Project risks, such as funding problems, poor quality of the results, legal barriers or inefficient processes, can be minimised with some careful planning and conceptualisation. This website explains some key points for the conception of a digitization project.  

Partial or entire holdings?

Modern scanning technology, falling storage costs and software that simplifies the workflow have triggered a paradigm shift in digitization concepts: instead of individual documents, entire collections are being digitized. Old holdings in the so-called public domain are prioritised here as the copyrights have run out for them.

Prime examples of mass digitization are Google's (external link) digitization project or projects like (external link) oder ETH E-Pics (external link).

Selection criteria for the digitization of holdings might be:

  • Research relevance
  • (Academic) demand
  • Preservation of holdings (frequently used materials, unique specimens)
  • Virtual reconstruction of collections and holdings

Practical example – project scope E-Periodica

The materials for the digitization project E-Periodica (external link) are selected according to the following criteria:

  • Journal character: typical journals that appear more frequently than once a year take priority; in addition to this, yearbooks and other series
  • Reference to Switzerland based on content, authorship and publisher, language, place of publication etc.
  • Non-commercial character: non-profit publishers (e.g. specialist associations) or small, local publishing houses
  • Support from publishers: for journals that are still published, digitization is considered only with the active support of the publisher 
  • Addition to an existing digital journal collection

Volume framework

A detailed volume framework offers a decent basis for the project planning. Especially for heterogeneous holdings, it can be helpful to record the number, type and nature of the materials. For written documents, such as books and journals, it is an advantage if the number of pages is known or can be estimated as accurately as possible. 

Memory space

For extensive projects, data quantities can soon run into the terabyte range. Therefore, it is important to plan ahead where and in which form the data is to be stored or archived (see also Follow-Up Costs).

Within the scope of collaborations, content-related aspects can be coordinated, redundancies avoided and costs shared. A reduction in costs can be achieved through the joint procurement and/or usage of the scanner infrastructure.

Important aspects of a cooperative agreement:

  • Project scope and holdings
  • Project duration and organisation
  • Services of the project partners
  • Granting of rights
  • Funding
  • Guarantees and liability
  • Duration and termination of the agreement
  • Costs and cost-sharing

The early exchange of information on digitization proposals and the use of central reference instruments is generally important.

Practical example – collaborations and

Both (external link) and (external link) are conceived and structured as joint projects between Swiss university libraries. Meanwhile, however, numerous other libraries and institutions are also involved and contribute towards the continuous expansion of the service with their holdings

The main cost drivers for digitization projects are personnel expenses and the development of the technical infrastructure and knowhow.

Cost factors in general

  • Personnel expenses for scanning, quality control, preparation and reworking of the material, possibly training costs on the scanner
  • Infrastructural costs (e.g. scanner, software solutions, databases, IT support)
  • Licensing costs for image processing and indexing programmes, full-text recognition (OCR)
  • Nature of the original (bound, loose-leaf, special formats, handling)
  • Scanning parameters (colour/greyscale, resolution/dpi)
  • Online presentation (IT infrastructure platform, support, metadata recording)
  • Transport and insurance premiums

Cost factors for external digitization service-providers

Outsourcing to external service-providers especially pays off for an individual project with a volume that would not justify the internal procurement costs. Depending on the nature and scope of the projects, it is advisable to obtain two to three quotes.

Follow-up costs

The follow-up costs for the maintenance of software, hardware and data depend on the individual case and usually can only be estimated roughly.

The same goes for storage and long-term archiving expenses. Although the prices for storage capacities have been falling steadily in recent years, they can still stretch the project budget for large digitization endeavours. The fact that it involves long-term, running costs beyond the project framework needs to be considered here. Moreover, the greater the data quantity, the higher the cost of data protection and subsequent data migrations.

