Day 10: Mandate to innovate

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CC Wisconsin Historical Images. Click to see original image in Flickr

One of the messages which LIFE-SHARE has tried to communicate is the importance of giving staff working in collaborative ventures a mandate to innovate. Collaboration draws in the greatest benefits when the process of collaborating itself starts to generate new ideas and understandings. Collaboration can become something more than just doing the same things we have always done separately, but doing them together; it can become a means of innovating. This is a key feature of the Collaboration Continuum model which we have used as a guide to generate consortial digitisation models for the White Rose libraries. However, for this to happen there needs to be a management structure in place with the right balance between steering and empowerment of staff engaged in collaboration activities. It also depends on the breaking of established routines/processes: the job of management is also to encourage staff to look beyond current ways of doing things.

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Day 9: Digital Preservation is Cheaper Over Time

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Picture of some coin

Flickr CC image by Mukumbra

One of the key outputs of the LIFE-SHARE Project was the case study at the University of Leeds: a cost comparison of physical conservation versus digital preservation. We analysed a sample of 200 monographs – French texts, dating from between 1890 and 1970, many of which were printed on acid paper.

Our findings were that destructive digitisation – which is to say digitising without applying a high level of handling restrictions, and disposing of the books afterwards – was the most cost-effective way of preserving the sample over time. This is despite the fact that it was many hundred percent more expensive than physical conservation in the first instance; once storage costs were factored in.

Clearly this method would not be applicable to collections whose books have intrinsic value, but it will certainly be a useful finding to inform future preservation strategy.

LIFE-SHARE links:

Day 8: You’ve got to have faith

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high wire

CC image by Hojusaram - click to view original on Flickr

True collaboration calls for a radical leap of faith, the risks are great but so are the rewards. Working collaboratively requires a different mind set. It is necessary to think collaboratively from the outset rather than consider an issue and then think how it could be approached collaboratively.

When collaborating it is vital no one approaches the partnership weighing up what they bring and compare it to other partners’ potential contributions. It is not an opportunity to mark territory or protect interests. The stronger the collaboration, the higher the investment needed in staff time and commitment as much as financially. This can be difficult in a time of limited funding, and particularly between traditionally competitive institutions. However, the benefits will outweigh the investment. It should be an opportunity to develop new and innovative services, and produce something more than all the partners could do individually. True collaboration produces more than the sum of its parts.

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Day 7: Commit to communication

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Aeroplace model

CC image by Phil Dokas - click to view original on Flickr

Improved communication has been key to the success of the LIFE-SHARE project. Prior to the start of the project, digitisation was fragmented both institutionally and consortially. The establishment of the project group was the first stage in bringing people together across the White Rose partners working in these fragmented areas of digitisation.

We have continued this work by holding a number of events for White Rose staff working in similar areas related to digitisation. Our exchange of experience events already mentioned on Day 5 of our takeaways, covered copyright, digitised course readings, digitisation for archives and Special Collections, and repositories. These events helped staff share expertise but, more than that, they also helped provide a space to talk to each other in a informal way. Staff have shared ideas, best practice and lessons learned. This in turn has assisted in the building of trust between colleagues and the institutions.

As the project approaches its conclusion, it is vital that these communication channels are maintained and relationships continue to build. The White Rose Directors’ decision to support the continuation of these exchange of experience events illustrates the strong commitment to communication between the partners.

Day 6: It pays to invest in digitisation infrastructure

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We found that, in the longer term, it pays to invest in digitisation infrastructure. In both the Leeds case study and the York case study, we found in-house digitisation to be potentially cheaper than outsourcing, in terms of the cost of staff time. This does not take into account the initial investment in equipment, which can be substantial, depending on the quality of the work to be undertaken, or the replacement cost of equipment. However, this may be offset against the possibility of doing digitisation work for institutions which don’t have the capability and thus generating revenue.

The LIFE-SHARE project has encouraged the development of in-house digitisation capability by investing in equipment and training for the White Rose libraries. Other benefits from developing in-house capability include generating staff expertise (which you need to get the best out of out-sourcing anyway); the control it gives you over processes, quality control and the handling of material; and responsiveness to your own needs.

Day 5: Training is better together

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Institutions which are geographically close to each other should work together to share training. Rather than institutions sending individual members of staff to training courses elsewhere in the country, it is more cost effective to pay for a trainer to come to a region and offer training to staff from several institutions in that region. This also increases the number of staff that it is possible to send on training: if travel costs are cheap, then more employees can be sent on the training. Even better is when one institution can offer training itself to others in the region: if you are developing a particular area of expertise, consider running training for other institutions.

The LIFE-SHARE project arranged a series of training events for library staff from across the White Rose Consortium, following this model. We have brought external trainers to Yorkshire to do training on digital image creation and EAD cataloguing. Ned Potter, LIFE-SHARE Project Officer, has created training materials on audio/visual digitisation for the consortium. Another good idea is to organise exchange of experience events. These events bring together staff from different institutions who are working in similar areas to discuss common issues. We have organised exchanges focusing on copyright, repositories, course reading digitisation and digitising archive/special collections material. With an informal atmosphere, these events can be an excellent opportunity to learn from each other.

Day 4: Digitisation is Worth the Wait

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Flickr CC image by Robbie 73

Many aspects of digitisation take a long time. If you’re starting a digitisation project or service in one month, you can’t always expect to actually begin digital capture until at least the month after.

This can be because your original materials need to be assessed by a Conservator – they will need to advise on how the objects should be digitised, place handling restrictions on them if necessary, and so on. This takes time and should be built in to the very earliest stages of the process – in some cases, the Convservator’s conclusions can influence the equipment you need to obtain. But the lessons learned can inform future projects.

Another thing  that takes time is obtaining permission to digitise. The process of identifying rights-holders in the first place, tracking down contact details, locating the individuals and organisations involved, and then sending them a document to sign and waiting for their response, takes a huge amount of active staff time and waiting around. However, as frustrating as this process can be, it can also act as a kind of advocacy for the project – the rights-holders can often be excited about material featuring them becoming more accessible in a digital format, and these rights-holders can then become champions of your project or service.

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