Digitisation at Edinburgh


We have just launched the first ever Digitisation Strategy for the University of Edinburgh.  The University has world-class collections of books, archives, art and museum objects, whose potential for learning and teaching can be unlocked through digitisation.  We are investing in a new programme of digitisation so there is more online content for students and teachers to use.  This follows a consultation run in the first half of 2017 which showed that there was a strong demand for more resources of this kind.

Digitisation is the process of representing books, documents, recordings or objects as digital information.  It can make analogue sources accessible to anyone with an internet connection, across the world.  Digitisation is used to preserve and share information and to widen access to rare and fragile heritage material.  The digitisation process is carried out by specialist staff including photographers, audio-visual technicians, digital curators and developers.  It can be carried out in different ways depending on the nature of the material and the needs of the user.  The resulting content is normally put online.  At the University of Edinburgh we have an open by default approach, so, if we can, we will make everything freely available to anyone who wants to use it using a Creative Commons CC BY licence (although we have to comply with current Data Protection and Copyright legislation).

We digitise items from the University of Edinburgh’s own collections, as in the case of the current project to digitise the entire collection of University Theses.  We also digitise material owned by other institutions as part of partnership projects, as in the case of the current project to digitise the Scottish Session Papers in collaboration with the Faculty of Advocates and Signet Library.  Digitisation of content is part of the Library’s overall digital offering which includes the wide range of e-resources produced elsewhere, both licensed and open access. An overview of all the University collections and a gateway to those collections which have already been digitised is available on the website.

At present we only have about 2% of the collections digitised so we need to set priorities going forward.  We have already decided to complete the digitisation of the University’s iconic items, the 50 best-known and most frequently-requested treasures.  However, we are keen to get more feedback from University teachers and learners on what items they would like to be digitised, the kind of digitisation that would be beneficial, and how they would use the new digitised content.  We are going to set up new processes for University staff to select and request items for digitisation, but meanwhile we want to do some pilot work to incorporate digitised content into selected course resource lists.  Please do get in touch if you would like to discuss a specific course in relation to this.

Longer-term, we think there are opportunities for digitisation to help the University develop some really different approaches to teaching and learning.  This might include more interactive content, where students are involved in the selection and creation of digitised images and further work such as transcription or conversion into structured data.  We would be delighted to hear from teachers and learners, either about the Strategy or about ideas and requests for digitised content as part of particular courses.  Please contact me at joseph.marshall@ed.ac.uk.

Joseph Marshall

Joseph Marshall is Head of Special Collections and the Centre for Research Collections at Edinburgh University Library.  After completing a PhD at the UoE on the writings of King James VI of Scotland, he worked as a curator at the National Library of Scotland before joining Edinburgh University Library as Rare Books Librarian, becoming Head of Special Collections in 2014.

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