UKOLN AHDS Implementing Quality Assurance For Digitisation


Digitisation often involves working with hundreds or thousands of images, documents, audio clips or other types of source material. Ensuring these objects are consistently digitised and to a standard that ensures they are suitable for their intended purpose can be complex. Rather than being considered as an afterthought, quality assurance should be considered as an integral part of the digitisation process, and used to monitor progress against quality benchmarks.

Quality Assurance Within Your Project

The majority of formal quality assurance standards, such as ISO9001, are intended for large organisations with complex structures. A smaller project will benefit from establishing its own quality assurance procedures, using these standards as a guide. The key is to understand how work is performed and identify key points at which quality checks should be made. A simple quality assurance system can then be implemented that will enable you to monitor the quality of your work, spot problems and ensure the final digitised object is suitable for its intended use.

The ISO 9001 identifies three steps to the introduction of a quality assurance system:

  1. Brainstorm: Identify specific processes that should be monitored for quality and develop ways of measuring the quality of these processes. You may want to think about:
    • Project goals: who will use the digitised objects and what function will they serve.
    • Delivery strategy: how will the digitised objects be delivered to the user? (Web site, Intranet, multimedia presentation, CD-ROM).
    • Digitisation: how will data be analysed or created. To ensure consistency throughout the project, all techniques should be standardized.
  2. Education: Ensure that everyone is familiar with the use of the system.
  3. Improve: Monitor your quality assurance system and looks for problems that require correction or other ways it may be improved.

Key Requirements For A Quality Assurance System

First and foremost, any system for assuring quality in the digitisation process should be straightforward and not impede the actual digitisation work. Effective quality assurance can be achieved by performing four processes during the digitisation lifecycle:

  1. The key to a successful QA process is to establish a clear and concise work timeline and, using a step-by-step process, document on how this can be achieved. This will provide a baseline against which actual work can be checked, promoting consistency, and making it easier to spot when digitisation is not going according to plan.
  2. Compare the digital copy with the physical original to identify changes and ensure accuracy. This may include, but is not limited to, colour comparisons, accuracy of text that has been scanned through OCR software, and reproduction of significant characteristics that give meaning to the digitised data (e.g. italicised text, colours).
  3. Perform regular audit checks to ensure consistency throughout the resource. Qualitative checks can be performed upon the original and modified digital work to ensure that any changes were intentional and processing errors have not been introduced. Subtle differences may appear in a project that takes place over a significant time period or is divided between different people. Technical checks may include spell checkers and the use of a controlled vocabulary to allow only certain specifically designed descriptions to be used. These checks will highlight potential problems at an early stage, ensuring that staff are aware of inconsistencies and can take steps to remove them. In extreme cases this may require the re-digitisation of the source data.
  4. Finally, measures should be taken to establish some form of audit trail that tracks progress on each piece of work. Each stage of work should be 'signed off' by the person responsible, and any unusual circumstances or decisions made should be recorded.

The ISO 9001 system is particularly useful in identifying clear guidelines for quality management.


Digitisation projects should implement a simple quality assurance system. Implementing internal quality assurance checks within the workflow allows mistakes to be spotted and corrected early-on, and also provides points at which work can be reviewed, and improvements to the digitisation process implemented.

Further Information