One of the exciting (and sometimes frustrating) parts of my position as curator is the opportunity to think through our policies and procedures so that we are providing the best service to patrons and offering the broadest access to our collections possible given our small staff.
As we begin to think broadly about digital preservation (not just digitization), I am starting to look at all of our policies with an eye to access. All of our collecting is done with a two-fold goal: preservation and access, and our digital initiatives are taking a similar form. Because travel to Maine is not always possible, I hope to make more of our collections available online in the coming years, but to do that we have to implement appropriate preservation strategies for our digital objects. That is what has been occupying my mind for the past year, and will continue to be my major project in the year to come. We are beginning to identify our digital preservation needs and will then design an appropriate system to handle our data (both born-digital and digitized materials). It’s a big job, but it’s crucial to being able to make our digital materials accessible to researchers anywhere.
As I’ve begun to think through everything involved in creating a digital preservation program, I am following a lot of other threads related to archival policies and procedures. Lately this thread has been weaving through my mind: our own digitization procedures have historically been connected to access requests and there has been little that is systematic in our approach. As we digitize more material for use purposes, it is apparent that we need clear policies and procedures to govern file naming conventions, metadata, and storage. Then there is the whole question of copyright, which has been dropping into my consciousness through many channels. Essentially, we really don’t own the copyright to much of anything that we have in the collection, so we need to focus on digitizing material in the public domain to start and then move to more contemporary materials.
This past week, I got two articles delivered to my inbox on copyright and libraries/archives. The first was published on Library Journal called “Asserting Rights We Don’t Have,” which discusses the question of how researchers may cite/publish material they find in an archive or library and how many archives ask patrons to get permission to use materials when it is not our place to give permission. The second is a response by Nancy Sims called “Contracts & Copyright,” which goes into more detail about the questions Rick Anderson raised in his post. Both of these are worth reading if you are at all interested in copyright issues.
As a new archival administrator a few years ago, I worried that we should have some clear policy regarding publication of materials that came from our collection. I personally feel passionately that archives have a responsibility to provide unrestricted access whenever possible (i.e., not restricted by the donor or some other legal agreement to confidentiality), so when I was looking around at other institutions’ policies, I found myself unable to settle on something that felt okay to me. In the end, we just charge a nominal fee for our scanning and copying services and offer mostly unrestricted access to our collections, asking only that people who publish material they found here cite the collection as being in our holdings.
One of the other policies that I’ve been thinking a lot about is a digital camera policy for our reading room. This summer, I came across the OCLC report “Capture and Release,” which discusses cameras in the reading room and suggested best practices. I have happily allowed researchers to take photos during their visits primarily because it saves staff time and it is easier on the materials than scanning. I witnessed the relief experienced by researchers when they realized that they could capture much of the material they needed to review later when they were back at their home base.
I look forward to working on comprehensive policies and procedures for our digital collections and our digital surrogates while considering how these procedures and policies affect researchers’ ability to access our materials. I’m sure there will be much more to say on this matter soon.