We have now completed our first deliverables for the LIFE-SHARE Project: the Digitisation Inventory; Digitisation Activities Summary and Toolkit (although the latter will be revisited later in the project). Basically, what these pieces of work have entailed is identifying all of the areas of digitisation work which have been taking place within the three University Libraries (we decided to limit it to work undertaken by the libraries, as including all of the digitisation carried out by the universities as a whole would be beyond the means of this project) and then describing them in some detail. The Inventory takes the lifecycle framework from the LIFE Project and uses it to map out the lifecycles of the various strands of digitisation, from the creation of resources, through ingest and storage, preservation, to access provision. For each stage, we have noted the names of staff involved and what expertise they have; equipment and software used; external suppliers; and details of how the activities are carried out. This information is currently stored in a spreadsheet, which allows you to compare the digitisation activities across the three libraries, stage by stage. The information is quite complex and has spawned a number of subsidiary spreadsheets, such as lists of staff and their expertise/training; a list of policies and formal groups; and lists of equipment and software. We did consider whether this web of information would be better modelled using an Access database, but decided that the time needed to  create this probably excluded it for our purposes.

The Digitisation Activities Summary is (as the name suggests) a summary of each strand of digitisation. This is useful, as the inventory breaks each activity down into its components for the purposes of cross-comparison, but this makes it quite difficult to build up a quick picture of each, so the summaries aim to do this. It is also useful, because the inventory looks at very specific categories of information and treats what are, in practice, somewhat diverse sets of activities in a uniform way. It can be somewhat reductive and there are certain bits of information and nuances which slip through the net. The textual descriptions in the summary are much better at capturing some of the richness of the information and including details which aren’t picked up in the inventory.

The Toolkit pulls this work together, along with other resources into a resource which can inform digitisation projects. At the moment, it is just a MS Word document, but we may turn this into a web-based resource with links to various content.

This set of deliverables also includes a one-page summary of what we have learned from doing the inventory. The following is a summary of the summary.

  • All three institutions are carrying out broadly similar types of digitisation activity, which fall under the following headings: on-demand digitisation of course material and archives/special collections activities; and project-based digitisation.
  • All three have collections of material which could be digitised.
  • No one institution has the ability to digitise all types of material, but, across the three, most types are covered.
  • Gaps were identified in the area of policies (e.g. preservation policies) and skills/training
  • Other areas of variation include the capacity of online course reading services; access provision to digitised material; and metadata standards used (although Dublin Core is a common denominator).

Compiling the inventory and summaries has been an involved and time-consuming business, a matter of collating innumerable little pieces of data and chasing up gaps. I think Ned has had the harder task, as he has had to audit Sheffield, where he is not already embedded as a member of staff: I have had direct involvement with many of the digitisation activities I have audited at York, so my task has been that much easier. I either already know the information, or know exactly who to ask. It must be somewhat harder in an unfamiliar organisation. Still, it has been a difficult task. For one thing, we have created a static picture of an evolving set of activities. Things have changed even as we have been gathering information (for example, one new member of staff has started in YODL, York’s Digital Library) and will, doubtless, have changed even more by the time we have produced our final report. What we hope is that the inventory/summary will be a useful resource after the LIFE-SHARE Project has ended. The difficulty will always be keeping it updated.

Another difficulty (at least to my mind) has been knowing where to draw they boundaries of what to describe. There are innumerable bunny-trails which one could follow up. For example, some of our digital content at York is stored on the VLE, so I included our VLE team in my staff audit. But what about all the staff in Computing Service who are responsible for maintaining the servers which the VLE sits on? Or the network? Or all of the ancillary bits of software and services we use? I guess the lesson is that the nature of organisations is such that it is always difficult to precisely abstract any activity from the whole without losing something of all the networks and dependencies which are part of it.