Jisc digitisation programmes Libraries Projects 2003-2007

Freeing up library space

One of the unexpected benefits of mass digitisation is that it frees up library shelf space; being able to access primary materials and journals online means that librarians no longer need to dedicate precious space to often bulky or fragile objects. Recent JISC-funded digitisation, for example, has allowed many universities around the UK to either put in storage or dispose of some historic newspapers and parliamentary papers.

Generic image of library book

Some interesting evaluation could be done on the benefits this brings; not only in terms of space saved but in staff time saved in being able to quickly point users towards the networked resource.

For instance at the University of Exeter, librarian Martin Myhill reckons that 280m of shelf space was freed up when the 18th- and 19th- Century Parliamentary Papers went online. Time was also saved by being able to direct users to the website instead of library staff having to take users to the microfilm or print versions,
which were also far more difficult to navigate.

But NB – librarians have to be confident that they will be able to access the replacement digital content in perpetuity! If access to the digital content is likely to be inhibited by rising subscription costs or digital preservation then librarians will wish to keep the original material freely available – another good argument for developing digital content along the open access model.

One reply on “Freeing up library space”

Personally I am a great fan of digitisation but there are still important problems to overcome. The quality of indexing of digitised versions, for example. Extensive recent use of the online version of The Times (supplied under subscription by Infotrac) made me aware that many of the shorter articles and other material is not indexed. With other newspapers, such as the Guardian, articles from the printed editions are simply not provided on either the Guardian’s own website or on the online subscription versions. I have also come across digitised and microfilmed periodical runs where pages or indeed whole issues have been missed out. Some scanning software simply “misreads” letters in old or unusual typefaces.
Lastly there is the vexed question of who gets access to digitised materials – public libraries are slow to sign up to these digitised resources, and so-called “open” digitisation projects such as that operated by Google often restrict access on spurious copyright grounds.

To reinforce the point made in the original post –
Libraries are too quick to discard print versions of books and journals. In my local library virtually the entire backrun of History Today was discarded on the grounds that it is available online – when in fact it isn’t.

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