Demystifying Born Digital

Libraries are falling dangerously behind in acquiring and processing information received in digital form. Since most recent, current, and future information exists only in digital form, there is a risk of huge gaps in library collecting. This project helps library and archive staff gain the confidence necessary for taking initial steps to launch a born-digital management program that can be scaled up over time. As revealed in Taking Our Pulse: The OCLC Research Survey of Special Collections and Archives born-digital management is the number one area in which education and training are needed.



Defining "Born Digital" and Born Digital (video): A brief taxonomy of types of material ranging from data sets and websites to digital manuscripts and photographs.

You've Got to Walk Before You Can Run: First Steps for Managing Born-digital Content Received on Physical Media: Technical baby steps for those who have acquired born-digital materials on physical media but haven't yet begun dealing with them due to lack of expertise, time, fear, money, etc.

Swatting the Long Tail of Digital Media: A Call for Collaboration: A call for a collaborative approach for transfer of born-digital content from various types of physical media, particularly obsolete formats.

Walk This Way: Detailed Steps for Transferring Born-digital Content from Media You Can Read In-house: A fleshing out of the basics of transferring content from media to a more manageable form, consisting of discrete steps with objectives, links to available tools and software, references and resources for further research, and paths to engagement with the digital archives community.

Agreement Elements for Outsourcing Transfer of Born Digital Content: Suggestions for the elements that should be considered when constructing an outsourcing agreement for transferring born digital content from a physical medium.

The Archival Advantage: Integrating Archival Expertise into Management of Born-digital Library Materials: Rationalization for involving archivists in the management of born-digital library materials. Archival skills and experience should neither be ignored nor reinvented but rather are applied and adapted when managing born-digital content.

Demystifying IT: A Framework for Shared Understanding between Archivists and IT Professionals: A follow-on to the popular Demystifying Born Digital series, this primer for archivists is intended to help digital archivists understand the priorities, techniques, and culture of information technology so that they can be the most effective collaborators possible.


"Innovative Solutions for Dealing with Born-digital Content in Obsolete Formats." (PPT) Presented as an OCLC Research webinar, 20 October 2014.

"Demystifying Born Digital." (PPT) Presented at the 41st annual conference of the Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NA), 27 April 2013, Pasadena, California (USA)

"Demystifying Born Digital First Steps Reports from OCLC Research." (PPT) Presented at the SCA Annual General Meeting 2013, 13 April 2013, Berkeley, California (USA)


Early evidence of impact is the success of the SAA Jump In Initiative, which was inspired by the reports. To learn more, see our First Steps for Managing Born-Digital Content Report Inspires SAA Jump In Initiative news announcement and read the Hanging Together blog post, Jumping In to Born Digital. The third installation of the Jump In Initiative was completed in 2015.

Working Groups

OCLC Research staff worked with an informal group of advisors, each of whom has particular experience and perspective on management of born-digital materials. We called upon an informal group of experts for feedback on our ideas and drafts, and they responded with detailed insights and remarkable energy. While not all details in the reports represent consensus, their spirited debates and valued advice improved them greatly.

Nancy Enneking
Head of Institutional Records and Archives,
Getty Research Institute

Riccardo Ferrante
Director, Digital Services,
Smithsonian Institution Archives

Ben Goldman
Digital Records Archivist,
Pennsylvania State University

Gretchen Gueguen
Data Services Coordinator
Digital Public Library of America (DPLA)

Matthew Kirschenbaum
Associate Professor of English and Associate Director,
Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH),
University of Maryland

Christopher (Cal) Lee
Associate Professor, School of Information and Library Science,
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Veronica Martzahl
Electronic Records Archivist,
Massachusetts State Archives

Matthew McKinley
Digital Project Specialist,
University of California, Irvine

Naomi L. Nelson
Director, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library,
Duke University

Erin O'Meara
Gates Archive

Chris Prom
Assistant University Archivist,
University of Illinois, Urbana/Champaign

Gabriela Redwine
Digital Archivist,
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library,
Yale University

Seth Shaw
Assistant Professor,
Clayton State University

Rob Spindler
University Archivist and Head, Archives and Special Collections,
Arizona State University Libraries

Susan Thomas
Digital Archivist and Project Manager, Bodleian Library,
Oxford University

Dave Thompson
Digital Curator,
Wellcome Library

Jennifer Waxman
Senior Manager for Preservation & Access, 
Center for Jewish History

A working group addressed the outsourcing of the transfer of content from media they can’t read in-house to external service providers. They addressed the terms and conditions under which such work would be done and some of the technical requirements for content transfer, informing the report, Agreement Elements for Outsourcing Transfer of Born Digital Content. Members included:

  • Jim Austin, Jim Austin Computer Collection
  • Fran Baker, University of Manchester
  • Mary Elings, University of California, Berkeley
  • Ben Goldman, Pennsylvania State University
  • Matthew Kirschenbaum, University of Maryland
  • Matthew McKinley, University of California, Irvine
  • Dave Thompson, Wellcome Library
  • Stephen Torrence, Museum of Computer Culture