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Pre-Digitisation Curation Checklist

Table of contents


Pre-digitisation curation and staging is the first task cluster in the process of digitisation of biological and palaeontological collections (Nelson et al., 2012). This step is usually viewed as essential to efficient digitisation but often has benefits that extend beyond the immediate needs of the digitisation itself.

This page outlines a pre-digitisation curation checklist which allows the user to perform a self-assessment to understand if a collection is ready to proceed with digitisation. The checklist contains check boxes for the user to indicate decisions and logical steps in preparing the collection, and where relevant useful links and references have been provided. In some cases, case studies have been described and are linked to in the checklist.

Some sections of the checklist are still to be developed, as they link closely with other DiSSCo Prepare work packages. This page will be updated when these tasks are complete.

A word document containing this checklist can be downloaded here

Pre-Digitisation Curation Checklist

1. Detailed inventory of the collection (Number of Specimens)

See our Collections Inventory page.

2. Prioritisation list of (sub)collections

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This prioritisation of collections is extensively treated in WP1 of DiSSCo Prepare, and this section of the checklist will be updated once this deliverable is complete. Useful literature can be found here.

Based on

  • Size
  • Origin
  • Readiness
  • Scientific Importance
  • Historical Importance
  • Which collections can be mass digitised
  • Funding situation (opportunities, obligations to funders)

3. Supplies

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Enough supplies are essential when you start digitising your collection. Bear in mind that it is most of the time cheaper to buy material in bulk. This however will possibly mean that you have to tender to get the necessary materials. For a case study, see Ordering supplies for pinned insect digitization.

3.1 Restoration supplies

  • Microscope slides
    • Cardboard slide folders
    • Glue
    • Very thin forceps
    • Temporary slide tags
  • Skin and vertebrate materials
    • Boxes
    • Filling material e.g. cotton wool
    • Drawers
    • Unit trays
    • Thread, scissors, archival pens, forceps
  • Liquid preserved specimens
    • Preservatives
    • Stoppers
    • Labels
    • Petri dishes
    • Flagging material
  • Pinned insects
    • Pins
    • Drawers
    • Unit trays
    • Forceps
  • Herbarium sheets
    • Folders
    • Sheets
    • Gummed paper
    • Needle
    • Sewing thread
    • Envelopes
    • Bags to store loose material/small parts
    • Glue
    • Pencil
    • Pen with archival ink
    • Scissors
  • Fossils
    • Stickers

3.2 Cleaning

  • cloths, alcohol

3.3 Storage

  • boxes, drawers, folders, cupboards, jars, vials, racks, stoppers

3.4 Barcodes

When buying barcodes you have to decide on the following:

  • Format (2D, QR, data-matrix)
  • Info on/in the barcode (machine and human readable)
  • Size
  • Label material
  • Paper quality (conservation grade)
  • Pre-cut or pre-punched
  • One or two-sided
  • Fixation (wire, glue, self-adhesive, pierced…)
  • Quality of the adhesive

Make sure that the adhesives used are of high quality as you don’t want them to come off and end up in a pile at the bottom of a cabinet/drawer. Also make sure that the adhesive used is harmless for the specimens where you add them to.

Kinds of barcodes you may need to use:

  • Specimen barcodes
  • Drawer barcodes
  • Barcodes for cupboards

Useful literature on barcodes can be found here.

3.5 Track and trace

If you want to keep track of what happened with your specimens and where they are in the digitisation process you can set up a track and trace system.

For example when you conduct the digitisation in house, you can add a sheet with a to-do list (preparation, adding barcodes, restoration, imaging, databasing, freezing,...) to each drawer/pigeon hole/storage unit where you can tick what has already been done.

When you are outsourcing the digitisation, you can ask the external company to describe a track and trace system so that it allows them to remove the specimens from the original spot and put them back correctly after digitisation. It also will allow them to trace the specimens back to the correct storage location in case anything goes wrong.

Once you have set up your track and trace system, you can start listing the material you need for it. This can be:

  • Paper, stickers, magnets, barcodes, trolleys, boxes

3.6 IT Infrastructure

A reliable IT infrastructure will make or break your digitisation project and is one of the first things you will have to invest in. Especially hardware for storing your images safely. More information can be found in our Data Management IT Infrastructure Guidance.

  • Hardware for long term storage/ cooperation with an external institution specialised in longterm archiving.
  • Hardware for temporary/local storage
  • Backup storage
  • Servers
  • Stations for QC images
  • Stations for transcription
  • Stations for QC transcriptions
  • Software
    • For image acquisition
    • Image display
    • Post processing
    • Monitoring
    • Quality control
    • Archiving
  • Cloud storage
  • Portal
  • CMS

3.7 Digitisation Stations

  • Camera
  • Lens
  • Lighting
  • Table
  • Computer
  • Software
  • IT storage (local, disk, server, cloud, image transfer)
  • Background
  • Equipment for specimen mounting
  • Tripod/stand
  • Set of scales and color charts
  • Connection cables, batteries and accessory
  • Logo of your institute

3.8 Space for infrastructure of external company

If you decide to outsource (part of) the digitisation but plan the digitisation itself in your own institute, make sure you have a spare room where the external company can install their digitisation infrastructure. It should be easily accessible and close to the collections. The space should be suitable to locate additional workplaces for the external project management and break rooms. Clarify access to existing infrastructure (restrooms, meeting rooms) of your institution and agree on facility management tasks of the space (e.g. cleaning). Foresee enough access points for electricity and a link to the server room of your institute.

