Entering the Digitization Universe: One Catalog Librarian’s Experience at an Academic Library

The following chapter excerpt is from the third section of Digitization in the Real World; "The Digital Campus: Digitization in Universities and Their Libraries." Download the entire chapter for free (PDF)  or purchase online at Amazon.com.

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Mary Rose (Southern Illinois University Edwardsville)


2011-03-28_0911 This chapter describes a catalog librarian’s experience with an academic library’s digital collection initiative. The author discusses how the library handled technical challenges and established policies and procedures during the process of creating its first digital collection. The effects of external pressures from consortial requirements and organizational change are also discussed. The author describes technical decisions specific to the first project and more general technical issues like customization decisions and decisions about filenaming convention. The processes involved in establishing selection criteria and rights and permissions policies are described. The author also provides a brief overview of three subsequent digital projects. The author concludes by speculating on how the library’s digital presence will grow in the future.


Lovejoy Library at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) entered the universe of searchable digitized collections in 2008. We encountered several issues along the way to completing our seminal project. There were technical challenges to be met, and we had to establish procedures and policies. We also encountered external pressures due to our reliance upon consortial services and as a result of organizational changes at the University. This chapter is a narrative of this experience and a speculation about the future.

Background: The Preliminary Steps Toward Establishing a Digital Initiative and Vision

In 2006-2007, Lovejoy Library administration took the first steps toward establishing a digital projects initiative by forming a CONTENTdm committee and acquiring access to CONTENTdm software as a member of the Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois (CARLI). The software is installed and maintained on CARLI’s server. Two Lovejoy staff members received training in the use of CONTENTdm; however, neither staff member was empowered with a mandate to create a digital collection. The initiative essentially stalled. When I joined the University as the Library’s first catalog and metadata librarian in May of 2007, I recognized that getting Lovejoy fully engaged in the creation of digital collections was a main priority of the position. The aforementioned staff members immediately and gratefully handed their CONTENTdm workbooks over to me and notified the consortium that I was now the primary contact for coordinating the Library’s use of this software. I had never previously used CONTENTdm but became intimately familiar with it over the course of the next several months. Lacking training or experience, I relied heavily on support services at CARLI to effectively leverage the software. I also took a generic metadata creation workshop and studied Dublin Core.

 I quickly became aware that two digitization projects were being spearheaded by two tenured faculty librarians as candidates for our initial digital collection: one somewhat aggressively as a grant project and the other more casually without the impetus of a grant. Being naïve with regard to the politics of the organization, I deferred to others who decided to give precedence to the grant-funded project. The CONTENTdm committee subsequently decided that the Library needed a process for evaluating and prioritizing potential digital collections. Perhaps this was a response to the way in which resources had been committed to the first project because of a schedule driven by external funding. Or perhaps it was the usual librarian caution that any new undertaking will grow to unmanageable proportions if fed too liberally. Perhaps the desire for oversight was motivated by recognition that the shape of our accumulated digital collections over time would define the character of the Library to a significant degree, and whether this was ad hoc or directed was not a matter of chance but of choice. Whatever the reason, a digitization selection subcommittee to the collection management committee was proposed by a tenured library faculty member at the first CONTENTdm committee meeting I attended.

The digitization selection subcommittee became entwined with the Library’s vision regarding digital initiatives. The subcommittee’s charge was officially established as being the body responsible for receiving and evaluating digitization project proposals and making recommendations to the parent collection management committee regarding acceptance and prioritization of said proposals. The advisory group comprising the subcommittee included all of the library faculty administrators plus the Director of Development (essentially the marketing administrator) and the Director of Academic Computing. The subcommittee was rounded out by the Catalog and Metadata Librarian (me), the Electronic Resources Librarian, the Archivist and Special Collections Librarian (serving as chair), and whichever subject librarian was participating in a specific digitization proposal. The group resolved to create a proposal form to guide proponents in describing the subject, extent, rationale, funding, etc. of their project ideas. Selection would be accomplished by carefully evaluating the relevance of a project to the Library’s mission and the advantages a digital platform was expected to provide for the particular included items, such as wider accessibility for heavily used resources, easier use of delicate or cumbersome materials, and improved access to text-rich content through electronic searchability. Selection criteria suggested by the Northeast Document Conservation Center were incorporated into the subcommittee’s official position. The Center frames selection around three basic questions (Gertz, 2007):

  • Should [the materials] be digitized? Is the collection important enough, is there enough audience demand, and can sufficient value be added through digitization to make it worth the cost and effort?
  • May they be digitized? Does the institution have the intellectual property rights to permit legal creation and dissemination of a digital version?
  • Can they be digitized? Will digitization achieve the goals of the project, given the physical nature of the materials and their organization, arrangement, and description? Does the institution have the technical infrastructure and expertise to create digital files and make them available to users now and in the future?

Download the entire chapter for free (PDF) or purchase online at Amazon.com.


CONTENTdm Collection of Collections. (n.d.). Retrieved December 1, 2009, from http://collections.contentdmdemo.com/

Gertz, Janet. (2007). Preservation and selection for digitization. Retrieved December 10, 2009, from http://www.nedcc.org/resources/leaflets/6Reformatting/ 06PreservationAndSelection.php

The J. Paul Getty Trust. (n.d.). Art & Architectural Thesaurus Online. Retrieved December 8, 2009, from http://www.getty.edu/research/conducting_research/vocabularies/aat/

Library of Congress Authorities. (2009). Retrieved December 1, 2009, from http://authorities.loc.gov/

Lovejoy Library. (2009). Digital rights and permissions. Retrieved December 1, 2009, from http://www.siue.edu/lovejoylibrary/ about/digital_rights_and_permission.shtml

Wisconsin Heritage Online Digital Imaging Guidelines (Version 2) (2009, September). Received December 2, 2009, from Wisconsin Heritage Online Wisconsin Library Services.