SPEC Kit 329: Managing Born-Digital Special Collections and Archival Materials · 17
Access Challenges
The biggest access and discovery challenge, described
by 32 respondents, is the sensitivity of materials—
concerns about copyright, confidentiality, privacy,
intellectual property, and personally identifiable in-
formation. The second biggest challenge is IT infra-
structure, or rather, the lack of it (28 respondents).
Particular concerns in this area include user interface,
the need to integrate multiple systems, and the ability
to handle very large files. Other significant challenges
are the need to develop policies, processes, and tools
for arranging and describing born-digital materials in
ways that make them most accessible, including the
integration of description for digital and non-digital
materials; rights management (restrictions specific to
users rather than materials); and staff time and skills.
Interestingly, time was twice as much of a concern for
respondents as staff skills. This makes sense as more
professionals are assigned responsibility for these
materials and go on to develop the necessary skills,
but staff may still mean the only person, or one of a
very few, responsible for managing these types of
materials at their institutions. The remaining concerns
included metadata standardization, differing levels of
donor restrictions and how to apply them in an online
environment, format standardization and migration,
and institutional support (including funding).
Respondents’ concerns grow even more complex
when restrictions on sensitive materials (those subject
to copyright, confidentiality, privacy, and intellectual
property concerns) are combined with rights manage-
ment by user group and donor-imposed limitations
on access, because each of these types of restrictions
can vary from case to case. Reference desk staff have
dealt with the complexity of access restrictions in face-
to-face transactions for decades, but libraries lack au-
tomated systems that can do the same during online
transactions where staff are not there to intervene.
Respondents’ comments on registration proce-
dures highlight the nature of this challenge. Most in-
stitutions that provide access to born-digital materials
are either doing so in their reading rooms and follow-
ing standard reading room registration procedures or
are providing access to the materials online with no
registration procedure. These limited approaches are
directly linked to the second biggest access challenge
for respondents, the lack of a fully developed IT in-
frastructure for delivering born-digital materials to
researchers. Other technology concerns include user
interface design, the need to navigate multiple dis-
connected systems, and problems supporting large
file sizes.
Providing access to archival materials is, of course,
dependent on appropriate arrangement and descrip-
tion, and so it should be no surprise that many re-
spondents stated a need to further develop policies,
processes, and tools for arranging and describing
born-digital materials in ways that make them most
accessible, including the integration of description
for born-digital, digitized, and non-digital materials.
The survey results indicate that our profession
is moving towards a higher comfort level with the
standardization of both metadata and file formats.
Furthermore, institutional support is a challenge at
only three institutions, which would seem to illustrate
administrators’ growing understanding of the need
to support access to born-digital materials. Possible
areas for future research include the use of analytics
and user studies to track the quantitative and quali-
tative aspects of access to these materials by off-site
researchers and the challenges of providing not just
basic access but value-added reference services to
those users.
Privacy Concerns
The survey team was surprised that most respondents
did not address the potential institutional liability
posed by personally identifiable information (PII)
within born-digital materials, beyond the imposition
of access restrictions. (PII includes information such as
social security numbers, credit card numbers, logins,
passwords, PINs, and medical and financial records.)
Seventy-one percent of respondents indicated that
their gift agreements did not include language that ac-
knowledged born-digital materials. While ownership
transfer, copyright, and some standard restrictions can
be handled through the traditional deed of gift, gain-
ing permission from the donor to use forensic tools
that allow recovery and review of deleted files while
searching for PII is not a standard option. Since such
actions might alter donated files or uncover files not
intended for transfer, requesting permission through
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