provide a more accurate price quote.
    • Always be explicit in describing what you expect in regards to care and handling, metadata expectations, quality assurance and quality control, and delivery platform.

Ultimately, deciding whether to outsource audiovisual materials must happen on case-by-case basis, taking your own institution’s funding and equipment availability with the vendor affordability. The RAC is looking into A/V digitization projects for the future, and this workshop was an excellent way to get us thinking critically about what we need to take into account for each project.

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