The following post was co-authored with Steve Morris, Chief of Digital Collections Management and Services and Tom Rieger, Manager of Digitization Services.
The Library of Congress has a new Digitization Strategy for its collections. As we did for the Library’s Digital Collections Strategy, we are excited to share this overview of it with readers of The Signal blog. We get a lot of questions about what we digitize and why, and hopefully this provides a little bit of insight into our institutional plans and priorities.
The Library has expanded the amount and throughput of our digitization efforts dramatically over the past three decades. In 2020 we finished digitizing the last of our presidential papers – all of the personal papers of the presidents from George Washington to Calvin Coolidge are now available to anyone with an internet connection. In 2021, we opened a new Digital Scan Center, which significantly increased digital image production capabilities and postproduction processes. So far, we have digitized more than nine million items in our collections, with particular strengths in newspaper issues, manuscripts, and pictorial materials.
Over the next five years, the Library will expand, optimize, and centralize its collections digitization program to significantly expand access to users across the country to rare, distinctive, and unique collection materials which can be made openly available online and use digitization as a core method for preservation reformatting of rights restricted collection materials. Below are the five guiding strategic objectives for this work.
- Transition from one-off project-based digitization toward the systematic digitization of rare, distinctive, or unique materials in the Library’s collections that can be made openly available online: Over the last two decades the Library has scaled up capacity to support major digitization projects using a targeted project-based approach, with priorities established according to a variety of factors. Evolving user expectations necessitate a more systematic approach that prioritizes material that can be made openly available online and that is not already available online from other institutions.
- Systematically deploy digitization as a core method for preservation and collection management workflows: Over the last five years, the Library has made significant progress in transitioning preservation reformatting from the production of print facsimiles or microfilm to digitization. This shift not only meets current preservation requirements, but it also supports enhanced onsite or offsite access. Going forward, the Library will use digital systems for reformatting, and will integrate digital delivery into collections management processes.
- Enhance the reach of library programs, exhibitions, events, and special initiatives by establishing a rapid-response focused and targeted projects digitization program in support of priority initiatives: A wide range of Library programs, events, and special initiatives draw on and offer opportunities to deepen engagement with the Library’s collections. Enhancing processes and capacity to support a range of rapid-response digitization projects will support these efforts.
- Review and improve the operational effectiveness, organizational structure, governance and prioritization processes for digitization efforts in support of the increasingly central role of digitization for access and preservation: As digitization has become an increasingly important technology for access to and preservation of Library of Congress collections, a wide range of organizational units have developed capacity to support this work on a large scale. It is critical to further mature digitization into core areas of the overall collections program. This includes but is not limited to clarifying roles for prioritizing specific digitization initiatives, and affirming requirements for technical standards.
- Implement end-to-end tracking and reporting on the status of digitization of collection items: The Library has for many years measured digitization efforts in terms of total counts of master files produced. This is a useful metric, but it does not align with other methods for counting Library collection items. Further, tracking total counts of master files produced does not necessarily mean that those images have been fully processed and been successfully made available to Library users. Over the next five years, the Library will implement methods and approaches to fully track digitization of collection materials from the beginning of projects to the point where they have been successfully made available to users.
Does the Library accept (or has it considered accepting) digitization nominations from researchers or the general public? If so, how would one suggest material to be considered? In any event, thanks to all at the LOC who are making items in the collection accessible to anyone with an internet connection.
It’s exciting to see the expansion of digitization at the Library and to envision the possibility that the entire physical collection will have a digital complement.
To keep up with this wealth of digital assets, the Library needs to invest more time, effort, technology, and creativity to make them more easily and productively discoverable. It’s not enough to match search terms to a list of disconnected results.
The user experience viewing a digitized document can also be improved. Currently the viewing options all give equal weight to each image and assume that the only way to consume information is in page-order sequence. That is not how we read books, periodicals, or newspapers, much less reference works.
Thank you to the Library of Congress for doing such a nice job in bringing us all these services! I have been very impressed by all the audio reading/listening material which has been made available, and look forward to lots more of it.
Dear Library of Congress,
I am a reference archivist at UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). I am part of the research network InterPARES Trust AI, running out of the University of British Columbia. As a partner, UNESCO Archives is leading a study on digitization and AI and developing a model for sustainable digitization projects. We would like to reference the LoC Digitization Strategy 2023-2027. To this end, I would like to ask the following two questions:
1) Is it possible to have a copy of your strategy or to speak with someone about your strategy?
2) We will be disseminating a survey on digitization and AI in early March, and invite you to respond to the survey. If you are willing, could I please have the contact email address of the person within your organization who could respond to the survey? The survey seeks to understand the current state of digitization projects and programs across different types of organizations, whether and how organizations are digitizing for long-term sustainability, and to understand whether organizations are beginning to use AI in digitization.
Thank you in advance.
Eng Sengsavang (she/her)
Hi Eng, Thanks for your comment. This sounds like an interesting initiative. I will follow up with you over email about the best points of contact on this.