are also due to a number of ARL library directors and other professional
colleagues who have reviewed the list.2
Principle 1: Distinct collections demand
extra vigilance in digitization.
When digitizing distinct collections, special attention should be paid to the
nature of the material being digitized. No blanket digitization standard should
be applied to all materials. Instead the inherent characteristics of the items
should determine the level of care. Rare, unique, or fragile items should be
digitized according to the highest professional standards in terms of handling,
security, and scan quality. This may often require on-site conversion with
specialized equipment. Digitization should be conducted in a way such that it is
not necessary to revisit the process in the future as repeated digitization may
lessen the artifactual value of originals.3 Material that is more common or does
not contain significant artifactual integrity can be digitized in a fashion that
fosters widespread access to the most amount of material.
Principle 2: Libraries must respect any donor-imposed
restrictions on the digitization and use of materials.
Special collections material is often acquired from donors with express
limitations on its use, even when that material is ostensibly in the public
domain. In negotiating with commercial vendors, libraries must ensure that the
terms of any applicable donor agreement are respected. In negotiating with
donors, librarians and archivists should educate them about the desirability of
making materials accessible online.
Principle 3: Libraries should seek the broadest possible user
access to digitized content. This includes patrons of other
libraries and unaffiliated researchers.
For over a century, libraries have participated in successful resource-sharing
cooperatives that have made content widely accessible. The same spirit should
govern commercial digitization activities. Libraries should resist arrangements
that result in onerous subscription charges for access to resources digitized from
their collections. In the best of all possible worlds, there would be some level of
free access to all content, with only special value-added services restricted to a
The Collaborative Imperative: Special Collections in the Digital Age
C O N T I N U E D
DECEMBER 2009 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A BIMONTHLY REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC