Towards Collection Management Guidance

Ellis Weinberger

Based on a presentation to the CEDARS project at Madingley Hall, 7 February 2000, a presentation to the CAUL visit at Cambridge University Library, 19 April 2000, and a presentation to CURL library staff, Edinburgh University Library, 18 May 2000

1. Introduction

As part of its Electronic Libraries programme, the Joint Information Systems Committee is funding the Consortium of University Research Libraries to manage the Exemplars in Digital Archives, (or CEDARS) project. The project aims to address strategic, methodological, and practical issues relating to the preservation of digital materials. CEDARS will consider collection management policies, and concerns associated with intellectual property rights, technical methods, and preservation-specific metadata. The project will also design a digital preservation archiving system which will be pilot-tested at participating institutions.

2. Objective

This paper will contain guidelines for the modification of collection management policies. The guidelines will help ensure preservation of digital objects, and are based on structured interviews with the CEDARS test sites (Birmingham University Library, Manchester Information and Associated Services (MIMAS), Exeter University Library, The British Library, Birmingham Central Library, and University College London Library). The guidelines will be useful for senior library staff, who are currently involved in drafting policy.

3. Background

If preserving digital objects were as cheap as preparing new books for use in a library, new policies would not need to be developed, since existing collection management policies could be used. However, the cost of preparing a digital object for preservation may be significantly higher than the cost of preparing a book for use in a library, perhaps by a factor of 10. Since the costs are higher, the institution will not be able to process as many items. To help select the items, clear collection management policies will be necessary.

Such policies will be akin to those used for any other type of material in a collection. Current library and archive staff can modify existing policies to ensure the preservation of digital objects. The same skills needed to develop effective policies for subject areas can be used to modify current collection management policies to ensure preservation of digital objects.

4. The test sites

4.1 Discussions

Staff at CEDARS test sites were interviewed after receiving copies of the questionnaire, based on the one used by Hedstrom and Montgomery for the RLG 1998 study. Six sites were visited. Between two and four members of staff participated at each institution, and about ninety minutes was spent discussing the questions.

4.2 Concerns of the Institutions

There was general agreement that more money would be needed in order to ensure digital preservation. Various questions arose at each site. These questions can be divided into the following three groups:

  • Responsibility

    How is responsibility for ensuring preservation of a given object determined, how are the objects to be preserved chosen, how are the significant digital objects in an institution tracked, and how are rights issues resolved?

  • Preservation

    Which are the most important tasks in digital preservation, how can preservation expertise in an institution be developed, where are the preservation standards which can be used, and how can continuous currency of digital resources be ensured?

  • Access

    How can access to digital collections be ensured, how can discovery of digital resources be ensured, and how can compatibility of preservation standards between institutions be ensured?

5. Guidelines

These guidelines depend on knowledge of current and future needs of the individual institutions. These guidelines can help institutions modify existing collection management policies to ensure preservation of digital objects. In order to determine the appropriate policies, institutions may wish to ask themselves these questions:

5.1 Current responsibilities

What are the current preservation responsibilities of the institution, based on the position of the institution in a local structure, or responsibilities due to membership of regional or national bodies?

The institution will need to determine what responsibilities it is seen as having by internal and external bodies, discover where the digital objects which need preserving are, and use a typology to classify them.

Once an institution has accepted responsibility for the preservation of a digital object, it will have to decide whether it will carry out the preservation itself, or whether it will use an outside body to preserve the object.

Once legislation exists for the legal deposit of published digital objects, legal deposit libraries will preserve some commercially published material. However, some commercially published material may fall outside legislation guidelines.

An institution will have to take responsibility for the preservation of material produced by the institution, and may need to take responsibility for the preservation of commercially published material of importance to the institution which falls outside legislation guidelines.

An electronic records management policy, which flags significant documents early in the lifecycle of the document, will ease the selection of digital objects for preservation.

The preservation of published material may be undertaken by an individual institution, or by a group of institutions which feel that preserving an object is important.

Where an institution can not or will not preserve the object, it needs to ensure that a reliable structure for preservation of the digital object is available.

5.2 Subject specialisation

What are the subjects which the institution specializes in? This includes both current subject holdings and subject holdings the institution wishes to develop, and will depend both on local needs and on regional or national agreements.

5.3 Preservation expertise

How much expertise does the institution have in preserving digital objects?

The institution needs to consider both internal expertise and expertise to which it has access through organizational or contractual agreements.

Selecting the right items for a collection will also mean selecting items which will tend to be easy to preserve, or items which can be preserved at reasonable cost. Items produced in open and standard formats, for example in HTML, will ease preservation.

