Staying out for the Summer

This blog post has been bubbling away over the summer as Geoff and I worked hard finishing work for clients, beginning new work with others and talking with some new customers about potential projects coming downstream. Projects ebb and flow over time and, as someone very used to working in a heritage institution, the constant background hum of building proposals for new projects while we work on our current contracts is something that has taken me a while to get accustomed to.

One of the attractions of joining Geoff and becoming Digitisation.IO was the opportunity to work on different kinds of projects, doing a variety of activities, with clients that needed our help and had the willingness to start projects and new ventures. I’d worked for 16 years in one organisation, enjoying the challenge of reaching our one big ambition – opening a new museum. I’d wedded my work and my motivation to that goal, with the hope of what would follow in terms of engaging audiences, exciting visitors and being adventurous. The reality of post-opening was somewhat different to my expectations and I struggled to find a strong sense of purpose with the new organisation that the museum was becoming. I had been there long enough and it was time to find a new direction.

The Pandemic gave me time to think about my future. Geoff had been asking me to join him for a while and we’d discussed our shared vision for empowering small cultural heritage organisations with our experience and our accumulated knowledge of digitisation. We scoped out a business model to develop tools and services that would be accessible and affordable for small heritage organisations. Over the past 21 months, we’ve been focussed on getting the vision established, with the right partnerships and funding to start realising our plans.

Our ambitions still hold firm and they have evolved as we have developed; hopefully we will be able to make some announcements on that front in the New Year. In the meantime, our consultancy service has developed well, and in ways we didn’t expect. Take 3D, for instance. A chance conversation at the Museum + Heritage Show in 2022 with two fellow exhibitors, Genus and ATS, revealed the appetite from customers for 3D digitisation. I’d been experimenting with 3D digitisation for a number of years at The Postal Museum but had seen the difficulties in developing it as a service for cultural heritage. The subsequent work we’ve done with Genus and ATS since that conversation to build a viable service is not what Geoff and I expected at the beginning of our time working together, but it is becoming an increasingly important part of the services we offer.

Now, 21 months into our new adventure, I sit here reflecting on the busy summer we’ve had. Our clients have included two universities in the UK, a dance archive in Canada, a national museum in Europe, and a motorsport team.

One of the universities we’ve worked with is embarking on a new strategy for a digital library. As part of that, I’ve been involved in talking with experts in crowdsourcing, digital humanities, digitisation, and copyright, gathering information on the challenges of servicing and measuring the success of a digital platform and service. It’s been an enlightening project to work on and I’ve learnt so much. Not even the big libraries and the best-resourced institutions have answers for all of the challenges. Technology constantly moves forwards, opening new ways to engage with audiences as well as transforming methodologies for digitisation, transcription and data gathering. Our client is being very ambitious with their plans, and we’re excited to see the project develop. 

I’ve also deployed my knowledge and skills as an archivist on projects to catalogue and digitise some incredible collections. Again, this is hugely rewarding work and has led me back to the disciplines and activities that I thought I’d left behind when my career became more focused on digitisation and digital engagement. Even as a Registered Member of the Archives and Records Association, I’d not really considered myself to be an archivist anymore. I hadn’t catalogued a collection since 2011 and I had become less involved in archival administration as the years lengthened. Working with Geoff has meant re-engaging with arrangement and description, familiarising myself with the emerging conceptual models in museum and archive documentation and swotting up on metadata schemas.

No week is the same as the last. One week I might be visiting clients, capturing objects using our Arago photogrammetry robot; the next I might be counting sports-car blueprints underneath a wind-tunnel. This week I am working on our marketing and customer relations from my home-office and at the end of the week visiting a client to recalibrate and profile their digitisation equipment.

For me, while the process of lining-up future projects is ever-present, the rewards of leaving my comfort zone outweigh the risks. Working with Geoff is great fun, with honesty and transparency at its core and it has meant working with great clients on some really meaningful and exciting projects.

We’ve been quite quiet on the social media and blog channels these past few months. We’ll be getting back up to speed with a few new case studies in the coming weeks, so I hope you’ll come back soon.