Towards Collection Management Guidance
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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?
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?
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
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
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
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.
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.
How much expertise does the institution have in preserving
The institution needs to consider both internal expertise and
expertise to which it has access through organizational or
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
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
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:
Does the institution have the legal authority to preserve a
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.
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
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
(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.)
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