Indiana University Libraries Digital Projects & Services

This web site, which provides information about digital projects and services of the Indiana University Libraries and former IU Digital Library Program, is currently in transition. Over time, much of the content on this site will be migrated to the IU Bloomington Libraries web site.

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Selection Guidelines

Philosophy | Context | Selection Factors | Copyright Status
Significance of the Collection | Current and Potential Users | Metadata | Relationship to Other Digital Collections | Materials Format | Funding


The Indiana Digital Library Program's philosophy for selecting content for digitization is derived from the Mission Statement, which reads in part:

The Indiana University Digital Library Program (DLP) is dedicated to the production, maintenance, delivery, and preservation of a wide range of high-quality networked information resources for scholars and students at Indiana University and elsewhere. The program supports efforts to provide open access to electronic information resources to the Indiana University community and beyond.

In general, collections we digitize must be accessible. It is our purpose to provide digital content to as wide an audience as possible - completely open access via the Web, free of charge and without watermarking. However, we also recognize the need to adhere to Copyright Law and thus, for some materials must restrict access to Indiana University affiliates.

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The selection of content for digitization is only the first step in a lengthy process to create a networked collection of digital objects - text, still images, moving images, sound, data - with arrangement, search features, and metadata that allow for discovery and presentation, supporting research and teaching, and with attention paid to architecture, persistence, longevity, and digital preservation. Digitization for long-term retention and reuse is a commitment to provide access to the digital content and its attendant metadata in perpetuity.

Partnership is an important aspect of our work. The Digital Library Program provides support for librarians, archivists, museum professionals, and faculty who want to digitize their collections, preserve them, and make them accessible online. We work with these partners to determine the best way to complete the project.

Digitization and metadata creation must conform to existing standards. These standards ensure interoperability, persistence, and longevity, which are hallmarks of "good digital collections." We work with collection and content specialists to ensure that materials are described and digitized properly, in ways that will meet the needs of users.

To ensure digital collections and resources are designed to enhance user interaction to promote teaching, learning and research, user studies need to be iteratively conducted for optimal interface and interaction design. We work with an array of people: users of the resources, information intermediaries, programmers, and metadata and subject specialists to determine user needs and requirements. Through iterative assessment and design, we are able to provide users with digital resources that support their needs and goals.

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Selection Factors

Indiana University holds a large number of collections that would be appropriate for digitization and online access. However, since digitization projects are costly and require a commitment of staff time, for every project we undertake, others must be rejected. As a result, we go through a careful selection process with the help of our partners and content managers.

The following list of criteria is recommended to guide potential partners, such as librarians and faculty, in selecting collections of analog materials for conversion to digital format. Some of the criteria are based on conventional selection and preservation considerations common to all formats; others arise from the opportunities and constraints unique to digital technologies.

Selection is an activity led by content managers and specialists with the help of the Digital Library Program.

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Copyright Status

The first question that must be addressed when a collection or portion of a collection is considered for digitization is: what is the copyright status of the materials? In a large collection, the copyright status might vary from item to item. This may require that different parts of a collection are more accessible than others. Most material considered for digitization and access on the open Web falls into one of the following three categories:

  • Public domain: works that never were, or are no longer covered by copyright. Works in the public domain may be used without permission. What's in the public domain?
    • All works published before January 1, 1923.
    • Works published between 1923 and 1964 and not renewed in the 28th year.
    • Works published without copyright notice before 1989.
    • Unpublished works whose author died before 1932; otherwise, the term is life plus 70 years.
  • Works for which the copyright is held by Indiana University
  • Works for which we have secured permission to digitize

We may also digitize works for which the copyright status is unknown and which would require research to determine their copyright status. This category also includes Orphan Works, which are works for which the copyright holder has gone out of business (in the case of publishers) or cannot be located. For works in this category, we may choose to provide limited access under the doctrine of Fair Use.

It may also be possible to provide access to digital surrogates for copyright-protected materials, using Fair Use or other provisions in the law. In addition to Fair Use, the Copyright Law provides specific exemptions established for archives and libraries. These provisions in the Copyright Law allow libraries to provide access to copyright protected materials without permission under certain conditions.

