Parliamentary Archives: The Digitisation Process
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Parliamentary Archives: The Digitisation Process

November 24, 2019

The Parliamentary Archives holds over four
million records that contain the collection of documentary evidence from
both the House of Commons and House of Lords. There are around 64,000 original
acts of Parliament on parchment and we have format materials that contain
audio-visual right up to the present day as well as parchment seals, paper
manuscripts and printed books. We have a small dedicated team that work to
digitise the collection and my team in particular, the conservators, help to
prepare items and support that service. The reason why we can’t digitise the whole
collection is because it would take decades to manage the whole process. It would also be very costly.
We also have all sorts of shapes and sizes in our collections that would take an awful
lot of time to manage in the process. No major library or archive has managed to
digitise more than five percent of their collection and digitisation has been
going on for many many years. When we receive a request for
digitisation, the first thing we do is retrieve the item from the repository. We may need to call in collection care,
this is my team, to look at any stabilisation needs. The collection care
check is really to check the condition of the item before it is going to be
photographed. The problem we have is we do have a lot of collections that are
actually in very good condition but you also have some collections in very poor
condition and that would mean there’d be cuts and tears, it might be very dirty,
there are losses. Before the photographic process occurs, which is also a risk to
the collection if the item isn’t stablised, we have to make those repairs. Once we’ve done all our checks and we’re
happy that the item is stabilised enough for photography, we hand it over to the
digitisation team. So once I’ve received the document,
I setup my workstation. I’ll make sure my camera’s level, turn on
the lights and turn on the computer. We have a sort of array of equipment
that we can use to help us get the best images possible. The public has an expectation nowadays
to view images online and we need to produce the best we can. There’s a complete array of
documents in the archive. Some are very simple to photograph,
some are rather more complex. We do have some very large documents,
which will be made up of hundreds of images and it will take a long time to
photograph them all. But we don’t want to do it very often because they’re fragile so
it’s worth doing correctly once. One of the great benefits of
digitisation is that we can upload images onto the internet and they are
viewable around the world. It is important that we digitise these
documents because they are historically and constitutionally important. Digitisation isn’t the end of the
process. The challenge today is that we still have to store and archive these images
for the future.

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