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Doing digitisation on a budget

A guide to low-cost digital projects

Mathilde Pavis, Andrea Wallace and Sarah Saunders for the National Lottery Heritage Fund

This guide provides an overview of low-cost digitisation and collects inspiring examples of projects by institutions and organisations. The guide helps illustrate how heritage digitisation can be done on a budget.

Defining digitisation

Digitisation is not a singular process, but a set of stages, which in turn are often part of a wider programme. At its core, digitisation is a combination of releasing digital data about collections and creating digital representations of analogue or physical objects. This definition is by Josie Fraser, taken from the definition developed by the DCMS Digitisation Taskforce, Chaired by Valerie Johnston for The National Archives (Digitisation Taskforce Final Report forthcoming).

This means digitisation can include making copies of physical originals in digital form, such as by scanning or photographing collections. It can also include projects that improve the quality or management of your existing digital collections, like projects focused specifically on metadata enrichment or preparing digital images or sound recordings for publication on popular platforms.

Key steps to digitisation

A diagram showing 10 steps to digitisation.

A bird’s eye view of the digitisation process organised into ten steps.


Low-cost digitisation can bring high returns when heritage materials are made available to a wider audience. Working with a low-to-no budget is an opportunity to think creatively about what materials you use and how to share those materials with the public. You may be surprised about how much you can do on a low budget.


Doing a lot with a little requires setting realistic expectations. For example, low-cost digitisation may involve working with a limited range of materials or digitising with equipment you already have on hand. You might also publish the digital assets on existing platforms instead of creating a new website. And that is fine! Sharing some of your materials with the public is better than sharing none. Plus, starting small is a great way to learn and plan for bigger digitisation projects down the road.


This guide includes real life examples of low-cost strategies you can use at different stages of digitisation. Some examples feature institutions which may be larger or better-resourced than your project. Don’t let this put you off. Instead, look at what these institutions have done, and how they have done it, to see if you could replicate something similar.