Going Digital: Strategies for Access, Preservation and Conversion of Collections to a Digital Format

Alastair Smith (School of Communications and Information Management, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand)

The Electronic Library

ISSN: 0264-0473

Article publication date: 1 April 2000




Smith, A. (2000), "Going Digital: Strategies for Access, Preservation and Conversion of Collections to a Digital Format", The Electronic Library, Vol. 18 No. 2, pp. 137-146. https://doi.org/10.1108/el.2000.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

The move to digitisation in libraries has at least three aspects: how we select appropriate resources to digitise; how we integrate digital resources with existing print and microfilm collections; and how we preserve digital resources. These issues are particularly important in research libraries, where poor decisions could lead to the degradation and loss of heritage collections.

Going Digital is a collection of papers addressing these issues, presented at a series of five symposia on digital resources conducted by the Research Libraries Group (RLG) between 1993 and 1995. The papers are an historical snapshot of thinking at the time, rather than an up‐to‐date exposition of current thinking on digital libraries. Although it is a little jarring to see references to how “Gopher and Mosaic are revolutionising the ways in which we are accessing information”, and many of the technologies referred to have been supplemented or replaced (a discussion of image formats is largely centred around TIFF), the issues identified are surprisingly relevant.

The book is divided into two sections: strategies for access and preservation; and strategies for selecting collections. However the issues and experiences contained in the papers cross over these boundaries. The symposia included many significant names: Robert Berring opens the volume with a challenge to librarianship to recognise that the digital revolution is over, and to forge new alliances, specifically with vendors. Jerry Campbell argues that digitisation offers libraries the first opportunity in a century to redesign libraries from scratch, and highlights the peril of perpetuating library practices which appear anachronistic to the Internet generation. Peter Graham takes a long‐term view of preservation, emphasising the importance of authenticity: the challenge of ensuring, through devices such as digital time stamps, that digital copies are in fact true replicas of the artifacts they purport to represent. The digital world offers new opportunities: Douglas Greenberg identifies that research libraries have the opportunity to become content providers, a challenge that New Zealand’s Turnbull Library has taken up more recently with its TimeFrames service (http://timeframes.natlib.govt.nz/), providing high quality historical images over the Web.

Comparisons of digitisation with microfilming technology are made frequently: pointing out the lessons to be learnt from the series of microfilming preservation projects that libraries have engaged in, and comparing the advantages of flexibility and usability of digital resources with the guarantee of long‐term preservation with microfilm.

Decisions about digitisation are not made lightly – Ricky Erway offers a useful systematic analysis of the reasons for digitising collections, and the options for carrying out the digitisation. Samuel Demas looks at the reinvention of collection development, investigating the interplay of technology and format with the selection of content.

In some areas the march of time has made the papers less useful. Robert Oakley’s paper on “the copyright context” has been rather overtaken by the turmoil in the intellectual property field and developments such as the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. It would have been nice for the dates of the delivery of the papers to have been noted, particularly when the authors occasionally make references to papers delivered at specific sessions of the series.

Although one might have wished that these papers had been published earlier, Going Digital still raises important and current issues, and the volume is worth reading by anyone involved in planning for digital library projects, particularly in the research libraries context.

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