Policy for Digitization of Rare Books


Traditionally, archivists and special collections librarians have had to balance access to rare, fragile and irreplaceable objects with the institutional mandate to ensure their survival. As well as serving the immediate public, special collections librarians and archivists serve the scholarly and pedagogical needs of the future. (In this sense, special collections professionals have always been building the library of the future.) Simply put; special collections librarians seek to avoid destroying the library materials that their predecessors have organized and passed down. In this respect, they follow the fundamental principle followed by doctors: primum nil nocere-first, do no harm.

Preservation inevitably must press against, without choking off, access. So, for example, Special Collections and University Archives does not circulate library materials-except in unusual circumstances; they seek to provide surrogate copies of rare materials when these meet the research needs of their researchers; pens are not permitted in the reading room; cushions are provided to support the bindings of rare books and book snakes and worms to keep them open; photocopying of fragile materials is prohibited; gallery exhibitions are limited to 3 or 4 months; lowered lights with UV covers are used in galleries to protect the images on works on paper. These procedures are in accord with widely recognized professional standards.

As we enter a new phase of digitization encompassing a more systematic approach to digital exhibitions, we must extend the same reasonable precautions to the selection and treatment of rare books, manuscripts, and realia. While faculty in all parts of the Rutgers University Libraries should participate in framing policies that govern digitization efforts, including digital exhibitions, and the purpose and priorities for digitization must come from the whole faculty, the trained conservators, archivists and curators in Special Collections and University Archives have a unique role to play in determining policies that directly impact the survival of historical objects in their care. Toward this end, this document suggests three restrictions and a concomitant set of procedures that are vital for the well-being of our library's rarest materials-the collections that give the Rutgers University Libraries (RUL) its unique identity as a research library.


1. Entire rare volumes or substantive portions thereof that are already available to the public in good digital form (through EEBO and other similar projects) should not be re-scanned, absent a compelling reason-for example, unique aspects of that copy, or aspects of the issue or state that differ from the digitized copy justify the effort and risk. When a strong argument can be made to digitize already digitized materials, an effort must then be made to digitize only the portions particularly relevant to the immediate need. In general, digitization should be restricted to materials never-before digitized.

2. All precautions must be taken to ensure the preservation of the original object. Should the prevailing technology or institutional workflow be unable to capture a digital surrogate without putting the object in jeopardy, digitization must be deferred.

3. Special Collections and University Archives faculty are vested with the authority to withhold permission to digitize any object housed in Special Collections felt to be physically unable to withstand the rigors of the digitization process without suffering considerable damage.

We also strongly recommend the following procedures:

1. Appropriate scheduling of time to facilitate careful handling must be provided, in order to avoid additional risk to material.

2. All items that leave Special Collections and University Archives are subject to the possibility of loss or theft. All items that leave the department for scanning must be carefully tracked in order to minimize these risks.

3. Trained Special Collections and University Archives staff must accompany and manipulate items for scanning, whenever possible.

4. Prior to handling materials marked for scanning, all students and staff must undergo appropriate training provided by Special Collections and University Archives.

Approved: May 19, 2011

Last updated June 24, 2011 (posted)
URL: http://www.libraries.rutgers.edu/rul/staff/collection_dev/policies/digitization_of_rare_books_policy.shtml
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