The Joint Study concludes that digital image technology represents a new method for the preservation reformatting of library materials that in the future will replace or complement microfilming and photocopying. The use of digital technology is currently cost-effective as a reformatting option, and the quality is comparable to light lens processes. The technology offers a means for replacing paper with paper, while simultaneously providing new access opportunities. In the future, researchers will be able to access not only catalog records but also the full text to which those records refer.
Given these strong conclusions, why in the future and not today? Digital technology is a new preservation technique and, as such, standards for its application are not in place. Cornell has identified some areas that warrant further investigation, and that need to be resolved cooperatively among several institutions. The document structure definition is an example. In order for digital technology to realize its potential for scholarly use, the document structure must be the same for each library. Like bibliographic records, document structures facilitate access only when consistent and easily understood by the library patron. Cornell concludes that cooperation among institutions is essential during this period of transition.
A second example involves the role of service bureaus. Ultimately, preservation scanning is likely to be contracted out to service bureaus. Over the course of the past five to seven years, preservation microfilming service bureaus have developed, and most institutions have shifted from in-house microfilming to using such services. While quality has been an issue in this transition, the major reason for the shift centers on economics and scale. It is anticipated that similar economies will drive the digital scanning process. Moreover a service bureau would be in a better position to absorb the costs and risks associated with using a developing technology.
Requirements for institutionalizing the storing, backup, and refreshing of digital files will be issues in the use of this technology as a preservation medium. The refreshing requirements for digital technology, including frequency of upgrades, costs, and administration, are not clearly defined and represent a significantly larger commitment on the part of an institution than does providing a proper storage environment. Service bureaus should be involved in assisting in the development of standards and procedures for the creation, storage, and use of digital masters. However, research libraries must be active partners in the development of such requirements to ensure that the needs for preservation of their collections will be met.
Today is a period of transition from the established analog technologies to the newer, more flexible, and rapidly changing digital technologies. Cornell believes that digital technology offers benefits to librarians and scholars that justify continued study into its use for preservation and access.