Among the necessary skills may be the ability:

  • To assist in the selection of the most appropriate format, when creating or preserving an object.
  • To create and edit metadata, in a form which is compatible with existing resource discovery systems.
  • To assist in the selection of the Significant Properties of an object. The significant properties of a digital object may include, for example, the layout of the page, the pagination of the text, or the division of the text into chapters.
  • To manage a technical preservation programme.
  • To assist in the selection of physical storage options.
  • To regulate scholarly access to the archive, governed by current Intellectual Property Right legislation and legal precedent.

5.4 Preservation cost

What will preserving a digital object cost?

The institution will need to determine the possibility and cost of preserving the object before obtaining it. The cost of preserving the object will depend on many factors. Here are some of them, in the order in which they will tend to occur:

  • The cost of selecting a particular digital object for preservation will include the time of the archivist and the time of the subject specialist.
  • The cost of negotiating the right to preserve the object will include the time of the negotiator and the time of the person drafting and exchanging the agreements.
  • The cost of determining the best method of preserving the object will include the time of the technical specialist and the time of the archivist, who will have to agree on the Significant Properties of the object.
  • The cost of validation of the completeness of the object on delivery will include the time taken to obtain any necessary documentation, and the time spent checking the object received against documentation received relating to the object.
  • The cost of the method chosen to preserve the object will include the time taken to determine the appropriate Underlying Abstract Form. The underlying abstract form relates to the digital object, in the same way that the work relates to the book.

    The cost of the method chosen will also include the purchase or design of any software or hardware needed to produce an object which can be archived.

  • The cost of metadata production will include the time taken to study the documentation provided with the object, and will draw upon information gathered during technical preservation.
  • The cost of file storage will include maintenance and purchase of hardware, and transfer of files from generation to generation of storage media.
  • The cost of archive administration will include the costs involved in following the developments in technique, and law, which affect preservation of the object, and implementing changes in the archive to ensure preservation of the object.

5.5 Intellectual property rights

Does the institution have the legal authority to preserve a digital object?

The institution will need to ensure that purchase of a digital object, or the licence to use it, includes the right to preserve access to the digital object.

The institution accepting responsibility for preserving the digital object, and either carrying out, or delegating the process of preservation, will need to maintain current information relating to the owners of intellectual property rights, in the same way that it will need to maintain current information relating to the physical platforms able to render the object.

6. Benefits

An appropriate collection management policy will assist an institution during the lifecycle of the digital object, by providing the guidance needed by an institution to make decisions about the digital object. Clear policy guidance is important because digital objects have become a significant part of most collections, obtaining them is expensive, and preserving them will be expensive.

7. Summary

Institutions can be assisted, in the modification of collection management policies, in order to ensure preservation of digital objects. Appropriate collection management policy modifications can be determined by examining the responsibilities and resources of the institution. Appropriate policies can help institutions make wise decisions involving large sums of money over long periods of time.

(I would like to thank Ms Nancy Elkington, Mr Peter Fox, Mr Peter Graham, Miss Elizabeth Harrisson, Miss Patricia Killiard, Mr Stephen Lees, Ms Jane Liddell-King, Ms Kelly Russell, Mr John Wells, and Dr Gotthelf Wiedermann.)

8. Bibliography

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Bearman, David, `Reality and Chimeras in the Preservation of Electronic Records', D-Lib Magazine (5 (4), April 1999,

CCSDS 650.0-R-1: Reference Model for an Open Archival Information System (OAIS). Red Book. Issue 1 (Washington, D.C.: CCSDS Secretariat, 1999,

Day, Michael, `Extending Metadata for Digital Preservation', Ariadne (9, May 1997,

Day, Michael, Metadata for Preservation (CEDARS project document AIW01, Bath: UKOLN, UK Office for Library and Information Networking, 1998,

Day, Michael, `Metadata for Digital Preservation: an Update', Ariadne (22, December 1999,

Feeney, Mary (ed.), Digital Culture: Maximising the Nation's Investment (London: The National Preservation Office, 1999).

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Russell, Kelly, `CEDARS: Long-term Access and Usability of Digital Resources: the Digital Preservation Conundrum', Ariadne (18, December 1998,

Russell, Kelly, and Sergeant, Derek, `The Cedars project: Implementing a Model for Distributed Digital Archives', RLG DigiNews (3 (3), 15 June 1999,

Seville, Catherine, The CEDARS Bibliography (CEDARS, 1999,

Slight-Gibney, Nancy, `How Far Have We Come? Benchmarking Time and Costs for Monograph Purchasing', Library Collections, Acquisitions, & Technical Services (23 (1), Spring 1999)

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© Ellis Weinberger; last revised May 2001