Frequently Asked Questions

About The Portal to Texas History

How do I get to The Portal to Texas History?

The homepage for the Portal is located at:

How do I find _____ in the Portal?

For information about finding items in the Portal, please see the Help pages including these Help Guides and Portal FAQs.

How many people use The Portal to Texas History?

Every month we average 115,000 unique visitors and almost 4 million hits including people from all 50 states and more than 100 foreign countries.

Becoming a Partner Institution

Are there limitations on the kinds of institutions that can participate or contribute items to the Portal?

No. We currently work with libraries of all types, as well as museums, historical societies, archives, and other groups that have Texas heritage materials. We also work with private or family collectors.

Feasibility and Funding

Are there items that cannot be accepted for scanning?

Yes. Here is a general list of items that we will not scan (non-exhaustive):

  • photocopies
  • framed photographs/artwork (unless they are removed from the frame for digitization)
  • items that cannot be removed from plastic sleeves
  • books that do not have large enough margins at the spine (unless the pages can be disbound)
  • texts (including newspaper issues or clippings) that are under copyright (unless your institution holds the rights to the items or can obtain permissions)
  • items deemed too fragile to handle by Digital Projects staff

There are also items that we will digitize under some circumstances, but that need prior approval, including:

  • books with fold-out pages
  • items bound together that will be separate items online (e.g. scrapbooks)

Can you tell me how much it would cost to digitize _____ ?

Since every project is unique, we prefer to estimate costs based on specific items. If you would like information about the cost to digitize items in your collection, please contact us.

Can you digitize copyrighted materials?

We do occasionally scan copyrighted materials, however, copyright permissions must be obtained. As part of the partnership agreement, the partner institution assumes responsibility for determining whether or not something is under copyright protection and gaining any necessary permissions to digitize and make the items publicly available. For more information about copyright laws and determining the copyright of particular items, you may find this page helpful.

Can you digitize items and not make them publicly available?

No. The Portal to Texas History is meant to be a way of making Texas history more accessible to the public for scholarly and educational purposes, so we have chosen to only digitize items that are intended for public use. This is also the reason that we will only digitize items that are in the public domain or copyrighted objects for which permissions have been obtained.

Can you digitize large-format items (maps, photographs, etc.)?

We consider large-format items to be anything larger than 12 x 17 inches. Although we have equipment for digitizing large-format objects, we are starting work on a long-term grant project to digitize maps and are not currently accepting additional projects that cannot be scanned on our flatbed or planetary scanners.

Do you digitize items that are not about Texas?

No. We currently do not accept projects from partner institutions unless the items are related to Texas history.

If we are awarded a “mini-grant” from UNT Libraries, will we receive money?

No. The grant is not a monetary award. The grant covers all related expenses to digitize a collection including:

  1. creating a master-quality image or digital file for preservation
  2. creating derivative versions of the image for online viewing
  3. creating a thorough metadata record to describe each item
  4. running printed materials (such as books and broadsides) through Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software to automatically extract the text to enable full-text searching
  5. providing you with master digital copies of your scanned materials
  6. digitally preserving the image or digital file in our dark archive - we are committed to preserving these digital images for the future, and we are participating in federal research on digital preservation

Does grant money pay for shipping costs?

If you receive a “mini-grant” from UNT, shipping costs are not covered. If you seek an outside grant, shipping costs will only be covered if they are written in as part of the project cost.

Preparing and Packing Your Items

Can unique identifiers contain descriptive words or phrases?

Although unique identifiers may contain letters (e.g. bu023), we prefer that they be primarily for identification rather than description. One main reason that we want items to have identifiers is so that we can easily track items through the digitization process; if items do not all have a standardized set of identifiers, it is difficult to keep digital files in order or match them to the physical items if we need a comparison. If you are assigning new identifiers, the best solution is generally to keep an institutional list of the identifiers and a title or keywords associated with each one if you need a way to identify them later. For more information, see our About Unique Identifiers page.

