Library Services


Digitisation Policy

Introduction and context

1. Academic libraries with rich research collections have an increasingly important role to play in the creation of scholarly content online, and there is now an expectation among users of library collections that the material they need for their research and teaching will be available electronically. The rise of open access, mass digitisation programmes and electronic publishing have all fed that expectation, but many library holdings remain untouched by these processes. UCL Library Services has acquired substantial experience in both small-scale and large-scale digitisation projects over the past decade but the process remains both costly and time consuming. This policy attempts to formalise the Library's approach to this complex area and set a framework for its digitisation activities over the next decade.

2. Digitisation of library materials brings many advantages. Digitised content is used to support teaching, research, and public engagement. Changes to copyright legislation and technological developments are opening up new possibilities such as data- and text-mining which can feed into both teaching and research. There is huge potential for exploiting these resources even further in publicity, outreach, public engagement, exhibitions, marketing and fundraising. Investment in digitisation produces a return in terms of greater visibility and impact of valuable resources which have hitherto been less used than they might be. Leading academic libraries are moving ahead fast and it is important that UCL can maintain its high profile in this area.

3. This document builds on the lessons learnt from the digitisation projects carried out in the current strategy period, and sets out principles that will inform future iterations of the Library Services Strategy. It aims to address the entire lifecycle of digitised content, from selection for digitisation to long-term curation of digitised content.

4. The focus of this document is on digitisation for research and public engagement. The Library is also actively engaged in digitisation of content for teaching but this takes place under the terms of the Copyright Licensing Agency scanning licence and scope for further use of this material is limited. Some material is also digitised on demand for users and a charge levied. Where copyright permits that content will be made available online according to the principles set out in this policy.

5. Digitisation is often a useful way of creating a preservation copy of rare or fragile material and some digitisation is carried out for this purpose.

6. Library Services will actively work with colleagues within UCL, elsewhere in the UK and abroad to help develop new standards and solutions for the creation, presentation and curation of digitised and born-digital content. UCL partners will potentially include the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities and UCL Creative Media Services.

7. Digitisation can provide an opportunity to bring together research material that is scattered between different institutions or even different countries. Library Services welcomes opportunities to work with partners in the UK and abroad to create new virtual digital collections.

Selection of content for digitisation

8. Library Services will work closely with the academic community within UCL to establish priorities for digitising its collections. Externally funded projects are a key part of any digitisation programme and provide opportunities to make large collections accessible in a way that would not be possible from internal resources. Ideas for new projects and partnerships are always welcome, whether they come from within UCL or outside.

9. Content selected for digitisation will come from a variety of sources. Much will come from special collections, and will comprise rare books and archives, but any library materials can be considered. Physical formats will include but not be limited to print books, manuscripts, maps, photographs, artworks, audio recordings and video recordings. Each format will have its own technical requirements.

10. The physical condition of rare and valuable items will be taken into account when being considered for digitisation. Raising awareness of the rich content of special collections to new users and audiences through outreach and publicity programmes is already putting increasing pressure on the physical condition of the material. A conservation survey should be an intrinsic part of any digitisation project and appropriate conservation work should be costed into all projects, to avoid harm to the original material. Digitisation can often increase demand for access to the original item and conservation work should take that into account.

11. Out-of-copyright content will be cheaper to digitise, but the copyright status of items should not be an insuperable barrier to digitisation. Where there is a strong research need resources should be set aside to manage copyright and other IPR or data protection issues as part of the digitisation process.

The digitisation process

12. The physical process of digitisation should be carried out by the most cost-effective method, depending on the scale and requirements of each project. Where possible in-house facilities will be used, but where they cannot meet the demands of a particular project the work will be outsourced, using processes established by UCL Procurement.

13. Wherever possible open file formats will be used alongside or instead of proprietary formats. The choice of format will in part be influenced by preservation requirements. Where appropriate, separately-stored preservation and access formats will be adopted. There should be no need to digitise any item a second time for a different purpose.

14. Appropriate administrative metadata, including technical, rights, preservation and structural metadata will be created as part of the digitisation process and associated with the digital objects, to support both access and preservation. All such metadata will be standards-based.

15. Library Services will commit to the highest standards in handling and transportation of all material selected for digitisation, whether the work is done in-house or externally. Formal guidelines will be in place to cover all aspects of handling and transporting library materials and they will be integrated into any contracts with external suppliers.

Presenting digitised content online

16. Digitised content online should be suitable for the widest possible range of potential uses by different groups for different purposes. The impetus behind a particular digitisation project will often come from a particular research community with very specific needs. When presenting the content online the methods used to meet those needs should not preclude further use of the content for other purposes, often impossible to predict.

17. Discovery tools for digitised content should be integrated with those for other library materials, presenting a seamless interface to UCL's research resources. Where only part of a collection has been selected for digitisation that should be made clear to users and information provided alongside the digitised content about the rest of the collection, and about related collections in other libraries. As a minimum a high quality collection level description will be provided for each digital collection.

18. Descriptive metadata used for digitised content should conform to international standards. Where efficiencies demand the re-use of existing (legacy) metadata, this will be mapped as closely as is practicable to an international standard. Descriptive metadata should be associated with each digitised item, wherever possible. All digitised content will be made as visible as possible to external search engines, cultural heritage portals and other specialist aggregators.

19. Where technically possible and where resources permit optical character recognition (OCR) should be used to make digitised text searchable. Transcripts or contextual information might be needed to make the content more useable.

20. All digitised content online should include a clear statement of copyright, including end-user rights. Wherever possible a CC BY Licence should be used to allow free use. Requests for commercial reproduction will continue to be processed by Library Services in the usual way and charges may be levied.

21. Regular evaluations will be carried out of UCL's digitised content. Usage statistics, occasional user surveys, and online forms will be used to measure the amount and type of usage, and the degree of user satisfaction.

Long-term digital curation

22. All digital material created, owned or managed by UCL Library Services will be digitally curated wherever it is judged to be of sufficiently lasting value.

23. All digitisation projects undertaken by Library Services will incorporate digital preservation planning to ensure long-term accessibility of the content.

24. UCL Library Services will not guarantee to retain all its digitally-curated content indefinitely and unreflectingly. Material which is judged to have outlived its use, and to have little archival value, will be discarded.

25. UCL Library Services will encourage managed approaches to the curation of digital resources by other UCL Departments, and will be pleased to advise other UCL Departments on the curation of their digital assets. UCL Library Services works in partnership with ISD Research Data Services, and may additionally be able to provide 'Small data' curation services for UCL academic departments. Charges may apply to such services: academic colleagues are encouraged to discuss digital curation costs with the Library's Digital Curation Team when preparing grant applications.


26. This Digitisation Policy will be reviewed every two years by UCL Library Committee.