Friends, Finance and Fire: “tales of the unexpected” from Jisc digitisation projects

The Jisc Content programme is nearing its completion. At the final programme meeting we held early in July we asked projects to reflect back on the last 18 months of work and in particular on “unexpected” events such as problems, successes, unforeseen occurrences… both positive and negative.

By far the majority of comments revolved around the joys and sorrows of working in partnership, perhaps unsurprisingly as most of the 24 projects are based on collaborations between universities, museums, archives and private organisations.

Some of the benefits highlighted included:

• ability to assemble larger collections of material for digitisation from partners
bringing together expertise from different academic disciplines or sectors or even departments within the same institution
engaging students with digital resources in innovative ways

However, some of the pain points were:

reluctance of some subject experts to accept experimentation, eg involving use of their data in new ways
• the more people are involved in a project the more complex and vulnerable it becomes
• the lack of control on partners, and the risk of them not delivering
• partners might have different cultures/agendas and your project might not always be at the top of their priorities

In general, projects agreed that one way of dealing with things outside of their control is to mitigate the impact they can have on the project and not put too much dependency on any point in the process.

one of the projects in particular learnt the hard way that, in a project’s budget, partners should be presented as research associates especially if they are carrying out the digitisation as part of their role. If not, they will be classified as providing a service and therefore will have to charge VAT to the project, which can eat into up to 20% of the project budget.

A really good blog post by Stuart Dunn from the Jisc project Digitisation of England’s Placenames explains how to go about it.

Finally, while a possibility, these kind of calamities don’t tend to feature in the risk register of a typical digitisation project. But, this is exactly what the National Library of Wales had to cope with a couple of months ago.

National Library of Wales
National Library of Wales on fire

Luckily, the documents that were being scanned as part of the Welsh Experience of World War One project weren’t affected. The library had processes in place to deal with the fire and, while there was inevitable disruption to the project, all is now back on track.

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