Academic journal article Journal of the Medical Library Association

A Global Snapshot of the State of Digital Collections in the Health Sciences, 2013*

Academic journal article Journal of the Medical Library Association

A Global Snapshot of the State of Digital Collections in the Health Sciences, 2013*

Article excerpt


Worldwide, more and more libraries of every size, shape, and specialty are either currently offering or in the process of publishing digital collections consisting of digitized historical and archival items, institutional repository content, and research data [1]. Many health sciences libraries (HSLs) are a part of this trend [2]. As holders of unique items of historical and research interest to a wide range of potential users, HSLs are poised to become major players in the realm of digital initiatives and collections. This survey attempts to quantify and describe digital collections related to and provided by HSLs.


While numerous HSLs offer sizable digital collections and repositories-which the authors define as man- aged collections of information, with associated services, stored in digital formats and accessible over a network [3]-there is little published literature surveying the scope and content of digital collections [1]. In-depth literature searches in Library and Information Science Abstracts (LISA), Library Infor- mation Science & Technology Abstracts (LISTA), PubMed, PubMed Central, and EMBASE revealed mostly case studies of individual initiatives or suggested best practices for digitization, dissemina- tion, preservation, and promotion of digital collec- tions in HSLs. For example, Mix's 2011 article on the sixth edition of Samuel Hahnemann's Organon der Heilkunst discussed both the significance and prove- nance of the notable homeopathy text, as well as the process of creating a digital homeopathy collection using a combination of technical solutions [4]. Welch discussed collaboration between the Waring Histori- cal Library and the School of Nursing at the Medical University of South Carolina, which resulted in a digital library becoming an advocacy tool that ultimately enhanced the Waring Library's value to its parent institution [5], but neither went further in establishing the state of digital collections in the health sciences.

A 2007 article by Ismond and Shiri compared 6 medical digital libraries but focused on collections intended for use by researchers or health care professionals and excluded digital libraries with a historical focus or those whose collections primarily consisted of images and videos [2]. In 2006, Kahl and Williams surveyed digital library projects at 111 Association of Research Libraries (ARL) member libraries. They found that over 80% of English- language ARL libraries had published digital projects with an average of 12.6 projects per library, and most offered unrestricted access. However, about half of the digital projects (collections of items) were pub- lished by only about 15% of the institutions surveyed, and over 25% of the total projects did not contain any descriptive metadata. It was also noted that these projects were primarily image and text based. Finally, the authors found that while collections are growing in many subject areas, they also found a lack of broad overviews in the published literature regarding digital library project access, which suggested that further research and focus on exploring digital library projects of a particular type was needed [1]. The authors' literature review revealed that no similar study focusing on digital collections that HSLs offer has been published to date.

In an attempt to provide a similar census of digital projects in HSLs, the authors undertook a survey of more than 200 HSL web pages. The survey collected data on the number of HSLs involved in digital projects, the type of projects being digitized, the software being utilized, and the average number of items per collection in order to create an international snapshot of digitization by examining the number, type, size, and impact of digital collections in HSLs on a global level.


Data collection took place between August and December 2012. To generate an authoritative and comprehensive listing of HSLs, the authors generated an international list from two sources: members of the Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries (AAHSL) listed in the thirty-fourth edition of the Annual Statistics of Medical School Libraries in the United States and Canada [6], published by AAHSL, and libraries with collections listed in the US National Library of Medicine's (NLM's) Directory of History of Medicine Collections [7]. …

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