Why do you want me to use your packing list form - can I use my own?

We created packing lists because checking items into the Digital Projects Lab is more efficient and accurate if we have the same information in the same format from every contributor. If your institution has a standardized packing list, you can use that instead, but please be sure to send both a shipping list and an itemized list so that we can easily account for all of your items. We prefer that you use our shipping list (even if you have an institutional form for the itemized list) because we have included “inventory” notes on our form to track items as they enter and leave the Lab. For clarification, see our packing lists, which can be found on our Forms for Portal Partners page.

Why do you need an itemized packing list if you know how many total items we’re sending?

An itemized list lets us make sure that we have an accurate accounting of the items in the Digital Projects Lab and it lets us more easily communicate with you if we find any discrepancies.

When we create an ‘itemized’ list, does every item have to be listed individually?

If you are sending a large number of items, you can list them as ranges of titles or identifiers, rather than individually. The list does need to be clear, however, so if your numbering system is complicated please make sure that we will be able to easily check off all of the items. For example, if you have the range 1-16 but there is a number 13a, it would be better to list 1-13, 13a, 14-16. To view example packing lists, see our packing lists, which can be found on our Forms for Portal Partners page.

Why do items need to be packed in the order that they are listed on the packing list?

Having items in order makes it easier to inventory the items when they arrive so that we can ensure that there are no discrepancies more quickly and accurately.

How do I get my materials to the Digital Projects Lab for scanning?

Some partners choose to drive to Denton with the items while others decide to mail or ship the items with insurance to cover the value. You are responsible for delivering the materials to the Digital Projects Lab and for picking them up unless they were shipped.

What Happens to Your Items in the Lab

How long does it take to digitize items?

It depends. First, the number and kinds of items will affect the length of time it will take (for examples, books take much longer than photographs to scan and process). Secondly, we may not start your project immediately depending on the queue of items already in the lab and the time of year (many of our students leave over the summer). Since there are so many variations, we will give you an estimate before we start your project that will take everything into account. To get a general sense of how long it might take to digitize your collection, please contact us.

If our items have all been scanned, or are being “QC’d” does that mean that they are almost ready to go online?

Not exactly. Once all of the items for a specific project or partner have been scanned, the images go through a “QC” (quality control) process. Each image is checked to ensure that it meets our standards and that there were no problems during the initial scanning procedure. In some cases, items will need to be re-scanned, which is also why we do not return your items until the digital objects have been uploaded. If we are responsible for writing metadata records, a similar QC process is used to check and edit metadata records. Depending on how many projects we have in the lab and how large your project is, the objects might be in the “QC” phase of the process for a length of time.

Scanning Items

We already have items that are scanned - can those be put on the Portal?

We often upload images that we have not scanned, however, the images must meet our minimum standards. If you are interested in scanning your own items, you might also want to look at our page About Scanning Your Materials for more information.

If you are unsure whether your images meet our requirements, please contact us for more information.

If your images do meet our requirements, we have two different partner models that you can consider depending on your institution’s needs. For information about determining the best fit, see: Portal Partnership Models

What kind of equipment will you use to digitize our items?

We have many different kinds of scanners that we use depending on the kind of project. We can give you more information about how we would scan specific items, or you can look at our full list of lab scanners here.

Adding Metadata

Why did you change the formatting of the metadata information we provided?

To maintain the consistency of the records in The Portal to Texas History, we format all of the information in our records according to the UNT Libraries Metadata Input Guidelines.

Why did you omit some of the metadata information we provided?

We do our best to include as much relevant information as possible, however, we sometimes leave information out of our metadata records if it is unclear whether the information is accurate or actually pertains to the specific item. There are also copyright issues involved in using some information (for example, including related newspaper articles from modern newspapers). Often we try to include information in non-visible fields so that it is still connected to the item when the owner of the items looks at the records from the editing system. If you have additional questions about why specific information was omitted from records, please contact us.

If we decide to create our own metadata, how will we add the information to your system?

