Getting Started with Digital Collections: Scaling to Fit Your Organization. By Jane D. Monson. Chicago: ALA Editions, 2017. 192 p. $69.00 softcover (ISBN: 978-0-8389-1543-1).

Collections of digitized cultural materials are becoming common in libraries, archives, and museums. However, many small and midsize institutions have found the creation of such collections to be difficult given organizational priorities and budgetary and staff restrictions. Monson’s book seeks to explain the basics of creating and sharing digital collections in ways that will allow smaller organizations to work on a scale suited to their needs and available resources.

The book is divided into two parts: “Managing Projects” and “Basic Skills.” “Managing Projects” chapters cover issues related to digitization in smaller institutions, working as the only digital librarian in an organization, and working across departments within one institution and across institutions. “Basic Skills” chapters cover information and issues surrounding image conversion, metadata, digital collection management systems, copyright and digital collections, and preservation of digital assets. Each chapter includes references, many chapters include recommended resources in the chapter text or at the end, and each of the “Basic Skills” chapters includes necessary basic vocabulary and numerous examples. The book concludes with a glossary and index.

“Managing Projects,” encompassing chapters 1–4, examines issues commonly found in smaller institutions interested in starting a digitization program and suggests ways to create practical, sustainable digital collections programs. Monson notes that each institution will have different reasons for maintaining digital collections and must be clear about how digitization will make their materials more accessible, better preserved, and more valuable to current and potential users. Understanding why they are digitizing materials will help institutions create solid digital collection policies and plans, and explain those plans to administrators and stakeholders. These chapters examine challenges unique to smaller institutions, advantages of being small, important skills for those working as solo digital librarians, potential collaborators within an institution, workflows and best practices when collaborating on project management, and potential options and pros and cons of collaborating with external organizations. Thinking through the questions and concerns raised in these chapters will provide guidance to anyone considering starting a digital-collection program.

One of Monson’s most important points, repeated throughout the book, is the necessity to bring in the right people when planning digital collections programs. Technical services staff members can provide expertise in working with materials, cataloging and working with metadata, and digitization technology, but if a digitization program will handle archival materials or museum artifacts, coordinating with archivists or curators is vital to ensure that such items are correctly described and not placed at risk of damage during the digitization process. Representation from various areas of expertise is also required when evaluating potential digital content management systems, as different users may seek different tools, metadata schemas, or digital-preservation supports.

Monson reviews technical terminology and best practices for image conversion, metadata, and digital-collection management systems in chapters 5–7 of the “Basic Skills” section; she also addresses preservation metadata at length in the book’s final chapter. Chapter 8, “Copyright and Digital Collections,” and chapter 9, “Preserving Your Digital Assets,” provide necessary basic knowledge about two topics in which many librarians and archivists often have little background: copyright issues pertaining to digital and archival materials and the preservation of materials once they are in digital format. For example, Monson explains the difference between rights to digitize unpublished versus published materials and how to secure the appropriate permissions.

Early in the book, Monson makes the distinction between digitizing materials to preserve them by having additional copies (or copies that can be more safely used by patrons than the original object) and the preservation of born-digital materials or those that have been reformatted from some physical form. Digital asset preservation is revisited in chapter 9, where Monson states, “Preservation should be taken into consideration from the point of creation of the digital object, and ideally even earlier in the form of well-articulated institutional policies and guidelines” (156). Digital materials require regular reviews and other active management, which should be built in to the collection planning process. Building a strong digital collection and putting time, effort, and money into a digitization system is pointless if the digital assets degrade and become inaccessible from inadequate preservation.

Monson’s aim is “to assemble in one place the key information necessary to get a digitization program off the ground,” focusing “on the needs of professionals at small and midsize cultural heritage institutions who do not have previous experience with digital collections” (viii). She notes that while she trained in digital collections work during her graduate program and went directly into work as a digital librarian, not all institutions need to hire a digital library specialist. Many libraries can achieve good results by equipping current staff members with basic knowledge about digital collections and training in the appropriate tools. This book succeeds in providing sufficient fundamental information on digitization project management and technical skills and concerns, while including extensive references for further reading and training.—Monica Howell (mhowell@nwhealth.edu), Northwestern Health Sciences University, Bloomington, Minnesota


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