CLIRinghouse Number 8

CLIRinghouse Number 8

Quick insight into information-investment issues for presidents, CAOs, and other campus leaders from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Number 8, April 2002

The Issue for Presidents and CAOs:

How to Ensure Quality When Investing in Digital Collections

Small colleges and large universities alike are increasingly digitizing collections of books and other library materials for use in distance education, classroom teaching, and research by faculty and students. In planning such educational investments, how does one ensure the quality of the product, or even know, in the digital world, what “quality” is? Happily, new guidance for achieving quality is now available of a kind that will help campus administrators and librarians get much more out of their digitized-resource dollars.Principles defining quality for digitized collections have been issued by the Digital Library Forum, a group of librarians and other experts convened by the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). And the private, nonprofit Digital Library Federation of 28, mostly academic research libraries has endorsed the principles. They provide not just technical specifications for digital images but what the forum calls “A Framework of Guidance for Building Good Digital Collections.” What do these principles say to decision makers?

Guidance for Decision Making:

Quality Digitized Collections Maximize Investment Returns

The framework’s authors contend that future digitized collections must do more than simply demonstrate some technological capability or appear momentarily useful to some particular user group. Sitting in a discrete Web site until they succumb to technological obsolescence, media decay, copyright challenge, or neglect by users who cannot easily find them or doubt their reliability will not be enough. Now the value of digitized collections will depend also on their “interoperability, reusability, persistence, verification, documentation,” and “mechanisms for respecting copyright and intellectual property law.”In essence, the new principles call for maximizing returns on digital investments by making digitized collections legally and dependably useful in multiple ways for extended periods of time. The principles provide that digitized collections in the future can and should have these among other elements:

  • They will serve the missions of their institutions.
  • They will be “reusable in new and innovative contexts.”
  • They will be described in national union catalogs (such as the well-known OCLC and RLIN databases) so that scholars and students can readily find them.
  • They will call users’ attention to copyright and other restrictions to avoid legal problems, but also they will identify rights and permissions available to users.
  • They will be preserved and managed so that they remain useful to their college’s faculty and students for a long time.
  • They will be made usable on computer systems to which intended users actually have access.
  • They will incorporate ways of measuring and evaluating their usefulness.
  • They will fit technologically into (“interoperate” with) broader collections so that they can be accessed through a variety of search engines and portal services far beyond a single campus.

These are all reasons for cost-conscious executives to support efforts by their campus librarians to adhere to the IMLS principles in developing new digital collections, and to develop further current standards and best practices identified as part of the framework that contains the principles. Collections that build on these principles will be enormously more useful than collections that do not.

Additional Information:

The principles described above are elaborated by the IMLS Digital Library Forum in “A Framework of Guidance for Building Good Digital Collections,” available at The framework itself identifies numerous other sources of useful information including these overviews:

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