Putting Content Online: A Practical Guide for Libraries

Jon Knight (Systems Programmer and Networks Officer, Loughborough University, UK)

Program: electronic library and information systems

ISSN: 0033-0337

Article publication date: 25 April 2008




Knight, J. (2008), "Putting Content Online: A Practical Guide for Libraries", Program: electronic library and information systems, Vol. 42 No. 2, pp. 197-198. https://doi.org/10.1108/00330330810867783



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

An increasing number of organisations are looking to provide access to digital content. Some of these may be university libraries attempting to preserve research and teaching output, others may be public libraries aiming to increase the availability and usage of local special collections, and still others will be special libraries using digital versions to help protect fragile or rare materials. All of these groups share some common aims: they are producing or acquiring digital content, encoding it in a variety of formats to enable end‐user access and generating a variety of metadata to describe the resources and their conversions.

This book is aimed at librarians, archivists and systems staff that are involved in this type of project. Whilst it is not a deep academic tome, some library and information science teachers may find it useful to introduce their students to the concepts behind digital archives and the practical aspects of setting up and running one.

The book starts by looking at some of the reasons for providing online content and some of the current trends that have appeared in the field, such as mass digitisation projects and long‐term preservation issues. A useful list of different classes of collections is given, as is a set of useful pointers to major resources to allow readers to keep current with the rapidly changing technologies. The book then settles down to looking at a specific facet of the online content provision task in each chapter. This starts with the preliminary issues that must be considered when a new digital collection is contemplated, such basic issues as: defining the audience, working out what the goal of providing the collection is, and what boundaries the project has. Collection selection, development and cultural sensitivity issues are briefly covered as well. This is followed by a chapter devoted to one of the major stumbling blocks of many plans for online collections: the questions surrounding copyright and digital rights management. Now whole books can be written about copyright, especially as it varies from country to country, but this chapter provides a sound overview of the major items to consider and raises awareness in the reader of the complexities involved. This chapter, in common with all the other chapters in the book, provides an extensive set of references at the end of the chapter pointing to paper and online resources for readers wishing to delve further into these issues.

The next chapter aims to provide some guidance on the decisions that will need to be made concerning the metadata that will be required for a collection. It provides brief introductions to standards such as MARC, Dublin Core, MODS, METS and PREMIS that will be revisited in more detail later in the book. There is a short discussion about the sources of metadata, the difference between native and derived metadata and interoperability between the various standards. With metadata introduced, the next chapter looks at the format of the digital files themselves. After explaining the differences between master and derived formats in archives and open standards and proprietary formats, the chapter goes on to list some of the most common formats that will be encountered, divided into text, still images, sound, video and datasets.

The next two chapters really go hand in hand: chapter 6 looks at search and display from the perspective of what a user might want to do with a digital collection and how that might be delivered via the web, whilst chapter 7 details content management systems. The content management system is the tool set used by project staff to organise the collection and provide its presentation to end‐users. Understanding how users might wish to interact with the collection helps to explain some of the differences between the various content management systems available. The book stresses the importance of standards for interoperability and future proofing of such systems.

Chapters 8 and 9 then look at project management and project operation, followed by a chapter discussing how to analyse the work flows involved in putting content online. These three chapters give the reader a good understanding of the practicalities of actually running a digitisation or archive development project, including staffing, budgeting, evaluating software and hardware, dealing with vendors and contractors, and ensuring that the processes required are well defined and documented.

Digital documents often suffer from “bit rot” as they become reliant on increasingly obsolete hardware and software. The book covers this in a chapter on preservation strategies, including looking at trusted digital repositories and some practical technologies that can help in digital preservation. The book is rounded out with a last chapter presenting a fictional case study to walk the reader through bringing together all the threads from the previous chapters. There is a nine page index as well to help the reader dip into the book as a reference work.

Putting Content Online is a really rather good introductory text to the subject matter. It is well written, accessible, and provides ample pointers to sources of further reading. The importance of standards and interoperability, both technically and in policies and management techniques, is emphasised and it repeatedly points out common pitfalls and problems. Even seasoned digital archive veterans will discover useful information contained in it, and it is likely to become a well‐thumbed reference. Thoroughly recommended – everyone involved with a digital collection project should be issued with a copy!

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