After we upload your items to the Portal, you will be given access to the online editing system so that you can complete the metadata record for each individual item via the Web. We will also give you a brief overview of the way that our system works before you start adding metadata. To see instructions and screenshots of the system, look at our Creating Metadata page; for additional information, please contact us.

Can you import our metadata records from ContentDM or Microsoft Excel into the Portal system?

Possibly. In the past, we have occasionally imported records from Excel spreadsheets but we have not yet imported records from ContentDM. The main issue with importing records from another database is the degree to which the fields you have used will easily map to the fields that we use in the Portal; this also means that your fields must be used consistently throughout your spreadsheet or database for migration to work well. If you would like more information about whether or not importing records for your collection would work, please contact us. If you would like to see a list of the fields that we use in the Portal and how they function, see our UNT Libraries Metadata Input Guidelines.

What Happens After Items are Uploaded

How can I get an account to edit or create the metadata records for my collection?

To create editing accounts contact us with the names, e-mail addresses, and preferred password(s) of the editors at your institution. We encourage editors at the same institution to use the same password so that it is less likely to be lost or forgotten. Lost passwords cannot currently be retrieved, but they can be reset when necessary.

When will we get our copy of the master digital files?

A copy of the master digital files is created when we finish the project and included with your items when we return them. If the total file space is under or near 15 GB, we will burn the digital files to DVDs; if the total file space is going to be more than 15 GB, we will ask you to provide a USB-compatible hard drive or thumb drive to hold the files. Keep in mind that DVDs are for temporary storage and you will need to find a way to keep your own copy safe.

Can we get a new copy of the master digital files if ours have been lost?

Once we put items into the system, they are archived on our servers for permanent storage. It is possible to retrieve copies, but every file has to be recalled individually which means that the process to recover entire collections is very time consuming and usually takes priority after current projects. If you need a new copy of the master digital files for your items, please contact us. There may be a fee to cover retrieval costs.

Terminology and Miscellaneous Questions

What is “digitization”?

Digitization is the process of taking an “analog” item (a book, photograph, sound recording, art print, or another physical item or medium) and converting it into a digital form. For objects such as books or photographs, this is done by using scanners to capture digital images of the whole item or individual pages; special scanning equipment is used for other kinds of items including sound or video recordings and microfilm. The purpose of digitization is to create an archival copy that can be kept on a hard drive or other storage device, and also to make the items available for use on the Internet or to share them without handling or transferring the original object.

What is “disbinding”?

In some cases, we “disbind” books which means that we remove the covers and cut the spine so that the pages of the book are loose. We do this for two main reasons. First, it is much quicker and easier (and also less expensive) to scan a book if the pages are loose since they can be fed through a duplex scanner. Second, there are some books that are bound too tightly to scan without disbinding them because the text runs too close to the binding without leaving a large enough margin between the text and the spine.

What is “metadata”?

Metadata is information about an item including descriptive, administrative, and preservation information. Descriptive fields include the title, creator (if known), and a description of the object. On The Portal, when you are looking at a page for an object, the section that says “About this [item]” is the metadata record created for the item. For a more detailed description of what metadata is and how it works for partners (with examples of records), see our About Metadata page. For information about UNT Libraries’ metadata standards, see our full Metadata Input Guidelines or the introductory Quick-Start Metadata Guide.

What is a “mini-grant”?

Occasionally, the Digital Projects Unit receives grant money from institutions to use for digitizing cultural objects. In order to draw a variety of unique objects into the Portal, we break grants into smaller portions (“mini-grants”) that we allocate to other institutions for them to have collections digitized and hosted on The Portal to Texas History. Some mini-grants have specific themes (e.g. “Texas Cultures”) or specific item requirements and there is an application process for each grant series. Mini-grants can be particularly useful for institutions that want to see what digitization is like before starting their own projects or that don’t have the resources to do an entire digitization project independently. To see information about current or forthcoming mini-grant opportunities, see Funding Opportunities.