Selection Policies and Procedures
Our primary purpose is to serve the needs of the University of Alabama faculty. Secondarily, we seek to serve the needs of the UA students, and thirdly, we seek to serve the community at large.
In order to sustain our progress, we must also seek funding, and digitize material which will facilitate in obtaining the support needed to deliver content and services to our target audiences.
The first question that must be addressed when a collection or portion of a collection is considered for digitization is: what is the copyright status of the materials? In a large collection, the copyright status might vary from item to item. This may require that different parts of a collection are more accessible than others. Most material considered for digitization and access on the open Web falls into one of the following three categories:
- Public domain: works that never were, or are no longer covered by copyright. Works in the public domain may be used without permission. What's in the public domain?
- All works published before January 1, 1923.
- Works published between 1923 and 1964 and not renewed in the 28th year.
- Works published without copyright notice before 1989.
- Unpublished works whose author died before 1932; otherwise, the term is life plus 70 years.
- Works for which the copyright is held by The University of Alabama
- Works for which we have secured permission to digitize
For more information, refer to Copyright and Cultural Institutions. This document can also be found in the Digital Services Library and on the share drive under Digital Projects\Administrative\Staff_docs.
We may also digitize works for which the copyright status is unknown and which would require research to determine their copyright status. This category also includes Orphan Works, which are works for which the copyright holder has gone out of business (in the case of publishers) or cannot be located. For works in this category, we may choose to provide limited access under the doctrine of Fair Use.
It may also be possible to provide access to digital surrogates for copyright-protected materials, using Fair Use or other provisions in the law. In addition to Fair Use, the Copyright Law provides specific exemptions established for archives and libraries. These provisions in the Copyright Law allow libraries to provide access to copyright protected materials without permission under certain conditions.
Even though the owner may have donated the physical item, the right to digitize the object (see the Digital Services Permission Agreement) and make it freely available on the web (see our Copyright Guidelines) are separate issues, and the owner of the current physical item may not own the copyright. Much content must be turned aside because we are unable to obtain legal permission to digitize and provide open access.
Significance of the Collection
The significance of the collection is the next consideration. Significance depends on a number of indicators, but it is always the subjective judgment of a librarian, archivist, curator, or faculty member. The following questions may be used to establish the significance of a collection:
- Will experts attest to the importance of the collection?
- How does it fit into current or potential research activities?
- How is the collection currently being used? How might digitization increase use of the collection?
- Does the intellectual quality of the source materials warrant the level of access made possible by digitization?
- Will digitization enhance the intellectual value of the material?
Current and Potential Users
There is some evidence that digitization always increases use, but current use is still an important indicator:
- Are users consulting the proposed source materials?
- Is current access so difficult that digitization will create a new audience?
- Will electronic access to these materials enhance their value to users?
- Does the physical condition of the originals limit their use?
- Are related materials widely dispersed?
- Are there librarians or archivists who might collaborate on the project?
- Will digitization meet the needs of local users?
Organization and Descriptive Metadata
Metadata is also a necessary part of digitization. Descriptive metadata will enable users to find the object via search and retrieval mechanisms; other kinds of metadata will be needed for preservation, administration, online delivery, and reuse. The creation of descriptive metadata generally takes 2/3 of the time needed for any digital project.
No matter how important a collection might be, the collection must be organized and described before it is ready for digitization.
- Has the collection been organized and processed?
- Are there MARC records or some other form of catalogued records for the collection?
- Is there a finding aid - either paper or online?
If the collection has not been organized, organization should be completed before the collection receives further consideration for digitization. If there is no form of description by way of a finding aid, catalogued entries, etc., project planning and project costs will increase. In order to create a finding aid or descriptive records, there must be ample documentation on the collection and the objects in the collection, otherwise the necessary level of search and discovery can not be supported. Users require factual description at the item level.
Existing description should be evaluated by the Metadata Librarian with regard to its quality and potential for metadata harvesting. All description should be brought up to minimum standards for shareable metadata before the digitization project has been completed; this additional work may add significant cost to the overall project.
Relationship to Other Digital Collections
It is important to contribute to "critical mass" of digital materials in the subject whenever possible. By complementing existing online collections, the value of your collection will enhance the subject area and, in turn, the user experience. The following questions can help guide selectors through this aspect of decision making:
- If published material, has it already been digitized? All? Parts of the collection?
- Would cooperative digitization effort improve this project? Could you find partners?
- How does this collection fit in with other digital collections? Will the whole be greater than the sum of the parts?
- Are there complementary collections in other institutions? Would one of these institutions be interested in partnering?
Formats/Languages/Nature of the Materials
Some formats are more established for digitization and online delivery than others. Currently, we have the equipment necessary to digitize:
- unbound documents (such as letters) and photos;
- unbound books in good condition, if not oversized;
- bound books dependent upon condition, looseness of binding, margins and size;
- fragile documents, dependent upon archivist recommendations;
- slides and glass plate negatives
- artifacts, dependent upon size; and
- cassette and reel-to-reel (1/4 inch) audio tapes.
Special formats such as newspapers represent another type of material that would require special systems to store and deliver.
Incoming Digital Content has a host of other considerations to bear in mind during selection. Formats and current ability to preserve the content to provide long term access is key; please see the Preservation section for more information.
Foreign-language materials require project staff who are proficient in the language(s), which may add to the difficulty of assembling the project team. This factor may also add to the expense of the project and the timeline.
Creation of searchable text requires additional time and skills; non-Western languages present challenges. Searchable text in a foreign language requires the user to enter text in this language. In general, the decision to provide searchable text, either corrected or uncorrected, adds considerable expense to a text project and should be evaluated using the other factors noted above.
Another factor related to the format is the condition of the materials. Digitization may serve either a preservation or access need, but most projects address both issues. Digitization may protect fragile items by reducing handling of the originals. However, these materials must be able to withstand the handling necessary for digitization. If the determination has been made that the items can withstand digitization, the condition of the material will also be a factor in deciding whether to outsource digitization or perform the work in-house.
Sources of Funding
Digitization projects are funded with internal university funds and external grant funds. Oftentimes, the funding agency stipulates priorities for funding. The goal is to match a high-priority project with the appropriate funding source. Other funding opportunities may present more difficult challenges, such as requiring a large number of partners or a specific type of partner or specifying very short deadlines for completion of the work, without the possibility of an extension.
The best approach with regard to grant funding is to develop skeletal outlines for digitization projects for a number of important collections and then research potential funding sources. Once a good match has been found, the details of project planning can be finalized, bringing the project in line with funding requirements and evaluative criteria as closely as possible.
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