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Digitization best practices

Considering a digitization project?

When contemplating a digitization project, there are multiple factors to consider beyond the requisite hardware and software.

Purpose - Why have you chosen to digitize your collection? Is it unique and fragile, and in need of preservation? Are you hoping to enhance access, increase visibility and use of the collection? Digitization standards for preservation purposes differ greatly from digitization standards for use and access copies.

Uniqueness - Are there other copies of your items already digitized and available online?

Copyright - Who owns copyright? Are the items in the public domain, and if not, have you acquired permission to digitize and share? Creating a digital surrogate as a backup copy is permitted (with restrictions) by the Canadian Copyright Act. Consult York University's Copyright and You website for more information.

Storage - Where will you store your digital files? How will your files be backed up? Do you have a preservation strategy?

Display - If you have the copyright clearance to do so, how do you plan to share your collection with the world?

Description - How will you describe your item so that it can be found? What metadata standards are most appropriate for your collection and will help users find your materials? Where will you be collecting your metadata and how will associate metadata with your digital surrogates?

Online guides

The Handbook for Digital Projects remains a relevant, classic resource for those seeking an in-depth guide to digitization.

The Libraries have created the following guides to inform the digitization process:

  • Planning and Selecting for Digitization: This open educational resource was authored to help scholars begin preliminary selection and planning for a digitization project. Special thanks to Patricia Lynch, York University's Copyright Office, for her input and expertise.
  • Metadata: This open educational resource introduces scholars to the importance and value of developing robust metadata for digital humanities and social sciences projects.

Metadata standards, schemas and profiles

Dublin Core is a small set of vocabulary terms developed for describing digital objects. It is the bare minimum for digital resource description.

The Digital Public Library of America Metadata Application Profile is based on the Europeana Data Model and a standard to aspire towards.

Key standards documents and recommendations

IASA Technical Committee, The safeguarding of the Audio Heritage: Ethics, Principles and Preservation Strategy, ed. by Dietrich Schüller. Version 3, 2005 (= Standards, Recommended Practices and Strategies, IASA-TC 03). International Association
of Sound and Audiovisual Archives.

IASA Technical Committee, Guidelines on the Production and Preservation of Digital Audio Objects, ed. by Kevin Bradley. Second edition 2009. (= Standards, Recommended Practices
and Strategies, IASA-TC 04).

California Digital Library Digital File Format Recommendations: Master Production Files

Library of Congress recommended formats statement. Their goal is maximizing the chances for survival and continued accessibility of creative content well into the future.

Preservation policies

See the York University Digital Library for sample preservation policies and preservation action plans. These are very similar to the policies developed by Scholar's Portal as part of their TDR auditing process.

Scanning standards used by YUL for archival preservation quality files

Digitization Standards for photographic prints and negatives

Size of originalDPI of archival copyResulting pixel size is
35 mm negative or slide3200 dpi4800 pixels
2 1/4 x 2 3/4 inch negative
(5.7 x 6.9 cm)
1900 dpi4275 pixels
2 3/8 x 2 3/4 inch negative
(6 x 7 cm)
1600 dpi4400 pixels
2 3/8 x 2 3/8 inch negative
(6 x 6 cm)
1800 dpi4275 pixels
2 3/8 x 1 3/4 inch negative
(6 x 4.5 cm)
1800 dpi4275 pixels
3 x 5 inch print
(7.62 x 12.7 cm)
900 dpi4500 pixels
4 x 5 inch negative
(10.16 x 12.7 cm)
900 dpi4500 pixels
4 x 6 inch print
(10.16 x 15.25 cm)
700 dpi4200 pixels
5 x 7 inch negative or print
(12.7 x 17.78 cm)
600 dpi4200 pixels
8 x 10 inch negative or print
(20.32 x 25.4 cm)
600 dpi6000 pixels
These are the scanning dpi (dots per inch) settings for photographic prints and negatives used by York University Libraries.

Digitization Standards for Printed Material

Size of originalDPI of Archival CopyFile format
letter sized page
8 1/2 x 11 inches
21.59 x 27.94 cm
300-600 dpi.tiff or .pdf
legal sized page
8 1/2 x 14 inches
21.59 x 35.56 cm
300-600 dpi.tiff or .pdf
ledger sized page
11 x 17 inches
27.94 x 43.18 cm
300-600 dpi.tiff or .pdf
books and pamphlets digitized by the Internet Archive
*standard still under discussion
300-600 dpi
(depending on size)
*standard still under discussion
minimum of 600 dpi
(depending on scale of map)
Digitization scanning standards for printed material used by York University Libraries.

Digitization Standards for Audiovisual material

Analog formatSample rate Bit depthFormat
1/4 inch audio tapeminimum 48 KHz
preferred 96 KHz
minimum 24 bit
preferred 32 bit
audio cassetteminimum 48 KHz
preferred 96 KHz
minimum 24 bit
preferred 32 bit
VHS cassette30 MiB per secondminimum 8 bit
preferred 10 bit
.MPEG, .MP4, .OGG, .MKV, or .Quicktime also acceptable.
UMatic cassette tape30 MiB per secondminimum 8 bit
preferred 10 bit
.MPEG, .MP4, .OGG, .MKV, or .Quicktime also acceptable.
All other formats (Beta max,DigiBeta, HDCam, 1/2" tape, 1" tape, 8mm, 16mm, 35mm film) outsourced for digitization.30 MiB per second preferredminimum 8 bit
preferred 10 bit
.MPEG, .MP4, .OGG, .MKV, or .Quicktime also acceptable.
These are the digitization settings for sound and video recordings used by York University Libraries.

Other standards: