The most common problem for digitisation projects, in the UK at least, has been the long-term sustainability of the interfaces designed to surface the digitised material. Much of the work undertaken by the Strategic Content Alliance summarise and address this issue.
Part of the problem has been funding structures. Funding bodies (such as the AHRC, JISC or the New Opportunities Fund) could support innovative projects to digitise and publish scholarly materials, special collections and cultural heritage, but they could not supply the costs for the continued maintenance of hardware, software and the ongoing addition of content and marketing required to establish the ongoing success of the project. In many cases, institutions did not have the means in place to refresh and renew this content.
This realisation led Jisc to create a programme on the institutional skills required to set up ensure that digitisation projects became embedded within their institution’s digital offerings, rather than remaining as add ons. The Content Clustering and Sustaining Digital Resources report summarised some of these issues.
Given this evolution of thinking, it is heartening to see great examples of UK universities building sustainable digital libraries. The London School of Economics (LSE) Digital Library is a great example, and shows all signs of getting stronger and stronger.
The LSE’s had a mixture of internal and external project funding, but their digital content is drawn into their overarching digital library. Collections (such as Beatrice Webb’s diaries and Russian Childcare Posters) are not treated as stand alones, but part of the same back-end technical infrastructure and front-end interface. Wrapping above into a single infrastructure has the additional effect of making it easier to build digital preservation of the objects into the library’s workflow and having usability experts deal with one rather than many interfaces – both vital tasks for any successful digital library.
Licensing is clearly handled (for example, a CC-BY-SA-NC is used in this poster about immigrant labour), URLs are clearly referencible and descriptions of collections clearly indicate what content has been digitised and made available. The interface is clean, and simple, and (with only a few collections at the moment) easy to navigate.
And finally, the clustering of colletions in one place also makes cross searching easy, and throws up interesting juxtapositions such as this:
From the diary of Beatrice Webb, writing on DH Lawrence in 1934: “This sex … is too divorced from conscious hygiene, personal affection, or social obligation; it is wholly antagonistic … to the development of any human or social purpose in life.”
And then from the student newspaper in 2005 – “The top 10 places to have sex at the LSE”