At Meise Botanic Garden, we added a floor plan to the tender with (if possible) a few options of where the installation could be set up. We also added our preference location but this way the external company had the choice to see what the most suitable location was. For the installation of a conveyor belt, as it was the case in Meise, a room of 65 m² was needed.

4. Pre-Digitisation curation

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Many of the workflows on this site include a pre-digitisation curation section, which may be helpful to consult when creating your own workflows.

5. Staff availability

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See our staffing page for more information on digitisation roles and recruitment

Staff availability is extensively treated in WP2 of DiSSCo Prepare, and this section will be updated once this deliverable is complete. For a case study see the Staff list for the mass digitisation project DOE! at Meise Botanic Garden

6. Costbooks

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The costbook is extensively treated in WP4 of DiSSCo Prepare and this section will be updated once this deliverable is complete. More information can be found in Hardisty et al. (2020).

7. Decision to do in house or outsource

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Based on the assessment of the collection, the available funding and the staff you have, you can make decisions on the following steps if you want to outsource them or do them yourself.

If the imaging/transcription is outsourced with quality control (QC) conducted by the outsourcing partner, we highly recommend you also should have an internal quality control procedure in place.

For a case study, download a pdf of an imaging and data capture tender written by Meise Botanic Garden for the outsourcing of the African and Belgian herbarium collections

7.1 In house

  • Restoration
  • Barcoding
    • Add barcodes to the specimens prior to imaging
    • At the imaging station itself
  • Transportation
    • Do you bring your material to the digitisation station yourself?
  • Decontamination
    • Do you include this into the transportation or not?
  • Imaging
  • Quality Control imaging
    • Automated QC
    • Visual QC
  • Transcription
  • QC transcription
  • Image archiving
  • Data publishing

7.2 Outsource

Write down detailed procedures for every step you will outsource so that there is no room for discussion.

  • Tendering
    • use examples
    • specify your needs
    • describe your collection in detail
  • Restoration
  • Barcoding
  • Packaging
  • Depending on where you need to transport your specimens to: if your collection is housed in the same building you need less packing then when you need to transport them to another building.

  • Transportation
    • Do you bring your material to the digitisation station yourself?
    • Transportation from and to the digitisation station in house.
    • Transportation to another building
  • Decontamination
  • Imaging
  • QC imaging
  • Transcription
    • External company
    • Crowdsourcing
    • Write a transcription protocol
  • QC transcription
  • Image archiving
    • Work together with a company specialised in long term preservation
  • Data publishing

8. Necessary Workflows

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In this section you can find a list of all the workflows you might need in place when you start your own (mass) digitisation project

8.1 Pre-Digitisation Curation

  • Barcoding
  • Restoration
  • Taxonomy
  • Renewal of the storage unit
  • Marking already digitised specimens

8.2 Imaging

  • Digitisation Standards
  • Format
  • Derivatives

8.3 Databasing

  • What fields do you want to have transcribed?
  • Will you make skeletal records/add QR codes for minimal data entry?
  • Data Standards

8.4 QC Imaging

For more information see Nieva de la Hidalga et al. (2020).

8.5 QC Databasing

For a case study see Quality control procedure of Meise Botanic Garden for the mass digitisation project DOE!

8.6 Decontamination

See section 1.4.2 of this checklist

8.7 Tracking System

For a case study see Tracking system: Collection move, Naturalis

8.8 Data storage

See Section 3.6 of this checklist, our Data Management page and Nieva de la Hidalga et al.(2020) for more information.

8.9 Data publishing

  • Own portal
  • GBIF
  • Digital curation: link to possible websites you can use for updating the quality of your data (GBIF, Geonames,gazetteers, worldfloraonline...)

8.10 Data Management Plan

An example data management from Ghent University is available here.

Useful Literature

The following resources contain useful general guidance to pre-digitisation curation: iDigBio Pre-digitization Curation and Staging Wiki. Available at:

Kalms, B 2012. Guidance. Digitisation: A strategic approach for natural history collections. Available at:

SPNHC Wiki: Digitization. Available at:

Popov, D, Roychoudhury, P, Hardy, H, Livermore, L, Norris, K. The Value of Digitising Natural History Collections. Available at:

More literature can also be found here.


Sofie De Smedt & Ann Bogaerts
Meise Botanic Garden


Lisa French, Frederik Berger, Rob Cubey, Helen Hardy, Anne Koivunen, Sabine von Mering, Laurence Livermore


Hardisty A, Livermore L, Walton S, Woodburn M, Hardy H (2020) Costbook of the digitisation infrastructure of DiSSCo. Research Ideas and Outcomes 6: e58915.

Nieva de la Hidalga A, Rosin PL, Sun X, Bogaerts A, De Meeter N, De Smedt S, Strack van Schijndel M, Van Wambeke P, Groom Q (2020) Designing an Herbarium Digitisation Workflow with Built-In Image Quality Management. Biodiversity Data Journal 8: e47051.


De Smedt, S & Bogaerts, A. (2022) DiSSCo Digitisation Guide: Pre-Digitisation Checklist. v.1.1. Available at:



Document Control

Version: 1.1
Changes since last version:

  • Detailed inventory of the collection (Number of Specimens) moved to a separate page
  • Added link to staffing page Last Updated: 3 February 2023

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