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Every library arguably owns material worth digitizing and serves audiences likely to have growing appetites for electronic information. In this environment, organizations are understandably eager to undertake digitization projects.
Learn-by-doing, in-house strategies are attractive. Librarians are often tempted to purchase a scanner, select a collection to digitize, and move forward. Development of websites and exhibits, digital document delivery via interlibrary loan, article delivery in e-reserves: all demonstrate the ease of digitizing library materials.
Begin digitizing collections too soon, however, and projects can fail by succeeding.
Succeeding in making digital copies is one thing, but identifying, storing, retrieving, and delivering digital objects within a library context--both as independent entities and as parts of a collection--is another. Digital files tend to be stranded on disks--and potentially forgotten--when scanning occurs well before digital collection management and delivery services are established.
From the user's perspective, digital surrogates have no value unless they can be reliably located, retrieved, and delivered with appropriate information for identification and interpretation.
Capabilities to catalog (identify), store (preserve), deliver (circulate), and interpret (public service) are traditional hallmarks of libraries. If the purpose of digitization is to create sustainable library collections--or to contribute items to existing digital collections--then an organization should first assess its capabilities to provide post-acquisition library services for electronic formats before embarking on creating them.
Assessing an institution's policies and procedures for acquiring and delivering digital materials is a useful measure of an organization's readiness to create digital resources. Consider the following:
* Are there established conventions for cataloging and intellectual control?
* What procedures are followed to ensure that the library has the right to distribute a given digital resource?
* Is there a place to put the material? And a database the collection manager can use to aggregate and retrieve objects or their component parts?
* Once acquired, cataloged, and stored, can the resource be named? In a persistent fashion?
* Are delivery applications in …