14  ·  Survey Results:  Executive Summary
decision-making and are beginning to make practical
progress in accomplishing digital preservation.
Conclusion
ARL libraries curate a diverse and growing range of
digital collections that include digitized and born-
digital special collections, licensed materials (e.g.,
ejournals and databases), research data, art databases,
web-harvested materials, administrative records, and
electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs). The curato-
rial challenges they face for these assets are acute. The
collections often began with ad-hoc and idiosyncratic
data storage structures resulting from project-driven
needs (e.g., to host scanned copies, to amalgamate
data in a variety of formats and databases, or to estab-
lish an effective workflow for accepting born-digital
works). Of necessity, the libraries have allowed these
collections to expand and have regularly acquired
new digital collections over the last several decades
before they could implement clear mechanisms for
the preservation of this digital content.
Today, methods for preserving digital content
are becoming standardized and digital preservation
models (e.g., MetaArchive, UC3 Merritt, DAITSS,
HathiTrust) are readily available in the field. This
survey revealed, as the digital preservation field is
maturing, that most ARL libraries are rising to the
challenge of establishing policies, workflows, and
infrastructures to systematically preserve their rap-
idly expanding bodies of digital content. The survey
also revealed that most ARL libraries are actively
engaging in in-house digital preservation rather than
outsourcing it to external parties, thus maintaining
their control and ownership over the digital content
that they curate. Survey respondents also predicted
that they would continue turning to library-managed
and collaborative solutions over vendor-based, hosted
solutions for their core collections.
Tempering our excitement at the unprecedented
levels of reported preservation activity are some
of the comments made throughout the survey that
demonstrate that the definition of “digital preserva-
tion” is still murky for some librarians. A number of
respondents confused “back ups” with “preserva-
tion” and referred to access-oriented repository ser-
vices as though they were preservation solutions. For
example, respondents stated that they are “organizing
and backing up digital assets in-house,” and named
non-preservation services, such as Archive-It, as their
preservation strategies. However, others are quite
sophisticated in their understanding of preservation
and their responsiveness to the current environment,
including one member who reported, “We’re keeping
our eye open for the most effective strategy...right
now it is hedging by employing multiple options.”
This mixture of responses demonstrates that there
is still a serious need for training opportunities in
digital preservation and life-cycle curation for the
ARL community.
Judging by the survey findings, most ARL librar-
ies view digital preservation as a complicated mix of
technical and organizational responses to the needs
of aging content. Most also see the provision of digi-
tal preservation services for their campuses as a key
component of their 21st century missions. They are
actively expanding their policies, workflows, and
technical capacity for preservation.
This expansion is, in itself, challenging. It requires
a paradigm shift in thinking about the library’s mis-
sion as an active caretaker of non-physical content; it
also requires heavy resource allocations to establish
a solid infrastructure for digital life-cycle curation.
However, there is a second challenge that ARL li-
braries cite and must respond to at the campus level.
Respondents report that other campus entities (e.g.,
research data centers, administrative units) are often
both unaware of the library’s growing capacity for
digital curation and ambivalent at best about engag-
ing the library’s services for their own data collec-
tions. If ARL libraries are to maintain their core role
as the campus’s source for collecting, providing access
to, and preserving not just analog but also digital col-
lections, they must find new ways of engaging with
their campus constituents, including through adver-
tising these services and engaging directly with the
content producers. Doing so will help to ensure that
the campus turns to a central entity—the library—to
maintain its scholarly communications channels and
materials in the increasingly digital age, rather than
distributing this responsibility across other campus
units or outsourcing it altogether.
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