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Letter from the Director: CDLA's Digitization Program. Spring 2009 Newsletter, Carolina Digital Library and Archives (Kirill Fesenko, June 2009)

 

Major trends in today's library science and scholarly communications fields point to an increasing reliance of students and scholars on the availability of online access to information and on innovative tools that foster resource discovery and learning. Libraries respond to these evolving needs by increased digitization efforts, and by developing new digital programs and services. In doing so, libraries are faced with many challenges, including the high costs associated with digitization and the curation of digital collections, and with those associated with the development and support of a variety of technological infrastructures. Management of increasingly complex and growing digital operations requires the implementation of innovative technologies, new digitization processes, efficient operations, and new forms of collaborative work.

As the CDLA develops its own digitization programs, the primary focus is not on the creation of large quantities of materials, but rather on the quality of those materials; on the introduction of cost-effective and sustainable technologies and workflows; and on building strong working relationships with curators and scholars to establish priorities for digitization. We see the future of the Library's digital operations in the streamlined and efficient programmatic processes that capture and fulfill scholarly needs by providing online access to collections. In this vision, the digital library component is as integral a part of daily library operations as is cataloging or the circulation of print materials.

Our strategy for achieving these goals includes several directions. We first began with the introduction of large-scale digitization technologies such as the Internet Archive's Scribe scanning program. The Scribe venue provides us with control over materials selection and with the opportunity for in-house digitization. Both of these aspects, combined with working collaboratively with curators and scholars, helped us understand the processes better. Among our major goals in the beginning of this program was the investigation of our ability to select and prioritize books for digitization, manage their flow to and from the Scribe station, the linking of digital versions with online catalog records, and finally, a better understanding of the impact of large-scale digitization on collections use and patrons. As we became more comfortable with this process, we invited other libraries to join our efforts in Scribe digitization. Ongoing projects with Duke University Libraries, Louisburg College, and other institutions have opened up new opportunities for collaboratively building online collections while also investigating new digitization technologies. UNC Library's growing collection of books digitized with the Scribe can be found here.

"North Carolina Maps," "Going to the Show" and the "Thomas E. Watson Papers" projects are other examples of our growing capacity to digitize more complex material such as maps and archival collections in the production manner. For the "NC Maps" and "Going to the Show" projects, over 1,900 maps were digitized on the high-productivity BatterLight Digital Back Camera. The "Thomas E. Watson Papers" project has digitized over 45,000 pages of letters and other documents on the overhead Zeutschel scanner. The project gave us the opportunity to explore the opportunities and challenges that large-scale digitization of archival collections poses. You can learn more about these technologies on the Digital Production Center's Web site.

Building on the success of these digitization projects and programs, we are now developing new workflows with the Fujitsu high speed sheet scanner on loose material such as index cards, archival material and disbound material. Using the Fujitsu scanner, we can now digitize in days what used to take months or even years on a flat bed scanner. Coupled with the use of automated batch processing of Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software, these new technologies demonstrate a great increase in productivity. Our growing expertise in these areas provides scholars with keyword searching functionality for large collections of digitized texts and presents many interesting opportunities for data mining.

We've also learned that effective management of high-productivity equipment and workflows requires a greater degree of project management, planning and inter- and cross-departmental coordination skills. The CDLA staff participated in project management training, and has recently introduced documentation that will help formalize, plan and balance the increasing number of digitization projects. We have introduced a departmental Project Management Librarian position to help with the planning and coordination across various projects, and with our documentation efforts.

We recognize that the CDLA's growing production capabilities have a direct impact on other library departments, especially on the Library Systems Department which supports the Digital Archive and online publishing platforms. As a result, our efforts in this area are aimed at increased levels of effective communication and collaboration between the two offices, and earlier involvement of Systems in the discussion and planning of new projects. The CDLA also maintains ongoing projections for Digital Archive and network space needs to help Systems with long-term planning for these resources.

Using large-scale digitization for online access to library collections is commonly recognized as one of today's "hot" areas for investing a library's scarce resources. Libraries everywhere are looking for ways to increase digitization efforts and to transform these activities from projects based to a more programmatic and streamlined approach. The CDLA sees its priorities in the development of digitization programs which are driven by scholars, the continuous exploration and introduction of cost-effective and high-productivity technologies and workflows, an increased collaboration with colleagues in other library departments and institutions, and the natural integration of new digitization operations and services with traditional library operations.

We'll keep you posted about our progress with these and new projects in the future issues of the CDLA Newsletter. Please let us know if you have any questions or comments. 

Kirill Fesenko
CDLA Director