A National Library’s digitisation guide for Digital Humanists

paper, specified "short paper"
  1. 1. Rossitza Ilieva Atanassova

    British Library

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This short paper will give practical advice about the British Library’s digitisation planning process for scholars who wish to use digitised resources in their research. The information will help scholars understand the institutional context, the roles involved in digitisation, the preparation stages and documentation required, typical timelines and the decision-making that happens at different stages. With this knowledge it is hoped that Digital Humanities (DH) scholars will be better prepared for the process and will factor it in their research funding proposals. They will also gain an understanding of the Library’s considerations and policy for making available for reuse existing digitised resources and how scholars could request this for their projects. In making the policy and processes at the institution more transparent, the presentation will expose some of the hidden labour undertaken by cultural heritage staff to enable DH research, as well as the opportunities to use the research outputs for the enrichment of culture heritage collections.
Institutional context
The British Library has a mixed-economy approach to drive digitisation and works with external partners from across the commercial, academic and GLAM sectors. The Library’s collections and areas of expertise are wide-ranging and we have a significant experience of collaborating on research projects in the humanities and other disciplines. Collaborations with DH scholars contribute to the Library’s digitisation priorities to ensure a more complete digital offering and an enhanced research potential of the collections to the benefit of future users and audiences. A timely engagement with the Library means proposals are carefully reviewed by relevant staff and lead to mutually beneficial outcomes.
Digitisation planning process
New proposals for digitisation are assessed and approved by a group of stakeholders representing strategic and operational teams at the Library. The digitisation planning process involves significant information gathering through the coordination of a number of assessments by different teams to establish the suitability and readiness of a collection for digitisation. The data captured relates to the provenance and physical state of the collection, level of descriptive metadata, copyright status and sensitivity issues, evaluation of the imaging process and necessary preparation of the material, post-processing and output file requirements, resource capacity and scheduling, and overall costs. During the final stages of approval strategic considerations are made about the optimal approach for digitising the collection, its fit with the Library’s overall digital offering, the most appropriate partnership model, opportunities for the enrichment and innovative use of the data, and the value for the intended users groups.
Legal compliance is an essential stage in the digitisation planning and approval of new proposals, and standard due diligence procedures are in place for undertaking copyright assessments and rights clearance, data protection and sensitivity checks, and the assignment of usage terms. Facilitating easy access and onward reuse of the digital collections is set out as a clear objective in the Library’s long-term vision and strategy, and where appropriate and permissible digital content is released under the most open licences. The paper will outline the Library’s policy with regards to access and reuse of its digital content, the process in place and the stakeholders group involved. Scholars will understand how decisions are made and will be able to apply this knowledge when planning for the use of the Library’s digitised resources in their research.
Challenges and opportunities
Digitisation at the British Library provides an excellent opportunity for staff to contribute to digital culture heritage studies. This paper will bring to light some of the research and innovation that underlines the digitisation activities and how this benefits scholars. Despite efforts to standardise the digitisation process, the range of formats and content types in the Library’s collections, the items dimensions, age and condition present challenges and require much original thinking and experimentation in order to create the best digital surrogates. Careful investigation and evaluation of the digitisation approach from the outset guarantees that digital assets will be of the highest quality and long-term value. Therefore, decisions made in the planning process about the preparation of material, use of equipment, image capture and properties, post-processing and presentation influence the outcomes of digitisation and would have an impact on how the digitised resources are used in research.
With its vast and significant holdings the British Library plays a major role in supporting digital research in the humanities. Members from different teams across the Library, including the Digital Scholarship department, contribute to the digitisation process and enable the scholarly use of digitised resources. Whilst DH projects often help fund new digitisation and make the Library’s collections more accessible, they generate a deeper understanding of culture heritage and enable the enrichment and reuse of digital collections. In explaining the institutional context, the digitisation planning process and the involvement of different stakeholders, this short paper will help scholars appreciate the significant investment in digitisation by the Library and also the opportunity DH projects present for the Library to develop its collections. In this way research collaborations between culture heritage institutions and DH scholars will be strengthened, ensuring that outcomes are of greater mutual value and paving the way for future innovative use of digitised resources.

British Library (2019). “Digital Scholarship.”
https://www.bl.uk/subjects/digital-scholarship (accessed 29 April 2019)

British Library (2018). “Heritage Made Digital.”
https://www.bl.uk/projects/heritage-made-digital (accessed 29 April 2019)

British Library (2019). “Proposing a new research collaboration with the British Library.”

https://www.bl.uk/help/proposing-a-new-research-collaboration-with-the-british-library (accessed 29 April 2019)

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