Case Study: Lessons Learned through Digitizing the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research Collection*[dagger](*)

Article excerpt


The Indiana University Center for Bioethics (IUCB) and the Ruth Lilly Medical Library (RLML), Indiana University School of Medicine, joined forces in 2005 to augment online access to bioethics-related materials by developing the Bioethics Digital Library (BEDL) [1]. BEDL's goal is to acquire or borrow unique bioethics-related materials and special collections for digitization, to preserve the digitized materials, and to provide open access to these materials through a full-text indexed, Web-integrated database. To enhance discoverability of BEDL materials, content will be linked to citation records in the Kennedy Institute of Ethics National Reference Center for Bioethics Literature ETHX on the Web database [2] as well as other appropriate digital repositories, creating a network of bioethics resources with multiple access points.

Interest in providing open access to digital scholarship is increasing as evidenced by the National Institutes of Health's Public Access Policy [3] and the introduction of the Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006 (FRPAA, S.2695) [4]. One way to contribute to the open access initiative is to convert historical materials found in disparate locations to digital formats that are discoverable and freely accessible on the Internet. This paper presents a digitization case study that illustrates the challenges of transforming a historical collection to a digital collection while attempting to retain the look and feel of the original historical materials.


The first complete collection digitized for BEDL belonged to a member of the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research (the National Commission), convened in 1974. The collection-which contains committee reports, memos, documented deliberations, letters from human research subjects, and much more (see sample documents in the online figures)-was donated to the Truman G. Blocker History of Medicine Collections, Moody Medical Library, University of Texas Medical Branch. Based on the accepted digitizing plan, the Blocker History of Medicine Collections allowed RLML to borrow the materials and digitize the entire collection in return for archival-quality tagged image file format (TIFF) images produced during the scanning phase. The digital collection now exists in duplicate at separate geographic locations-a best practice for preservation in the digital age.

The collection provides a glimpse into the work of the commission as well as the many issues relating to the use of human subjects in research. Graduate, professional, doctoral, and post-doctoral students-as well as scholars involved in research policy, law, and bioethics-will likely be most interested in the contents of the collection. However, because the materials comprise a historical collection that informs current policy decisions and the conduct of ethical research involving human subjects, materials have general appeal as well.

BEDL's Digitizing Team, including three library science graduate students and the digital initiatives librarian, identified four broad categories of material types during the collection preparation phase. Table 1 describes the categories.


BEDL is a valuable, stand-alone resource available through the Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI) campus's digital repository, the IUPUI Digital Archive (IDeA) [5]. The IUPUI University Library has provided technology resources for IDeA, including hardware, storage, backup, and system and network administration. The IDeA team is committed to developing scholarly communities and collections in the virtual environment and to ensuring standard migration of digital content through technological developments, thus making the platform for BEDL both stable and scalable as the collections and content grow.

IDeA utilizes DSpace, the open source digital repository software developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Hewlett Packard [6]. …