Building a Digital Library on a Shoestring

Article excerpt

With technology costs so high, how is it possible to create a digital library without breaking the budget? At the University of South Carolina, this is just what we were determined to figure out.

The enthusiasm was there, but no one was offering us a bag full of money to get started. The library already had several important projects clamoring for the same bag anyway. The largest project was migrating to a new integrated library system. Then there was the badly needed new fire alarm system and other required renovations to our aging main building. Obviously, a digital library was not a priority in the face of these more immediate needs.

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In 2002, a new dean of libraries arrived bringing creative ideas with him. He knew the importance of digital collections and had the interest and enthusiasm to encourage the library to move in that direction. Already, small digital projects throughout the libraries were growing, creating duplicate digitization equipment expenditures. We were at a point where we needed to decide how to start coordinating these expenditures and projects. For instance, the Map Library already had a small grant with another department that included a wide-format scanner and a server. Whenever the scanner was available, staff also used it to digitize the Sanborn Maps from the South Caroliniana Library (USC's South Carolina history archive). But they were running out of room on their server. Rare Books and Special Collections had been scanning images for online exhibits, and the Music Library staff had started a large sheet music scanning project that they had been able to fund on their own. The time seemed right for us to create a digital activities department, but the department had no allocated funds in the library's budget. Again, thanks to the dean's attention, the library administration found ways to draw from existing funds that were earmarked for new projects.

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Once we had a promise of funds allocated to the digital activities department and a charge to move forward from the administration, the first thing we did was to bring together a team of staff members who all had a growing interest in creating digital collections. They included people from the Special Collections libraries, such as Rare Books, the South Caroliniana Library, the Music Library, the Film Library, the Map Library, and Government Documents. It also included staff from the library systems section, the archives, cataloging, reference, conservation, and an outside faculty member from the library school. The people in this group, including the two of us (Alma from systems and me, Kate, from reference), volunteered their time and energy, adding this new project to their already-full workloads.

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After a year of the team putting together selection criteria and digitization practices and policies, it became obvious that we needed a full-time person to coordinate the projects and to move them forward. Instead of going through the hiring process of creating a new position, the administration transferred me from reference to the new department. This was more economical and acceptable to the administrators than creating a new position that would possibly demand a higher salary. Fortunately, I had worked at the Library of Congress for 2 years on American Memory projects. My skills were rusty, but I had some experience. Therefore, I began reviewing and preparing myself for this transition.

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Kate's Running Start

As the new digital collections librarian for the new Digital Activities department, I spent the summer of 2004 researching equipment, standards, and other schools' practices. The administration also paid for me to go to two workshops: UNC Chapel Hill's Digitization for Cultural Heritage Professionals and Northeast Document Conservation Center's School for Scanning. …