Library Services


Digitisation Policy


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 Special Collections Digitisation Policy it is intended to ensure that digitisation of original archives and special collections items are used as a means of: 

  • Opening up content online for a world-wide audience to use in new and exciting ways
  • Supporting teaching, research, outreach and public engagement.
  • Publicising our collections exhibitions, social media, marketing and fundraising.
  • Preserving items at risk of physical decay or destruction.

Digitisation activities at Special Collections include still image, audio visual material and text based reformatting of collection material. All digitisation not only meets appropriate collection care thresholds, it also meets appropriate digitisation and format standards. This document should be read in conjunction with the Special Collections Digital Preservation Policy.

Selection of items

Special Collections 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.

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.

Offers of collections created by UCL departments other than UCL Library Services will be considered on a case-by-case basis and decisions will be closely based on the overall Collection Development Policy and in conjunction with the Research Data Management Policy. Decision-making will include consideration of capacity, storage, staffing and technology.

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.

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.

Collections of digitised book and archive material will be stored in line with the current Digital Preservation Policy, especially if they complement, enrich or build on existing subject specialisms and strengths. These collections will usually be based on UCL Library materials.

Digitisation Process

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 undertaken by an approved outsourced supplier.

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.

Special Collections 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 are in place to cover all aspects of handling and transporting library materials and they will be integrated into any contracts with external suppliers.

External Digitisation

Selection of suitable suppliers of digitisation services will depend upon a number of factors: cost, quality, special requirements of the items it is proposed be digitised, estimated time taken and logistical concerns. Off-site premises will need to meet minimum thresholds for storage security and environmental standards.

Suppliers must specify a proposed methodology and agree output file types and any other standards and specifications of work in advance of contracts being approved, including special handling.


Special Collections does not have a single standard for digitisation, but develops standards based on the characteristics of the materials being digitised and the use requirements. We will endeavour to adopt and document consistent technical specifications which meet industry standards. Digitised archival and Special Collections items will be accompanied by technical metadata created as part of the digitisation process including file type, resolution and size. Standards based metadata including keywords/indexing will be created by Special Collections staff to ensure that digital files can be retrieved appropriately from any file store.

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.

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.

Presenting digitised content online

Digitised content online should be suitable for the widest possible range of potential uses by different groups for different purposes. The impetus behind a digitisation project will often come from a particular research community with 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.

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.

Digital files will be kept in a dedicated digital store, with access restricted to the Special Collections Digitisation team.

Long-term digital curation

All digital material created, owned or managed by Special Collections will be digitally curated wherever it is judged to be of sufficiently lasting value.

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

Special Collections 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.

Special Collections will be pleased to advise other UCL departments on the curation of their digital assets. In most cases, however, they will be referred to ISD Research Data Services. The Research Data Services group offer a growing suite of services, including storage for current projects and a long-term repository to support effective data management planning from creation to reuse. Further information can be found on their webpage.

Copyright and Publication

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 Special Collections in the usual way and charges may be levied.

Approval must be sought, where necessary and possible, from the owners of deposited archival collections for the publication of these collections online and a record kept of these agreements. Permission notices must accompany online publications if these have been requested by depositors.

Special Collections is committed to making digitised content available online. All material will be catalogued prior to digitisation and any copyright or data protection issues will be noted and risk assessed. Although every effort has been made to identify and contact rights holders, we recognise that sometimes material published online may be in breach of copyright laws, contain sensitive personal data, or include content that may be regarded as obscene or defamatory. A takedown statement including contact details is available on our website to ensure that complaints are addressed in a timely way.

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.

Digital surrogates will be used on university websites and digital platforms for use in exhibitions (including physical exhibitions), publications and third party portals and aggregators to facilitate the use of Archives and Special Collections material.

Special Collections welcomes opportunities to work with partners in the UK and abroad to create new virtual digital collections.

Implementation & Review

This Digitisation Policy will be reviewed annually by UCL Special Collections, unless internal or external developments warrant an earlier review.