This Review seeks to address a key issue in the Library and Information Commission’s 20/20 Vision statement: "to support the enabling of a digital library collection in which the UK's heritage of intellectual property will be available at the local, regional, national and global level". It is a 'ground clearing' study to find out how much has been done already in the local authority library and archive sector, and what new projects should be initiated. It is presented within the policy context of the report ‘New Library: The People’s Network’, which recommends the establishment of a Public Library Networking Agency

The Review contains an overview of the progress and nature of digitisation projects in the sector, with discussion of key issues; a catalogue of completed, current and planned digitisation projects; identification of core genres of material and of criteria for selection of collections for digitisation; a proposed action plan and identification of potential funding sources and key implementation partnerships.

The terms of reference are to examine the conversion of materials currently held in traditional formats into digital format. Excluded are the creation of computerised catalogues, the collection of electronic documents produced elsewhere, and the accessing of digital material via the Internet. The review collected evidence by means of a literature search of hard-copy and electronic sources, a postal survey of UK public library authorities, a series of interviews and a focus group.

A survey of UK public library authorities identified 62 digitisation projects already completed or in progress and a further 41 in various stages of planning. Many of the projects are joint projects with museums and / or archives services. The review also notes projects in archives services not connected to public libraries. ‘New Library’ suggests the areas of local studies and special collections as key public library content for a proposed network, and currently most projects are within these areas. The material in these collections is often unique, and digitisation allows access to it in places other than its physical location, and to material which cannot be made publicly available at all at present. It also aids the conservation of vulnerable materials. Images from local studies collections, mainly photographs, are currently by far the most popular material for digitisation. This is in contrast with the academic sector where emphasis has been on digitisation of texts. Community information is identified as a key area for digital information provision but is unlikely to involve significant digitisation of existing hard-copy library collections.

In archive services overall, the automation of finding aids is seen as the priority rather than digitisation. The Scottish Record Office SCAN project is planning high-volume digitisation of probate records, and isolated local authority record offices plan to digitise probate records and parish registers, but there is little general support for bulk digitisation of classes of records at this time.

In completed and current projects access systems are divided between stand-alone systems and local network and/or Internet systems. Currently, stand-alone systems are in the majority, but a number plan Internet iaccess in the future. There is a need for a source of objective and informed guidance on the choice of appropriate systems and software.

Public libraries generally are well advanced in the automated cataloguing of their current loan and reference collections, and in networked access to catalogues. However in local studies and special collections there are many important collections where catalogues have not been automated, or which remain uncatalogued. This is a key area for libraries in the development of networked resource discovery, and is of absolutely crucial importance for archives. Cataloguing and indexing of collections is a necessary corollary and in many cases a prerequisite for digitisation. Some of the digitisation projects in the survey are essentially automated cataloguing projects which plan to add images of documents in a later phase.

Copyright and intellectual property rights are key issues. In projects in academic libraries, obtaining copyright clearance for journal contents has been a greater problem than technical issues of text and image capture or retrieval. New copyright to harmonise legislation between EC member states pose some problems for identifying copyright owners and digitisation of local studies material. The law requires that before material is copied, reasonable efforts must be made to identify copyright owners. This must be taken into account when assessing collections for digitisation. IPR is also an issue, where licensing opportunities may be a funding lever or income generator.

Identification and application of standards is a crucial area. Standards for digitisation exist or are developing in a number of areas, i.e. technical standards for data capture and storage; description, cataloguing and indexing standards; metadata standards for cross-domain resource discovery, and preservation standards. There is need for guidance on standards. In the academic sector agencies exist which are concerned with identifying standards and best practice with whom useful relationships can be established.

In public libraries the content for digitisation is likely largely to be drawn from local studies and special collections. Core genres, include local newspapers and other local publications, photograph collections, historic maps and plans, manuscripts, sound recordings such as oral history, local art collections and film or video. All these categories have been nominated by public libraries as priorities and each has its own value. Special collections in libraries cover a wide range of subjects and materials and in the longer term may comprise the major public library contribution to the content of any national digital collection.

This review identified a wide range of criteria for selection of materials for digitisation, based on broad user and organisational needs such as: creating or improving access to collections, providing unified access to distributed resources, for collections management, conservation and preservation, provision of interpretive or educational material, marketing and promotion of collections, copyright considerations and local public demand. Within these categories numerous specific criteria are discussed. A focus group discussion resulted in agreement that improving access is the main priority and that resources are unique is a main criterion for selection. There was general agreement on the desirability of subject-based collections drawing digitised content from different libraries and archives.

It is the key recommendation of this report that there is a real need for some body to act as a centre for expertise in digitisation in the local authority library sector, to advise on technical and standards issues and on selection and copyright, to record and monitor projects, to focus research, to advise on and channel funding and to facilitate network access. The body should have operational as well as advisory functions. The Regional Library Systems would be appropriate agencies for delivering some of these services.

Nationally, the impending contract for private sector operation of the British Library Digital Library programme will have important implications for the cross-sectoral networking of digital content.

Potential funding sources identified for public library digitisation were: central government funding, local authority funding, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the National Grid for Learning, local education authorities, various sources of partnership funding and private sector investment. There is a need for substantial new external funding if digitisation of public library special collections of national and international importance, or the building up distributed subject-based digital collections, is to proceed.

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