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The Digital-Surrogate Seal of Approval

[Update: The article is also available in the Stanford Digital Repository and the University of California Escholarship Repository.]

James and I are happy to announce that our new article appears in the current edition of D-Lib Magazine:

In the last few years, there have been a series of articles, reports and proposals that rely on the promises of digitization to address issues of physical space, cost control, access, and collection management for FDLP libraries. One of the reasons we created this Seal of Approval standard is to provide a clear, consistent way to help evaluate some of these promises of digitization.

There are those who continue to insist that we have too many copies of federal documents, that preserving those copies is too expensive, that GPO is being unreasonable when it does not allow libraries to discard materials, and so forth. Although proposals to digitize FDLP collections are often couched in terms of enhancing access, libraries can digitize and enhance access without discarding paper copies. The underlying motivation of such proposals is often explicitly to weed the paper collections and, when not explicit, it is always implied. These proposals raise many questions in our minds. For example:

  • Will digitizations include digital text as well as images and will the text be accurate and complete and (re)usable?
  • Will the digitizations be readable and usable on modern e-book devices?
  • Will digitizations create digital objects that are as good as the originals, or worse, or better?
  • Will digitizations be deposited into Trusted Digital Repositories to ensure their long-term preservation and access?
  • Will the library that contributes the original be in control of the digital copy, or will control be ceded to large mega-libraries?
  • Will the digitizations include adequate metadata for management, preservation, and discovery?
  • Will libraries develop and maintain discovery and delivery mechanisms that address the special requirements of federal documents?
  • Will libraries provide adequate digital services for the digital collections?
  • Will any cost savings be applied to collection management and services for these collections or will the cost savings be redirected to other collections and services?
  • Will there actually be cost savings if we adequately address the above questions?

But there is one other question that is more important than all of the above. The question we must ask first is: Are the digitizations accurate and complete? If they are not, the other questions become moot or irrelevant. The DS-SOA is intended to help us answer that question. The DS-SOA denotes that a digitization accurately and completely replicates the content and presentation of the original.

The standard is designed to be easily understood and usable, not just by digitization-specialists, but also by library administrators, collection managers, service providers, preservation officers, business managers, and others who are responsible for library collections and services. It is also meant to help communicate clearly to end users the accuracy and completeness of the digitizations libraries provide to them.

We believe that libraries fulfill a unique role in society, one that is different from that of producers, agencies, publishers, authors, and vendors. We believe that the value of libraries is dependent upon the collections we select, acquire, preserve, and maintain and the services that we provide for those collections. The FDLP collections are unique; they provide a primary-source, historical record of our democracy. The FDLP print collections are not “legacy collections” as they are often called by those who wish to discard them; (the use of the word “legacy” as an adjective means “outdated” and “unwanted”). They are, however, our legacy. The use of the word “legacy” as a noun means bequest, heritage, endowment, gift, and birthright. The DS-SOA is a simple tool that libraries can use to ensure the value of their digital collections and communicate that value to library users. We believe that failure to ensure completeness and accuracy of our digital collections will reduce the value of libraries. We believe that replacing paper-and-ink books with digital copies without first ensuring and documenting that those copies are complete and accurate representations of the original would be tantamount to redacting the historical record of our democracy.

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