Finding out about Digitized Collections–Digital Collections Inventory

Finding out about Digitized Collections–Digital Collections Inventory

Council on Library Resources
Commission on Preservation and Access

Digital Collections Inventory Report

By Patricia A. McClung
February 1996

Finding out about Digitized Collections

In the course of this survey, its author encountered some very interesting Internet navigation aids and resources that relate to the second reason for this inventory: to assess the usefulness and/or practicality of developing some type of tool or database that includes information on the wide assortment of electronic conversion initiatives. Clearly, there is not yet a straightforward, logical mechanism for finding out what collections are available in electronic form (and where and how).7 Further, there is very little ability to filter or assess the resources that are there–and they range from the ridiculous to the sublime. However, there are some promising models, as well as some effective Web-linked resources that could inform a decision about the usefulness or the essential characteristics of a database of scanning projects. Further study of these tools may be warranted.

Following the inventory list of digital conversion projects, this report includes brief descriptions of some promising “infrastructure” projects. Although they are not conversion projects per se, they are very closely related, in that they address some of the practical, technical, legal, economic and philosophical problems that currently impede efficient storing, retrieving, transmitting, and true sharing of the types of electronic resources the inventory describes. The report concludes with a “list of lists” which refers to other valuable sources of information that supplement the citations in this report.


This inventory is a work-in-progress. In its present iteration, it represents a cross section of the types of digital conversion projects planned, underway, or completed. Due to time limitations, it does not include journal projects or online exhibitions. For the most part, text-encoding initiatives, videodisk projects, CD- ROM publications, and documentary editing projects were considered out of scope. Except for documentary editing projects, these sources are well indexed in other on line tools, some of which are mentioned in the final section of this report, entitled “List of Lists.”8

The results of the survey were difficult to organize in a logical framework for a printed publication. Although some group naturally together, most are distinct enough to defy easy categorization. The sheer number of projects; the wide variety in focus, subject matter, and formats; as well as the fact that the pertinent information is changing constantly, all argue for a managed, online finding tool of some sort.

In the future, if this inventory expands and evolves into an on line tool, it should include features that were beyond the scope of this project–especially information about access to and availability of the materials, as well as any copyright restrictions. Ideally the tool should link directly to the referenced project Web page or the materials themselves, as well as to other subject or format based tools which index (or link to) related materials. Input from other experts on a useful structure and content definition, as well as more (verified) meat on the inventory’s ‘bones,’ are needed if it is to become a useful information source–either a database or a Web site.

It is clear from this survey that momentum is building, and that in certain subject areas a “critical mass” of on line resources is beginning to accumulate. At the international level there are promising indications of large scale projects in Europe and elsewhere that will make other national literature and political documents much more accessible. At home, the Library of Congress’s National Digital Library Project–in combination with the goals of the complementary National Digital Library Federation–hold great promise as well. Undoubtedly, it is time for such major initiatives to build on the smaller grass roots experimentation that has already occurred. Taken together, these initiatives have the potential to dramatically increase and improve access to information, and perhaps even, preserve it over time.