Success or failure of a Digitisation Programme (NOF): some evidence

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The New Opportunities Fund ran a huge £50m digitisation programme between 2001 and 2004.

Opinion to the success of the programme has been somewhat divided; some have seen it as pioneering; others saw it is a poor use of money, which did not really reap the expected dividends.

There has actually been little analysis as to whether which of these judgements is more correct.

However, there now exists an online database of all the NOF-digi projects and some statistics on their current availability.

  • Of the 149 projects, 115 are still available in one form or another (77%)
  • This figures rises to 85% (104 out of 122) when considering the projects funded under the ‘cultural enrichment’ strand (the other strands were much less focussed on digitisation)
  • This figures rises even further to 87% (34 out of 39) when the larger projects, i.e. those with more than £300k of funding are considered.

Of course, much more analysis on the long-term impact of the programme could be undertaken. While some may carp that about 20% of websites that are now longer available, given the issues in staff skills, sustainability and data capture that were learnt in the first mass digitisation programme ever undertaken in the UK, these statistics are reasonably respectable.

2 replies on “Success or failure of a Digitisation Programme (NOF): some evidence”

An interesting review! For us in Wiltshire, the project enabled a whole range of institutions to develop a website, which they are continuing to maintain and update. For Wiltshire Heritage Museum, the project gave the impetus to document the museum collections, which is now (after 5 years) is almost complete! We are now moving onto the Library, of which more later …

The record in the database on Windows on Wiltshire is only part of the story. The NOF funding lives on and has had a huge impact on the organisation over the years, and has put us in a good position to develop and exploit our online collections.

The emphasis on the longevity of the project websites is only one aspect of the impact of NOF-Digi (and I would tend to argue that it is the wrong one but I accept that it is a useful measure). It harks back to discussions at the time about whether NOF-Digi was really about making new digitised content available or simply building new websites.

That is partly a ‘people’ vs ‘machine’ kind of discussion, though issues around openness (e.g. use of open licences) and so on are clearly also relevant.

So, if you measure success in terms of human-oriented websites, I agree that NOF-Digi was successful (as indicated above). If you measure it in terms of the open availability of new digitised content in a truly re-usable form, then it seems to me that it is much harder to assess.

At the time, we had a lot of discussions about whether the EnrichUK portal to NOF-Digi projects should be able to harvest item-level metadata, such that it could become a true portal to individual items rather than simply being a collection-level interface. In the end we weren’t able to find ways of doing that, which was a shame IMHO but it reflected concerns of the time – ones that are probably largely still with us – around ownership, the “one-stop-shop” nature of cultural heritage websites and so on.

It seems a real shame, given that we currently have emails being exchanged on the MCG mailing list about which websites are still alive, that we seem to be trying to re-build the EnrichUK database by hand? Presumably, the flag that said, “this was a NOF-Digi project” got lost somewhere in the transition from EnrichUK to Michael UK ?

Whatever… I know that Pete Dowdell still has copies of the old EnrichUK backend database. If those would help improve your current activity it might be worth trying to get a copy of them from him.

It’s kinda nice when individual staff are better at preserving stuff than the big organisations! 🙂

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