When organizations and businesses think about the kind of content they need for their website, it’s normal to focus on things like landing pages, blog writing, video, and infographics. But content comes in many forms and one of the most effective, high-quality, and impactful types of content is something you may already have in filing cabinets, hard drives, and stacked in shelves throughout your organization—digital historic archives, records, and collections of analog documents that can be digitized and posted to your website.
What is digitization of records?
Digitization is the process of making non-digital information accessible in digital format. This includes photographs, written records, microfilm, video, analog recordings, print media, maps, and anything you may have stuffed in a physical file cabinet over the years.
The US Library of Congress’s World Digital Library (WDL) is an example of a digitized archive which is free for public access. Created in 2009, the WDL contains collections of materials that include cultural objects, historical documents, books, maps, and other treasures from nearly 200 countries. Users can find items by doing a keyword search or browsing by place, time, topic, type of item, and more.
An example of ancient objects available to browse on the World Digital Library
Any organization that’s more than a decade old can benefit from digitizing their old records, documents, photos, and other materials to create compelling digital histories and archives. This generally takes two different forms:
- Digital timelines: Historical company content can be used to create digital timelines that include photos of past company locations, founders, business names, community service, and more. If you’ve been around for half a century or more, then this information which may be housed in a forgotten filing cabinet (or someone’s attic) can be dusted off, sorted through, and digitized to help tell the story of where you came from and where you’re going.
- Digital historic archives: Historical organizations like presidential libraries, museums, and historical societies are tasked with keeping track of vast collections that include books, documents, newspapers, microforms, photographs, objects, and other materials which must be maintained and made accessible to the public. Digitizing and indexing archival collections is an excellent way to make this content searchable and accessible to researchers, teachers, and the public.
We’ve worked with several organizations to digitize historical and archival content as well as businesses who’ve served the community for a century or more. It’s always a rewarding experience that produces high-quality and accessible content.
“Digitizing existing content is an immense amount of work, but it presents a tremendous opportunity” said Phillippa Ewing, Director of Marketing at Ashworth. “It tells the story of the organization or event and enables people to navigate through images, video, and text to experience history in a very tangible way. It also demonstrates resilience by showing how your organization has overcome adversity, pandemics, wars, etc.”
There are several different ways you can repurpose digitized archival content on your website. These include creating searchable databases of themed collections (e.g., FDR’s speeches) and illustrated timelines. A third method is the “video without video” approach which uses still images like photographs and illustrations within a documentary-style video to showcase a specific collection, archive, or history.
Here are three examples of digital archives and/or timelines we’ve created for our clients.
#1. FDR Presidential Library: We worked with The Pare Lorentz Center at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum to create an app to map out the story of the Social Security Act and the context in which it was presented.
Said Ewing, “We used contextual video, film, and photographs compiled by the archivists at the FDR Presidential Library that include the dark months before FDR and his inauguration during the Great Depression to tell the story. The app enables users to navigate through photographs and images of the Great Depression. It sets them up for the solution which was Social Security.”
The mobile app is like a virtual exhibition, guiding users through a timeline of FDR’s New Deal and featuring historical elements within a modern interface.
#2: FDR library and Marist College: We worked with the FDR Library and Marist college to create a virtual research room and digital repository. This online resource provides free and open access to the FDR Library’s digitized collections to anyone in the world.
Our core work involved building a finding tool so that users could access the Library’s digitized collections from their website. Collections include FDR’s Master Speech File, Map Room papers, Executive Orders, and much more. The virtual research room hosts over 800,000 pages of archival documents including 2,500 historical photographs and is an excellent example of how the analog and digital worlds can be combined to create a tremendous public resource.
#3: Rising Ground – Video without Video
We worked with Rising Ground, a New York nonprofit that provides resources to children, adults, and families enabling them to overcome adversity to create an informational video using a high percentage of archival stills and a small amount of stock footage.
Founded in the 1830s as the Leake & Watts Orphan House, Rising Ground is one of the first private charitable institutions in the country that was dedicated to children in need. The organization’s mission over 190 years has remained constant although the services it provides have evolved to meet contemporary needs. Ashworth Creative produced a 20+ minute mini-documentary about the organization that was given a full-scale premiere in the Directors Guild Theater in NYC to celebrate their 190th anniversary.
#4: Timelines as content
Another powerful way to repurpose digitized archives is by turning your own history into content. Use photos, videos, and documents to create multimedia timelines which can be featured on your website, in print, or turned into a video without video.
An example of this is the work we did for Adams Fairacre Farms, a local supermarket and garden center that was founded in 1927. We worked with Adams to create a visual timeline for their website to celebrate their 80th anniversary in 2017.
Portion of the visual timeline created for Adams Fairacre Farms
Timelines provide an effective way to communicate brand, establish history, and invite customers and communities to learn more about a business or organization.
“Timelines and digital archives take content to another level,” said Ewing. “They make a large amount of fascinating content accessible.”
Whether that’s FDR’s speeches or the story of how a local community market got its start, digitization provides your customers and users a means to get to this information. Contact us today to learn more about our digitization services or to discuss your timeline and content archival needs.