Funding forms

There are different funding possibilities, depending on the project and its framework conditions:

  • Self-funding  
  • Collaborations
  • Third-party funding (e.g. support programmes)
  • Public Private Partnership: cultural institutions collaborate with private companies and jointly perform public services, e.g. the cooperation between the Bavarian State Library (external link) and Google (external link).
  • Sponsoring

Practical example – funding E-Periodica

Specialist associations and publishers usually only have limited means at their disposal to fund digitization projects. In the early days, E-Periodica (external link) was co-funded with project money from and using the Consortium of Swiss Academic Libraries (external link) and ETH-Bibliothek’s own funding.

Currently, the cost model looks as follows:

  • One-off costs for the processing and activation of the retro holdings for a journal: funded by the project partners (publisher, specialist association etc.) and ETH-Bibliothek
  • Annual costs for the addition of new issues and memory, and operating costs for the entire journal are passed on to the project partners in full.
    The umbrella organisation Swiss Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences (SAHS) (external link) contributes towards funding the annual costs in journals for the humanities and social sciences.

Digitization projects require knowhow and modern technology. The individual requirements, project scope and resources available (personnel, funding, infrastructure etc.) determine whether and to what degree external service-providers should be used.

The following table provides an overview of the main pros and cons of in-house digitization and outsourcing:

Pros outsourcingCons outsourcing
  • Low (own) staffing requirement
  • No specialist, in-depth knowledge needed for the scanning process itself
  • No personnel resources needed for the scanning process
  • Low level of investment necessary
  • Intensive work preparation
  • Complicated prior clarifications (quotes, test runs)
  • Dependence on external delivery times (risk of project delays)
  • Logistics overheads (transport, insurance, checks etc.)
Pros outsourcingCons outsourcing
  • Independence (deadlines etc.)
  • Simple planning
  • Lower logistics overheads
  • Short communication channels
  • Experience and learning options
  • Commitment of personnel resources
  • Specialist knowledge needed
  • New challenges
    (resource planning, new infrastructures, storage management etc.)

Outsourcing does not necessarily mean "off-site": for larger projects or holdings that cannot be taken off-site, service-providers who work on-site with their own equipment and staff can be used. 

The legal situation should be verified and usage rights obtained as early as possible during the planning phase. 


Under Swiss copyright law (pdf, 255 kB) (external link) , works are protected until seventy years after the author's death, after which they are freely available as so-called "public domains". A work published in 1900, the author of which died in 1950, is therefore under copyright until 2020.  

Whether the publisher of a work holds the rights for its (additional) publication on the internet needs to be verified. For older publications, this can be excluded from the outset as the internet did not exist when the contract between the author and the publisher was agreed.

Artistic works: ProLitteris

If the originals are artistic works or images, permission for their online publication needs to be obtained from Pro Litteris (external link), which represents the rights of the participating authors and photographers and charges a (fixed) usage fee on their behalf for an additional online publication. These additional costs also have to be taken into account and who will pay for them in the long term needs to be clarified.  

Practical example – copyright

Apart from a few exceptions, primarily old prints that were published before 1900 and where no copyright restrictions apply anymore are uploaded onto (external link).

Practical example – copyright E-Periodica

The prerequisite for an upload onto E-Periodica (external link) is the involvement and consent of a publication’s copyright holders. An exception is made for journals until the 19th century, where the copyright holders can no longer be ascertained.

Experience has shown that only the publishers of newer commercial journals conclude contracts with their authors. In doing so, the authors transfer the full usage rights to the article in question to the publisher (copyright agreement). For historical contents, such clear agreements usually do not exist and obtaining retroactive permission from authors and their descendants through the correct legal channels would involve a disproportionate amount of effort.

Dispensation with formal permission

For journal digitization at E-Periodica, a pragmatic procedure has therefore been adopted: the author’s consent is not obtained, but the author can subsequently demand the blockage or deletion of his or her work from the online service.

This approach assumes that the copyright holders are academically active people or part-time authors who support the further dissemination of their work in the interests of free science.

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Head of team
Regina Wanger

Regina Wanger