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ARL and Ithaka S+R Release Findings on Sustainability of Digitized Special Collections

Photo of Jack Kerouac manuscript, image © Thomas Hawk

ARL and Ithaka S+R today released Appraising our Digital Investment: Sustainability of Digitized Special Collections in ARL Libraries (PDF), a report on findings from an ARL-Ithaka S+R survey of ARL libraries on the range of activities and expenses that libraries undertake to support their digitized special collections.

“Hundreds of special collections have been digitized by ARL libraries in the past two decades and the majority of our members view digitization of rare and unique materials as critical to their future,” said ARL Executive Director Elliott Shore. “This survey offers a close look at the practices, attitudes, costs, and revenues associated with post-digitization activity.”

The research reveals that understanding the continuing costs for sustaining digital collections is a challenge across libraries. Responsibility is frequently dispersed among departments, and staff time and other costs are rarely allocated expressly to these activities or accounted for project-by-project. Almost universally, libraries are funding this activity out of their base budgets, suggesting that they will continue to need to shift funds from other things in order to support this as a priority.

While libraries are supporting these collections within their operations, the study’s findings also reflect concern over sustainability, with librarians citing lack of funding and staff capacity as major challenges to sufficient investment in their digital collections.

“Librarians can now take advantage of technology that allows them to make their rare and unique collections available to the world,” noted Deanna Marcum, Ithaka S+R Managing Director. “Funding sources to sustain these collections and the range of activities involved in preserving and maintaining them, however, is clearly still a question that needs community attention.”

The three-part survey, designed with input from the ARL community, was sent to all ARL member libraries in the US and Canada and completed by 89 library directors, a response rate of 70%. In addition to the institutional perspective provided by library directors, library staff responded to other sections to offer insight into activities and costs for all of their institution’s digitized collections, and questions about individual projects.

The report’s lead author, Nancy Maron, Ithaka S+R program director for sustainability and scholarly communications, also presented the study findings in a webcast on March 7, 2013. The webcast featured experts from the ARL special collections community, including Lisa Carter, Anne Kenney, and Ann Thornton. View the webcast on ARL’s YouTube channel.

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is a nonprofit organization of 125 research libraries in the US and Canada. Its mission is to influence the changing environment of scholarly communication and the public policies that affect research libraries and the diverse communities they serve. ARL pursues this mission by advancing the goals of its member research libraries, providing leadership in public and information policy to the scholarly and higher education communities, fostering the exchange of ideas and expertise, facilitating the emergence of new roles for research libraries, and shaping a future environment that leverages its interests with those of allied organizations. ARL is on the web at http://www.arl.org/.

Ithaka S+R (sr.ithaka.org) is a research and consulting group whose work serves as a catalyst for the transformation of scholarship and teaching online. Ithaka S+R is part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit organization that also includes JSTOR and Portico

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