A collaborative approach to a digital resources plan

A year ago a group of people in my library was charged with developing a digital resources plan to provide a vision and a structure for how we collect and manage locally created and/or hosted digital resources. I chaired the group and it included people from my area (Resource Description and Digital Initiatives), Special Collections and Archives, the Marion E. Wade Center, and the Billy Graham Center Archives. The latter two groups are organizationally separate from the library although all of us report to the same person, who holds a dean-level position.

For various reasons, the group’s efforts were delayed. Work to address its charge didn’t begin until about six months ago, and a final report was delivered a few weeks ago. Representatives from the two other archival repositories at the college (the Wade Center and BGC Archives) joined our discussions part-way through. As a result, our considerations expanded and we developed a more collaborative, shared understanding of what needs to be done. This was one of the more positive outcomes of the group’s efforts.

Even though we have worked with digital resources for a long time, we need to progress more quickly to better manage existing digital collections and to create new ones. For example, some of our existing systems are not interoperable, require significant effort to support, and whose use, while shared among the three different organizations, is not well understood. Thus the need for a plan to provide a vision and a structure for achieving that vision, one that includes all archival repositories plus the library. Our hope is that with a plan in place, we can start putting together all of the pieces to make strong progress.

One of the more challenging yet important tasks is articulating a vision. Why do we care about digital resources anyway? Are they more or less important than their analog counterparts? Why should we invest so much to enable their creation and accessibility, since it may come at the expense of doing something else? What is our commitment to long term preservation of locally created and/or hosted digital resources? These are hard questions to answer but answers are needed when we consider things like staffing realignment, dedicated budget for digitization, long term preservation of digital objects, and possibly investing in improved systems for managing them.

In essence, our vision is to highlight and share the riches of Wheaton College’s unique archival and special collections material online; to do so in a way that values and integrates analog resources along with digital; to better support the work of researchers everywhere who would benefit from our collections; and to contribute new scholarly content in areas of particular interest to the college.

The plan contains five parts: an inventory of existing systems and services; a discussion of key challenges; best practices learned from elsewhere; recommendations; and a suggested timeline for implementation of recommendations. It also has two appendices; one for outlining various metadata schemas we wish to refer to, and one containing a list of resources consulted in our deliberations.

What happens next is not yet clear. The plan itself is still under review and is not yet widely distributed.

However, once the plan has been reviewed and approved, our hope is to begin work in the first part of the new fiscal year to address and implement the plan’s recommendations. Probably the most pressing need is to decide on what systems and infrastructure we need, and to move forward with putting them in place. This may mean giving up on some legacy systems in favor of different systems altogether, or selecting and implementing newer versions that are more functional, more efficient to use and maintain, and whose use is more coordinated. For example, we hope to retire our instance of Archon in favor of ArchivesSpace.

The process we have followed to develop this plan has been an interesting and, I think, worthwhile investment in an area that is of significant strategic importance.

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