“Draft Principles for Digitized Content” from the Digitization Policy Task Force of ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy

A note on the LITA-L mailing list from M. Claire Stewart (a member of the American Library Association Office of Information Technology Policy Task Force on Digitization Policy) announces the availability of the Draft Principles for Digitized Content in the form of a series of blog postings on the ALA website. Stewart’s message notes:

In January of 2007, the Task Force on Digitization Policy of ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy introduced the draft Principles for Digitized Content. The goal of the principles is to succinctly voice the primary policy areas that can guide libraries as they make decisions regarding digitization. The nine principles are now available on the ALA blog site at <http://blogs.ala.org/digitizationprinciples.php>. The blog is an online area for your comments on the Principles, and we invite you to read them and give us your ideas. The blog will be accepting your comments until May 1, 2007. Comments from individuals are welcome, but if you are posting for an ALA Unit, please so indicate in your text.

The goal, after a review and comment period, is a concise document that would be officially adopted by ALA as a statement of where libraries stand on the policy issues raised by widespread digitization of library materials. The Task Force would like to present this document for approval by ALA Council at the 2007 annual conference in Washington, D.C.

The text of the draft is reproduced below, with links to the appropriate sections of the ALA blog where you can leave comments.

Introduction


The accelerating mass digitization of collections in libraries and cultural heritage institutions demands a framework of principles and a body of policy to guide decision making and to enable values-driven choices. The principles for the digitization of content will provoke a review of American Library Association policies that address the creation, access, use and preservation of digital materials and that require revision, enhancement and creation. This is critical to the advancement of ALA’s leadership role in the information society and to the support provided to members. This will also sustain the relevance and impact of libraries and librarians in their communities.

Principle 1 – Digital libraries are libraries


Digital libraries ARE libraries. The policies of the Association apply fully to digital libraries including the core values such as commitment to access, confidentiality/privacy, the public good, and professionalism.

Principle 2 – Digital materials and libraries


Digital content, like other library materials, must be given the same consideration for collection development, ease of access, freedom of information, and preservation.

Principle 3 – Sustainability


Digital activities and the resulting collections must be sustainable by libraries. Sustainability requires secure and ongoing funding, technology solutions that are appropriate to the longevity of the cultural record, and long-term management capabilities.

Principle 4 – Collaboration

Digitization on a large scale requires collaboration. Collaboration enables the building of collections that support research, scholarship and information needs of diverse communities. Collaboration will require strong organizational support and promotion by cultural heritage professionals, their institutions, and their associations.

Principle 5 – Communication


Digital activity requires ongoing communication for its success. The library and cultural heritage community must reach out to the public, to government, and to funding institutions with a clear and compelling message regarding the role of digital libraries and collections.

Principle 6 – International


Digital collections increasingly address an international audience. These collections are part of a global information infrastructure that is not limited by geography.

Principle 7 – Education


Digital collections are developed and sustained by an educated workforce. Members of the cultural heritage professions must engage in continuous learning and be able to explore new technology, to work with new partners, and to reach new audiences.

Principle 8 – Preservation


Digital materials must be the object of appropriate preservation. Preservation activities require the development of standards and best practices as well as models for sustainable funding to guarantee long term commitment to these materials.

Principle 9 [No link available]


Digital collections and their materials must adhere to standards to maximize their usefulness. Standards must serve the broadest community of users, support sustainable access and use over time, and provide user functionality that promotes the core library values (http://www.ala.org/ala/oif/statementspols/corevaluesstatement/corevalues.htm).

I’m going to post my comments here, which should be linked by trackback to the ALA blog articles. Since the source of this work seems to be an ALA Policy Gap Analysis from last year, I thought it might be interesting to remove the word “digital” from the policy draft and see if what was left a) still held true; and b) was duplicative of what was already in the ALA Statement of Core Values. This is what I came up with, along with commentary.

Principle 1


[Digital] libraries ARE libraries. The policies of the Association apply fully to [digital] libraries including the core values such as commitment to access, confidentiality/privacy, the public good, and professionalism.

Well, yes, libraries are libraries. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck. If someone is going to call themselves a (digital) library — a library in the ALA sense of a library — then it shouldn’t matter. This principle seems to want to drive this fact home, but I find it redundant. I guess in the end I could take it or leave it.

Principle 2


[Digital] content, like other library materials, must be given the same consideration for collection development, ease of access, freedom of information, and preservation.

In other words, I think, libraries should be format agnostic. Whether it is bound paper or spoken word recorded on magnetic tape or images on film or spoken word encoded in ones-and-zeros on a magnetic substrate spinning at upwards of 15,000 revolutions-per-minute (otherwise known as a “hard disk”), there are certain professional practices that should be applied to that content. The Core Values Statement already has access, intellectual freedom, and preservation.

Principle 3


[Digital] activities and the resulting collections must be sustainable by libraries. Sustainability requires secure and ongoing funding, technology solutions that are appropriate to the longevity of the cultural record, and long-term management capabilities.

If you’re going to embark on a project, make sure you have the means to do it. Don’t open up a new branch if you don’t have the operating funds to staff it and keep the lights on. Don’t expect to jam 10 linear feet of bound paper on a 6-foot shelf (shelves being another form of “technology”). Treat the collection with care, and be prepared to send bound paper out for rebinding if it becomes necessary. I can’t find a link to common sense in the Core Values Statement, though.

