Digitization is the process of converting information into a digital (i.e. computer-readable) format. The result is the representation of an object, image, sound, document, or signal (usually an analog signal) obtained by generating a series of numbers that describe a discrete set of points or samples. The result is called digital representation or, more specifically, a digital image, for the object, and digital form, for the signal. In modern practice, the digitized data is in the form of binary numbers, which facilitates processing by digital computers and other operations, but digitizing simply means "the conversion of analog source material into a numerical format"; the decimal or any other number system can be used instead.
Digitization is of crucial importance to data processing, storage, and transmission, because it "allows information of all kinds in all formats to be carried with the same efficiency and also intermingled." Though analog data is typically more stable, digital data has the potential to be more easily shared and accessed and, in theory, can be propagated indefinitely without generation loss, provided it is migrated to new, stable formats as needed. This potential has led to institutional digitization projects designed to improve access and the rapid growth of the digital preservation field.
Sometimes digitization and digital preservation are mistaken for the same thing. They are different, but digitization is often a vital first step in digital preservation. Libraries, archives, museums, and other memory institutions digitize items to preserve fragile materials and create more access points for patrons. Doing this creates challenges for information professionals and solutions can be as varied as the institutions that implement them. Some analog materials, such as audio and video tapes, are nearing the end of their life-cycle, and it is important to digitize them before equipment obsolescence and media deterioration makes the data irretrievable.
There are challenges and implications surrounding digitization including time, cost, cultural history concerns, and creating an equitable platform for historically marginalized voices. Many digitizing institutions develop their own solutions to these challenges.
Technological changes can happen often and quickly, so digitization standards are difficult to keep updated. Professionals in the field can attend conferences and join organizations and working groups to keep their knowledge current and add to the conversation.