Digital to Print to Digital, or, Running in Circles

Rule: Don’t add unnecessary, value-subtracting steps. If a process already has these steps in it, take them out.

Application: I’ve come to be responsible for an ongoing newspaper digitization project. Not a large project, by any means, but important for the library’s community relations. We (“we” being the Ball State University Libraries) created a digital archive of the Muncie Times, a local newspaper that is still published regularly.

Dealing with back issues was straightforward: scan and OCR. But, as I mentioned, the newspaper is still published regularly, so we get another issue every other week. Here’s the workflow I inherited:

  1. The publisher creates the issue using QuarkXPress.
  2. The publisher exports a PDF and sends it to the printer.
  3. The printer prints the issue.
  4. The publisher sends a printed copy of the issue to the library.
  5. The library scans and OCRs the issue.
  6. The library puts the issue on the Internet

If you’re like me, you look at steps 3-5 and groan at the inanity of it. These steps made sense for the back issues that no one had retained a digital version of, but there is absolutely no reason, in this 21st century, to use printed newspapers in creating a digital archive of digital objects.

Here’s the new workflow:

  1. The publisher creates the issue using QuarkXPress.
  2. The publisher exports a PDF and sends it to the printer and the library.
  3. The library puts the issue on the Internet.

It’s a miracle! Faster, easier, cheaper, and (most importantly) higher-quality, just by cutting out half the steps.

Caveat: The new step 3 isn’t quite so easy as it sounds. The first problem is getting the publisher to actually do step 2. The second problem (which I’ll cover in a bit) is converting the PDFs from a format suitable for the printer to a format suitable for online reading.

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