Principle 4


Digitization on a large scale requires collaboration. Collaboration enables the building of collections that support research, scholarship and information needs of diverse communities. Collaboration will require strong organizational support and promotion by cultural heritage professionals, their institutions, and their associations.

“Digital” didn’t appear directly, but I think we can substitute a format-agnostic ‘building a collection’ here to get “Building a collection on a large scale requires collaboration.” The rest seems obvious no matter what is being collected, does it not? Yet, “collaboration” is not in the Core Values Statement and I don’t see the need for this principle that is uniquely or especially “digital”.

Principle 5


[Digital] activity requires ongoing communication for its success. The library and cultural heritage community must reach out to the public, to government, and to funding institutions with a clear and compelling message regarding the role of [digital] libraries and collections.

This one speaks for itself, I think. If you have any sort of project or program or service, you’re going to need buy-in from customers and funding agencies. Here, too, “communication” is not in the Core Values Statement, but I don’t see that the need for it is uniquely or especially “digital”.

Principle 6


[Digital] collections increasingly address an international audience. These collections are part of a global information infrastructure that is not limited by geography.

This principle does have a somewhat unique digital perspective. Sure, physical materials can be sent out via interlibrary loan. But the dramatic lowering of the access-across-distance barrier that digital material offers is a unique characteristic of that medium. Still, a liberal interpretation of the Core Values Statement “Diversity” statement, if you take the world to be the population that you are now serving with your digitally-supplied content, it isn’t that much of a stretch (principle-wise).

Principle 7


[Digital] collections are developed and sustained by an educated workforce. Members of the cultural heritage professions must engage in continuous learning and be able to explore new technology, to work with new partners, and to reach new audiences.

New technologies require new skills and new techniques. I’m a child of the recent age, so I’d be curious to know if a similar set of principles was drawn a couple of decades ago when it became evident that the (physical) card catalog was going to be converted into a computerized system. Change is constant, although it could be easily argued that the pace of change is quicker now than in the past. If because of that quick pace we need this principle, then fine. I’d argue that it has little to do with “digital” and more to do with “pace of change” though. The Core Values Statement already speaks of the professionalism of a well trained, qualified staff. (No comments here about whether “graduate programs within institutions of higher education” — as the Core Values Statement requires — are turning out well trained, qualified staff in this technological age. I went to library school with the technology part well in hand; I was looking for, and got, a great grounding in the uniquely library ethos.)

Principle 8


[Digital] materials must be the object of appropriate preservation. Preservation activities require the development of standards and best practices as well as models for sustainable funding to guarantee long term commitment to these materials.

Digital preservation is arguably harder than that of more tangible materials. Other than that, there is nothing inherently unique about the need or the requirement to preserve digital content over other forms of content. Yet, the Core Values Statement already has a broad entry for Preservation of “information published in all media and formats.”

Principle 9


[Digital] collections and their materials must adhere to standards to maximize their usefulness. Standards must serve the broadest community of users, support sustainable access and use over time, and provide user functionality that promotes the core library values.

Standards are important, yes, and because there are so many to choose from it is important to come to some agreement about which ones we are going to use. That we have so many to choose from does seem to be a uniquely “digital” trait, so this does sound like a good principle to set forth. I don’t see anything in the Core Values Statement that addresses this.


So I come away from this document wholly unsatisfied. Except for two principles, I see nothing inherently “digital” about them. Not only that, but there is an odd mix of “Digitized” — as stated in the title of the policy draft — and “Digital” — which with the exception of principle #4 on collaboration is used throughout the document.

I guess I’m finding it hard to reconcile the proposal of new principles when it seems like the ones I already have suite the situation just fine.

The text was modified to update a link from http://www.ala.org/ala/oif/statementspols/corevaluesstatement/corevalues.htm to http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/oif/statementspols/corevaluesstatement/corevalues.cfm on January 19th, 2011.

The text was modified to update a link from http://www.ala.org/ala/oif/statementspols/corevaluesstatement/corevalues.htm#access to http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/oif/statementspols/corevaluesstatement/corevalues.cfm#access on January 19th, 2011.

The text was modified to update a link from http://www.ala.org/ala/oif/statementspols/corevaluesstatement/corevalues.htm#if to http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/oif/statementspols/corevaluesstatement/corevalues.cfm#if on January 19th, 2011.

The text was modified to update a link from http://www.ala.org/ala/oif/statementspols/corevaluesstatement/corevalues.htm#preservation to http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/oif/statementspols/corevaluesstatement/corevalues.cfm#preservation on January 19th, 2011.

The text was modified to update a link from http://www.ala.org/ala/oif/statementspols/corevaluesstatement/corevalues.htm#preservation to http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/oif/statementspols/corevaluesstatement/corevalues.cfm#preservation on January 19th, 2011.

The text was modified to update a link from http://www.ala.org/ala/oif/statementspols/corevaluesstatement/corevalues.htm#diversity to http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/oif/statementspols/corevaluesstatement/corevalues.cfm#diversity on January 19th, 2011.

The text was modified to update a link from http://www.ala.org/ala/oif/statementspols/corevaluesstatement/corevalues.htm#professionalism to http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/oif/statementspols/corevaluesstatement/corevalues.cfm#professionalism on January 19th, 2011.

(This post was updated on 19-Jan-2011.)