The Archival Advantage: Integrating Archival Expertise into Management of Born-digital Library Materials

by Jackie Dooley

This essay argues for involving archivists in the management of born-digital library materials (i.e., created and managed in digital form).


  • The full array of traditional archival skills is equally relevant in the born-digital context.
  • Research data sets, email, websites, blogs and many other born-digital library materials have characteristics similar to analog archival materials.
  • It is beneficial for digital librarians, IT experts, curators, library administrators and other research library colleagues who manage digital materials to be aware of archivists' skills and expertise and their relevance to the digital context.
  • Areas of archival expertise that other experts may lack include donor relations, appraisal, context of creation and use, authenticity, transfer of ownership and permanence.
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This essay also focuses on ten areas of archival expertise and their relevance to the digital context. These include confirming ownership, appraising the significance of content, documenting the context of creation, negotiating with collection donors and nurturing these relationships over time, recognizing and navigating legal issues, ensuring authenticity of files, and using practical approaches to creating metadata for large collections. Each of these is equally relevant for digital and analog (physical) materials. Archivists’ in-depth knowledge of each area helps to ensure that the right questions are addressed.

The intended audiences for this publication include library directors and other managers who set the vision and direction for digital initiatives; technology specialists who manage systems and services in areas such as repository design, hardware and software, digitization, and website development; research data curation experts; digital preservationists; liaison librarians who have close relationships with users, including knowledge of their research methods; and metadata specialists. Archivists may find value in both the explication of the ten areas of archival expertise and the arguments for including them in a wide range of digital initiatives.

This work is part of our Research Collections and Support efforts to inform libraries' current thinking about research collections and the emerging services that they are offering to support contemporary modes of scholarship. 

Suggested citation:

Dooley, Jackie. 2015. The Archival Advantage: Integrating Archival Expertise into Management of Born-digital Library Materials. Dublin, Ohio: OCLC Research.


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