This Framework of Guidance for Building Good Digital Collections has three purposes:

  1. To provide an overview of some of the major components and activities involved in creating good digital collections.
  2. To identify existing resources that support the development of sound local practices for creating and managing good digital collections.
  3. To encourage community participation in the ongoing development of best practices for digital collection building.

It is intended for two audiences:

  • cultural heritage organizations planning and implementing initiatives to create digital collections; and
  • funding organizations that want to encourage the development of good digital collections.

The use of the word “good” in this context requires some explanation. In the early days of digitization, a collection could be considered good if it provided proof of concept or resulted in new institutional capabilities—even if the resulting collection itself was short-lived or of minimal usefulness to the organization’s users

As the digital environment matured, the focus of digital collection-building efforts shifted toward the creation of useful and relevant collections that served the needs of one or more communities of users. The bar of “goodness” was raised to include levels of usability, accessibility, and fitness for use appropriate to the anticipated user group(s).

Digital collection development has now evolved and matured to a third stage, where simply serving useful digital collections effectively to a known constituency is not sufficient. Issues of cost/value, sustainability, and trust have emerged as critical success criteria for good digital collections. Objects, metadata, and collections must now be viewed not only within the context of the projects that created them, but as building blocks that others can reuse, repackage, repurpose, and build services upon. “Goodness” now demands interoperability, reusability, persistence, verification, documentation, and support for intellectual property rights.

In edition three of this Framework we acknowledge that digital collections increasingly contain born-digital objects, as opposed to digital objects that were derived through the digitization of analogue source materials. We also acknowledge that digital collection development has moved from being an ad hoc “extra” activity to a core service in many cultural heritage institutions.

Digital collections must now intersect with the user’s own context—within the course, within the research process, within the leisure time activities, and within the social networks that are important to the end user.

Users—in particular the younger generations of users—have integrated digital technologies so completely into their lives that they are ready and even eager to move into a role as creators and collaborators. The rise of shared information spaces such as YouTube and Flickr; the popularity of social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, and LinkedIn; and the growth of the “mash-up” as the vehicle for new creativity demonstrate that good digital collection-building has become an active collaboration between the information professional and the user, resulting in collections that are reliable and authoritative, yet also compelling and useful to a wide range of users wherever they live, work, and play.

The Framework of Guidance provides criteria for goodness organized around four core types of entities:

  • Collections (organized groups of objects)
  • Objects (digital materials)
  • Metadata (information about objects and collections)
  • Initiatives (programs or projects to create and manage collections)

Note that services have been deliberately excluded as out of scope. It is expected that if quality collections, objects, and metadata are created, it will be possible for any number of higher-level services to make effective use and reuse of them.

For each of these four types of entities, general principles related to quality are defined and discussed, and supporting resources providing further information are identified. These resources may be standards, guidelines, best practices, explanations, discussions, clearinghouses, or examples.

How to Contribute

Every effort has been made to select resources that are useful and current, and to provide helpful annotations. However, the list of resources is not exhaustive and, given the dynamic nature of the digital information environment, can be expected to change rapidly over time.

With the third edition of the Framework, we open the document up for ongoing contributions from the community of librarians, archivists, curators, and other information professionals. We encourage you to contribute your own ideas and experiences, suggest resources, and evaluate those that have been suggested.

To participate, you must first create an account. Click here, or go to the "Create New Account" link on the left-hand navigation sidebar. You will need to fill in a user name, e-mail address, institutional affiliation. An automatically generated password will be sent to your e-mail address along with a link to the login screen to login and update your password to something you can remember. (NOTE: Because comments are tagged with the user name of the person who made them, we recommend choosing a user name that identifies you clearly; for example: karen.wetzel, Priscilla Caplan, etc.)

How to Use

There are no absolute rules for creating good digital collections. Every digital collection-building initiative is unique, with its own users, goals, and needs. Initiatives dealing with legacy collections, for example, have different constraints than projects embarking on new digitization efforts, which in turn have different constraints than projects building collections of born-digital materials. Museums, libraries, archives, and schools have different constituencies, priorities, institutional cultures, funding mechanisms, and governance structures.

The key to a successful project is not to strictly and unquestioningly follow any particular path, but to plan strategically and make wise choices from an array of tools and processes to support the unique goals and needs of each collection.

A number of excellent resources take a holistic view of digitization projects, covering topics ranging from selection, capture, and description to preservation and long-term access. The following are highly recommended:

Comment: AHDS Guides to Good Practice website no longer updated by karen.wetzel on 09/03/2008
Linked under "How to Use": Arts and Humanities Data Service (AHDS), Guides to Good Practice website

These guides are no longer being updated. This note appears on the website: "This page is no longer updated, it represents the status on 31st March 2008."
Comment: "How to Contribute" section of intro updated by karen.wetzel on 10/30/2008
The "How to Contribute" section of the Framework's Introduction was updated to remove the following: "Please see the Community Version on the Web at:" and to add the final paragraph of that section re adding comments at this site.
Last updated: 10/30/2008