Appraising our Digital Investment
Sustainability of Digitized Special Collections in ARL Libraries
Published February 21, 2013
Nancy L. Maron, Sarah Pickle
Sponsored by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and conducted by Ithaka S+R, this study provides insight into how ARL libraries are managing and funding the hundreds of digitized special collections they have created and that they believe to be critical to their futures. This is the first survey of ARL institutions that specifically attempts to understand and benchmark the activities and costs of supporting these collections after they are created. By looking at questions of management, costs, funding sources, impact, and outreach, the survey offers data that will deliver insight to all those engaged in sustaining digitized special collections.
Our work reveals that libraries are investing in digitization at varying levels; some have been undertaking these activities for decades while others are just beginning to do so. Many are securing external funding for digitization, but once initial work is complete, most are absorbing costs into their existing budgets.
Funding sources and staff expertise are among the greatest sustainability concerns librarians cited, and while libraries undertake some activities to understand and serve the users of these collections, they wish they could do more.
The survey was conducted with 126 member libraries in the US and Canada, of which 89 (or 70%) responded. Three separate sections of the survey allowed Ithaka S+R and ARL to gather information about practices and attitudes from the institutional level and the departmental level, as well as from the point of view of leaders of specific projects. This represents a first look at these issues and provides context for libraries to consider their own practices in light of others.