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1. Introduction

Over the centuries, very many researchers have travelled to London to use the British Library’s collections. More recently, the advent of the Internet and the ability to digitise large quantities of text and images and make them available over the Web has transformed ways of working.

For the past two decades, the British Library has undertaken a number of focused digitisation initiatives. More recently, we have entered the world of mass digitisation in partnership with external funding bodies and technology providers. Through digitisation, we are creating a valuable and enduring resource for scholars and the public alike. We estimate that this digitisation activity to date represents less than 1% of our collection. We want to build on our achievements in this area by maintaining and extending our digitisation programme.

Our digitisation strategy underpins the Library’s corporate strategy to 2011, including our content strategy and digital library programme and these will inform our thinking as we develop our strategy to 2020.

We set out in this paper our vision for the next 10 years and how we will achieve this.

Our 10-year vision

We aim to help researchers advance knowledge by becoming a leading player in digitisation. We will produce a critical mass of digitised content, reflecting the breadth and depth of our collection. We will provide a compelling user experience that facilitates innovative methods of research and meets 21st century requirements for interacting with content.

2. Our drivers and priorities for the next 3 years

By digitising our collection we aim to:

  • Open up access to content in the British Library’s collection;
  • Create a critical mass of digitised content;
  • Add value to, and open up previously unimagined areas for research;
  • Support innovative methods of research;
  • Facilitate the interpretation of our content by others for new audiences;
  • Transform discoverability of our content;
  • Make our content more visible and increase use;
  • Preserve unique, rare and fragile heritage items by digital reproduction and protect vulnerable documents;
  • Reveal illegible and hidden text or images and permit non-intrusive testing of materials;
  • Generate income to support our long-term digitisation programme.

Over the next 3 years we will build on our existing digitisation programme. Current projects include the digitisation of:

  • 20 million pages of 19th-century literature [approximately 80,000 books];
  • 1 million pages of historic newspapers in addition to the 3m already digitised;
  • 4,000 hours of Sounds recordings in addition to the 4,000 hours already digitised;
  • 100,000 pages of Greek manuscripts.

Our top priority digitisation programme in support of the Library’s corporate strategy 2008 – 2011 is the digitisation of newspapers. We intend to digitise the most highly used and important parts of our newspaper collection and make these accessible from our reading rooms at St Pancras.

We will also give priority to digitising materials:

  • Unique to the British Library collection;
  • Of relevance to the UK cultural heritage;
  • To facilitate the virtual reunification of collections.

We will continue to digitise materials that attract external funding within our overall strategy.

We will review and prioritise proposals for digitisation from our content experts and others in the light of our corporate strategy and our criteria for digitisation set out in section 2 above.

3. Guiding principles

User needs

We want to satisfy the needs of current and future users.

  • We will seek to understand the needs of our users and meet them as resources permit in terms of the collections that we digitise and the means of resource discovery that we provide.
  • We will develop, refine and monitor interactions with our digitised collections using a range of tools, and will use the feedback to improve the experience.
  • We will continue to investigate the digitisation landscape to ensure that we contribute to a growing corpus of national, European and international digital content.

Business models

We want to make the Library’s collection available to as wide a range of users as possible through digitisation and ensure sustainability of the service. We will develop a range of business models including:

  • Open access, provided free of charge;
  • Limited open access (where funding allows for free as well as fee-based models);
  • Mediated access provided through a fee-paid service.

Intellectual Property Rights

We will protect Intellectual Property Rights (IPR).

  • We will clear copyright for works we intend to digitise that fall within copyright. Where rightsholders cannot be identified our activities will be informed by the specific circumstances, and current thinking on Orphan Works.
  • We will reserve the right to assert IPR over the historical digitised collections created from public domain works in our collections in order to secure and protect access in the digital age.

Storage and preservation

We aim to store all our digitised materials in our Digital Library System (DLS).

  • Through DLS we will provide a highly scalable, resilient and secure storage environment that maintains multiple online copies of each digital item.
  • We will digitally sign and validate each digital item to ensure the long-term authenticity of the content.
  • We will continue to work with partners to explore the long-term effectiveness of digital preservation.
  • We will ensure that items from our collection selected for digitisation are handled in accordance with best practice and preserved for posterity.

Resource discovery

We will ensure that all digitised items are readily discoverable.

  • We will aim to provide a seamless search experience across physical, born digital and digitised items.
  • We will ensure that all our web resources comply with our web technical, branding and design requirements.

Technical aspects of digitisation

We are committed to applying generally accepted standards for creating, managing and providing access to digitised material.

  • We will adhere to established standards and adopt best practice in digital capture and post-processing activities.
  • We will ensure that digitised content is accompanied by consistent, high quality metadata.
  • We will take a systematic and rigorous approach to the digitisation workflow and ensure the efficiency of process over time.
  • We will develop technical standards and guidelines for digitisation to which all our digitisation projects will conform.

4. Practical considerations

Proposals for digitisation

  • We will develop digitisation projects in partnership with publishers, external funding bodies and other sponsors and donors, technology providers, user communities and other content holders.
  • In formulating a proposal for digitisation we will determine the full costs of the project, including the cost of access, delivery and sustainability.
  • We will scrutinise each proposal before making a decision to go ahead with a digitisation project.  We will assess each proposal in terms of:
    • Our drivers for digitisation;
    • Business models, IP and copyright issues, and access to content (through the Library’s Digitisation and Web Monitoring Group);
    • Operational viability, technical standards, outputs and preservation issues (through the Library’s Technical and Operational Digitisation Approvals Group).

Contractual agreements

  • We will select contractors via a competitive and transparent process through the Library’s Corporate Procurement Unit.
  • We will ask that all tenders comply with the Library’s technical standards for digitisation and ICT.
  • Following procurement for digitisation or hosting, we may award framework contracts and preferred vendor status.
  • We will normally expect our agreements to be non-exclusive and/or time limited.
  • We will expect that limitations and copyright exceptions are not undermined by the contracting party.
  • We will state the period of sustainability required.
  • Where appropriate we will ensure that the contract enables us to obtain a copy of the digitised content.
  • We will seek to ensure our brand has optimal visibility in the finished product.

Management of digitisation projects

  • We will review and monitor all projects through the Library’s Digitisation and Web Monitoring Group.

5. Review of strategy

The digitisation strategy will be reviewed annually.

6. How we will measure success

We will measure success in a variety of ways taking each discrete digitised collection in turn. Measures of success include:

  • Numbers of items digitised;
  • Discoverability through BL catalogue;
  • External links to the Library's digitisation portfolio;
  • Demand for digitised items;
  • Funding to help sustain the service.

We will also measure success in terms of our digitisation programme as a whole, for instance:

  • Minimal number of platforms serving the different types of BL digitised content;
  • Lessons learned and applied to other projects.

August 2008

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