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Techniques for Creating Sustainable Digital Collections

From the Introduction
Collections digitization is expensive. Librarians hope for high returns--many users, many years of use--from these investments, yet the digital products created from preservation and access initiatives are inherently fragile, requiring ongoing attention and care to remain usable.

As more cultural heritage institutions move beyond experimenting with digitization technologies to incorporating digitization into their daily operations, funders, standards bodies, library administrators, and project managers are increasingly concerned about sustainability, a key attribute of good digital collections.

The underlying premise of this report is: Good collections emerge from good programs. Program policies and services are emphasized over technology, which will change frequently. Trade-offs between operational costs (staffing, training, equipment, purchased services) and quality of digital products are presented.

This report presents building blocks of successful text and image digitization programs as guidance to administrators seeking to develop programs in their institutions.

Although specific standards and technologies are cited, the report primarily aims to answer high-level questions that inform program development and administration. These questions include:

  • What are the characteristics of successful digitization programs and projects?
  • What foundations should be in place before introducing or integrating digitization into library operations?
  • What does an organization need to know about technology--digitization formats, standards, systems, techniques, and services--and where can librarians obtain reliable information?
  • What techniques can be used to manage the costs of creating and sustaining digital collections? What operational models achieve a balance of quality and cost?

Chapter Breakdowns
Chapter 1, "Institutional Readiness," and Chapter 2, "Managing Digitization,"
outline frameworks that should ideally be in place before digitization.

Chaper 3, "Levels of Service for Image Digitization," and Chapter 4, "Levels of Service for Text Digitization," present the baseline processes and services that need to be applied during digitization.

Chapter 5, "Managing Costs," summarizes trade-offs among variables of production (quantity), quality, control (ownership), and sustainability--all factors to consider when developing specifications for any given project.

Chapter 6, "Committing to Change," addresses the organizational obligations after digitizing the collections, indentifying the main cost centers associated with sustaining usability.

The appendixes, "Education and Training" and "Selected Resources," provide pointers to reliable sources of information for the manager and digitization practioner.

About the Author

Stephen Chapman is preservation librarian for digital initiatives in the Weissman Preservation Center, Harvard University Library. He advises Harvard librarians and archivists about approaches to collections digitization and liaises with industry and digitization experts to develop tools and techniques that optimize quality and cost.

Chapman writes and speaks frequently on digitization and digital preservation. He has been a member of the NEDCC School for Scanning faculty since 1997 and served on the board of editors of the Digital Library Federation's Guides to Quality in Visual Resource Imaging.

He co-authored the Data Dictionary--Technical Metadata for Digital Still Images, now a draft NISO standard, and Digital Imaging for Libraries and Archives (Cornell University Library, 1996).

Chapman holds an MLS from the University of Albany School of Information Science & Policy and an MA in English from Boston University.