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Criteria for Digitizing, Collecting, and Storing Digital Content

Digitization for long-term retention and re-use of content is a commitment to provide access to the digital content and its attendant metadata in perpetuity. Digital projects represent a significant investment of resources. As a result, the UMass Amherst Libraries go through a careful selection process to ensure collections align with campus teaching, learning and research needs and our ability to provide long-term access and support. The following list of criteria is intended to help potential partners and content managers, such as librarians, faculty, and other libraries, in selecting materials to collect and preserve.

Significance of the collection/item

Significance depends on a number of factors and 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 align with the Libraries’ Collection Development Policy?
  • How does it fit into current or future research activities?
  • What is the impact of the potential use of the collection to the user community?
  • How is the collection currently being used?
  • Will collecting and preserving the material enhance the intellectual value of the material?
  • Does the collection fit into the mission and strategic goals of the library and the University?

Copyright status

The first question that should be asked is what is the copyright status of the materials? The copyright status might vary from item to item and that may require that different parts of a collection are more accessible than others.

  • Is the work in the public domain?
  • Does UMass Amherst own the copyright?
  • Does UMass Amherst have permission to digitize the content?
  • Does UMass Amherst have permission to disseminate the content?
  • Does UMass Amherst have the rights to take actions necessary to preserve the content?
  • Does digitization of the content fall under the terms of Fair Use?

UMass Amherst may also digitize works for which the copyright status is unknown and which would require research to determine their copyright status. This category includes Orphan Works, which are works for which the copyright holder has gone out of business or cannot be located. (See also the Orphan Works Policy.)

Current and potential users

While some evidence suggests digitization increases use, the current use is an important indicator of the collection’s value:

  • Are users currently consulting the proposed source materials?
  • Is current access significantly difficult that collecting and preserving the collection will create a new user audience?
  • Will electronic access enhance the value of the collection to users?
  • Will access to the materials be open?
  • Does the condition of the original collection limit its use?
  • Are related materials widely dispersed?
  • Are there librarians, archivists and/or faculty who might collaborate on the project?

Organization and descriptive metadata

No matter how important the collection, it must be organized and described before it is ready for distribution:

  • Has the collection been organized and processed?
  • Are there records that conform to existing metadata standards for the collection?
  • Is there a finding aid?

Relationship to Other Digital Collections

It is important to contribute to “critical mass” of digital collections in the subject whenever possible. By complementing existing online collections, the value of the collection will enhance the subject area and the user experience. The following questions can be asked to guide selectors through the decision-making:

  • If published material, has it already been digitized? If so, by whom? All? Selective Parts?
  • Would cooperative digitization effort improve the content? Is it possible to find project partners?
  • How does this collection fit in with other digital collections? Will the whole be greater than the sum of its parts?
  • Are their complementary collections at other institutions? Would one of these institutions be interested in partnering?
  • Would cooperative retention provide continuing access to materials?


Some formats are more well-established for digitization and online delivery than others. The UMass Amherst Libraries can digitize or outsource digitization of the following formats:

  • Text
  • Photographs
  • Other visual materials
  • Audio
  • Multi-media

We are much better equipped to provide sustainable access to text, photographs and other visual materials, and audio than video or multi-media. The condition of the materials must also be considered. Digitization may serve either a preservation or access need and most projects address both of these aspects. Digitization may protect fragile items but they must be able to withstand handling necessary for digitization.

Foreign-language materials require project staff who are proficient in the language(s) and that may add to the difficulty in assembling the project team. This may also factor to the expense of the project and the timeline. Creation of searchable texts requires additional time and skills, and adds considerable expense to a text project.

Technical considerations

Storage and technical considerations are another important factor that should be considered with evaluating a collection. Answering “no” to the following does not immediately remove a project proposal from selection, although impact to the user community needs to be carefully weighed. Among the items to consider:

  • Do the Libraries currently have the technical infrastructure (i.e., hardware, software, server space, network capacity, etc.) to create, deliver, and maintain the digitized resources?
  • Do the Libraries have the knowledge, or the capacity to develop, skills to accomplish the project alone and/or with a partner? Ample staff to bring the project to fruition or the ability to hire such staff.