What is Digitization?

Synonymous to image capture through scanning and photography, digitization is transforming data, information, knowledge, or physical objects from various media into an electronic format. In this process, the original is often represented as an image that can be displayed in various formats. The images may be black and white, or color depending on the type of equipment that is used.

It also collectively refers to storing data and providing information in a computer format. In document or diagnostic imaging technology, digitization is the process of capturing an analog document as a collection of binary digits (pixels) using a scanning device. Digitization is a precondition for electronic storage, such as magnetic storage, storage on optical disk, and character recognition (e.g., ICR, OCR).

Why Digitize?

Digitization is an important precursor for a variety of applications and projects. Specifically, it increases the ease and efficiency of document transmission in a number of ways. Images can be:

  • displayed on a computer screen.
  • distributed to multiple destinations via electronic mail delivery.
  • printed into any paper-based format.
  • electronically transmitted to a fax machine.
  • Made available via a web portal or search database. Further, digitized files can be placed in electronic storage, such as magnetic storage, storage on optical drives, and be fully searched through character recognition.


The use of digitization can help with the preservation of original manuscripts. Many historical documents are so fragile that the slightest human contact can cause damage.

Through proper data storage, electronic data has unlimited lifespan. This also allows resources to be available for simultaneous review by any number of researchers.

Digitization has the potential to change the way scholars and activists utilize historical documents and essays.

Once a document has been successfully digitized, many benefits can be realized, such as:

  • Preservation of originals through reduced handling
  • Unlimited data life span
  • Wide availability to the public
  • Ease of access through computers, digital libraries and online access
  • Powerful searching and browsing possibilities
  • Aid in research, education, and awareness programs

Today access to most rare historical documents is quite difficult because of their wide spread distribution throughout the region. Many such collections are still not catalogued or replicated, or simply remain unknown. This is primarily due to lack of interest, means, and knowledge for these artifacts. Often stored in poor conditions, these precious articles are prone to irreparable damage. The handling of originals establishes risk for permanent loss, because no duplicates exist.