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Significance of the Collection

The significance of the collection is the next consideration. Significance depends on a number of indicators, but it is always the subjective judgment of a librarian, archivist, curator, or faculty member. The following questions may be used to establish the significance of a collection:

  • Will experts attest to the importance of the collection?
  • How does it fit into current or potential research activities?
  • How is the collection currently being used? How might digitization increase use of the collection
  • Does the intellectual quality of the source materials warrant the level of access made possible by digitization?
  • Will digitization enhance the intellectual value of the material?

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Current and Potential Users

There is some evidence that digitization always increases use, but current use is still an important indicator:

  • Are users consulting the proposed source materials?
  • Is current access so difficult that digitization will create a new audience?
  • Will electronic access to these materials enhance their value to users?
  • Does the physical condition of the originals limit their use?
  • Are related materials widely dispersed?
  • Are there librarians or archivists who might collaborate on the project?
  • Will digitization meet the needs of local users?

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Organization and Descriptive Metadata

No matter how important a collection might be, the collection must be organized and described before it is ready for digitization.

  • Has the collection been organized and processed?
  • Are there MARC records or some other form of catalogued records for the collection?
  • Is there a finding aid - either paper or online?

If the collection has not been organized, organization should be completed before the collection receives further consideration for digitization. If there is no form of description by way of a finding aid, catalogued entries, etc., project planning and project costs will increase. In order to create a finding aid or descriptive records, there must be ample documentation on the collection and the objects in the collection, otherwise the necessary level of search and discovery can not be supported. Users require factual description at the item level.

Existing description should be evaluated by the Metadata Librarian with regard to its quality and potential for metadata harvesting. All description should be brought up to minimum standards for shareable metadata before the digitization project has been completed; this additional work may add significant cost to the overall project.

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Relationship to Other Digital Collections

It is important to contribute to "critical mass" of digital materials in the subject whenever possible. By complementing existing online collections, the value of your collection will enhance the subject area and, in turn, the user experience. The following questions can help guide selectors through this aspect of decision making:

  • If published material, has it already been digitized? All? Parts of the collection?
  • Would cooperative digitization effort improve this project? Could you find partners?
  • How does this collection fit in with other digital collections? Will the whole be greater than the sum of the parts?
  • Are there complementary collections in other institutions? Would one of these institutions be interested in partnering?

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Formats/Languages/Nature of the Materials

Some formats are more established for digitization and online delivery than others. The Digital Library Program can digitize all of the following formats:

  • Text, both page images and searchable XML text files
  • Photographs
  • Other visual materials
  • Audio
  • Video

However, we are much better equipped to provide sustainable access to text, photographs, other visual materials, and audio than video. We do not currently support the online storage and delivery of video and must work with University Information Technology Services in order to provide this service.

Special formats such as newspapers represent another type of material that would require special systems to store and deliver.

Foreign-language materials require project staff who are proficient in the language(s), which may add to the difficulty of assembling the project team. This factor may also add to the expense of the project and the timeline.

Creation of searchable text requires additional time and skills; non-Western languages present challenges. Searchable text in a foreign language requires the user to enter text in this language. In general, the decision to provide searchable text, either corrected or uncorrected, adds considerable expense to a text project and should be evaluated using the other factors noted above.

Another factor related to the format is the condition of the materials. Digitization may serve either a preservation or access need, but most projects address both issues. Digitization may protect fragile items by reducing handling of the originals. However, these materials must be able to withstand the handling necessary for digitization. If the determination has been made that the items can withstand digitization, the condition of the material will also be a factor in deciding whether to outsource digitization or perform the work in-house.

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Sources of Funding

Digitization projects are funded with internal university funds and external grant funds. Oftentimes, the funding agency stipulates priorities for funding. The goal is to match a high-priority project with the appropriate funding source. The Indiana State Library, for example, only funds collections related to the history and culture of Indiana. However, Indiana University has many worthy collections covering this subject matter, so this is an easy criterion to meet for funding. Other funding opportunities may present more difficult challenges, such as requiring a large number of partners or a specific type of partner or specifying very short deadlines for completion of the work, without the possibility of an extension.

The best approach with regard to grant funding is to develop skeletal outlines for digitization projects for a number of important collections and then research potential funding sources. Once a good match has been found, the details of project planning can be finalized, bringing the project in line with funding requirements and evaluative criteria as closely as possible.

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