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Author: Julie L. Holcomb
Title: Going Digital: Strategies for Access, Preservation, and Conversion of Collections to a Digital Format (Donald DeWitt)
Publication info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
April 2000

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Source: Going Digital: Strategies for Access, Preservation, and Conversion of Collections to a Digital Format (Donald DeWitt)
Julie L. Holcomb

vol. 3, no. 1, April 2000
Article Type: Book Review

Going Digital: Strategies for Access, Preservation, and Conversion of Collections to a Digital Format

Donald L. DeWitt, editor, Going Digital: Strategies for Access, Preservation, and Conversion of Collections to a Digital Format. (Haworth Press, Inc., 1998)

The essays in Going Digital were originally presented as part of a series of five symposiums on digital resources sponsored by Research Libraries Group, Inc. (RLG) between 1993 and 1995. Founded in 1974 as a non-profit corporation of research institutions, RLG is a proven leader in promoting collaborative programs to improve access to information that supports research and learning. In 1999 RLG adopted three key initiatives for 2000-2003: access to cultural material resources, long-term retention of digital research materials, and next-generation resource sharing. Going Digital is evidence of RLG's abiding interest in digital technology, and therefore is particularly noteworthy among the crowd of recently published books about digital resources in research institutions.

As Donald DeWitt points out in his introduction to Going Digital, "unprecedented change is at hand" in libraries, archives, and museums as electronic and digital resources become more commonplace in library and archival collections. (2) Though the essays in Going Digital are at least five years old, they provide a succinct introduction to issues that are being debated among librarians and archivists regarding the creation, use, and preservation of digital resources. The essays focus on the selection and conversion of material (print and graphic) to digital, the integration of digital resources into traditional library and archival collections, and the preservation of digital resources. While librarians and archivists were the intended audience for these essays, scholars will find them an excellent overview of the hard choices currently being made by professionals in libraries, archives, and other research institutions.

Douglas Greenberg's essay, "Return to the Valley of the Dolls: Reflections on Changing Lanes Along the Information Superhighway," illustrates the challenges facing librarians and archivists as they manage their collections in the digital age. As Greenberg (an archivist for the Chicago Historical Society) points out, even the wealthiest of institutions have always had to make unpleasant choices regarding the management of their collections; however, the combined emergence of new technologies and new scholarly disciplines "imposes an agonizingly difficult set of [new] choices and problems." (46) First, archivists and librarians must continue to care for collections as they have in the past. Second, they must continue to accept, process, and make available to scholars new materials in the traditional formats. Third, librarians and archivists must begin digitization of materials already in their collections in order to make them more widely available. And finally, in addition to those three tasks, archivists and librarians must be prepared to accept electronic records into their collections though they are "unprepared to cope with either preservation of or access to this entirely new class of research materials." (46).

Each task is, as Greenberg notes, "one that a responsible institution ought to regard as a critical part of its responsibility to its user community." (46) So how do archivists and librarians prioritize these competing tasks, particularly when already constrained budgets are insufficient to meet the first two tasks? According to Greenberg, archivists and librarians must begin by making conscious collection management choices and accept that in some areas less will be done in order to take on new responsibilities. Next, unpleasant though it might be, archivists and librarians must begin to think of their operations as businesses and find ways to turn their collections into income sources (i.e., using licensing arrangements to fund and expand scholarly access to collections). And finally, archivists and librarians must "be more collaborative about [their] collections." (51)

As Greenberg excellently sums up: "in a society that has never supported its libraries, museums, archives, and scholars properly, the collective power of the members of RLG should be impressively useful in addressing our common problems—not library problems in some parochial sense but even more fundamental issues having to do with the nature, extent, and character of the research enterprise itself." (51-52) The digital revolution occurring in libraries, museums, and archives provides an excellent opportunity for scholars, archivists, and librarians to work together to ensure the continued viability of educational and cultural institutions.

Julie L. Holcomb, The University of Texas, Austin.