The No-nonsense Guide to Born-digital Content

Apr 2018 | 240pp

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The No-nonsense Guide to Born-digital Content

Heather Ryan and Walker Sampson

2019 Society of American Archivists' Preservation Publication Award Winner

Foreword by Trevor Owens, Head of Digital Content Management, Library of Congress

This book offers a comprehensive, entry-level guide for librarians and archivists who have found themselves managing or are planning to manage born-digital content.
Libraries and archives of all sizes are collecting and managing an increasing proportion of digital content. Within this body of digital content is a growing pool of ‘born-digital’ content: content that has been created and has often existed solely in digital form. The No-nonsense Guide to Born-digital Content explains step by step processes for developing and implementing born-digital content workflows in library and archive settings of all sizes and includes a range of case studies collected from small, medium and large institutions internationally.

  • Coverage includes:
  • the wide range of digital storage media and the various sources of born-digital content
  • a guide to digital information basics 
  • selection, acquisition, accessioning and ingest
  • description, preservation and access
  • methods for designing & implementing workflows for born-digital collection processing
  • a comprehensive glossary of common technical terms
  • strategies and philosophies to move forward as technologies change.

Readership: This book will be useful reading for LIS and archival students and professionals who are working with, or plan to work with, born digital content. It will also be of interest to museum professionals, data managers, data scientists, and records managers.


Foreword - Trevor Owens


  • What is born-digital content?

  • Why is this important?

  • About the book

  • Additional resources

  • Representing the world of libraries and archives

1. Digital information basics

  • What is digital information?

  • Hexadecimal

  • Digital file types

  • Storage media

  • Command line basics

  • Code repositories

  • Conclusion

  • Further reading

2. Selection

  • Types of born-digital content

  • Format- versus content-driven collecting decisions

  • Mission statements, collecting policies, and donor agreements

  • Gift agreements

  • Stanford University’s approach to selection in web archiving

  • Conclusion

  • Further reading

3. Acquisition, accessioning and ingest

  • Principles in acquisition

  • Acquisition of born-digital material on a physical carrier

  • Checksums and checksum algorithms

  • Acquisition of network-born materials 

  • Accession

  • Ingest

  • Conclusion

  • Further reading

4. Description

  • General fields and types of information

  • Descriptive standards and element sets

  • General element sets

  • Descriptive systems

  • Use cases

  • Conclusion

  • Further reading

5. Digital preservation storage and strategies

  • A note on acquisition

  • A note on file formats

  • Thinking about storage

  • Certification

  • Digital preservation policy

  • Conclusion

  • Further reading

6. Access

  • Deciding on your access strategy

  • Methods of access

  • Use case

  • Conclusion

  • Further reading

7. Designing and implementing workflows

  • A note on tools

  • Design principles

  • Workflow and policy

  • Examples

  • Case study

  • Conclusion

  • Further reading

8. New and emerging areas in born-digital materials

  • Technology in general

  • Storage

  • Software and apps

  • Cloud technologies

  • Smartphones

  • Digital art and new media

  • Emerging descriptive and access methods

  • Growing your skills

  • Conclusion

  • Further reading


Appendix A – Resources

Appendix B - Basic unix command line prompts

'...there is value for everyone in the well-reasoned discussions about overarching strategies, policies, and processes, which are necessary before any of the capturing and processing of resources can begin...Recommended. Graduate students and professionals.'

'Take this book as the starting point of a journey into our community of practice and realise that you are not alone. Even if it really is just you working on digital preservation as a lone arranger at a small organization the rest of us are out here working away at the same problems.'
- Trevor Owens, Head, Digital Content Management, Library of Congress

Aimed at librarians and archivists, this guide explains how to collect, preserve, and provide access to born-digital content in libraries and archives. It explains basic concepts related to digital information, various file formats, and digital storage media; various sources of born-digital content and strategies for making collection decisions; retrieving and preparing content to be brought into the library or archives; how information about born-digital collections can be collected to describe the content within different library and archives descriptive systems; how a library or archive can apply preservation practices to born-digital collections; how to provide access to content, and considerations for limitations to access, such as privacy and copyrights; strategies for designing full or partial workflows for collection processing; and strategies and philosophies in new and emerging areas of digital storage, ways of creating digital content, and methods of  serving it to users. 
- ProtoView​

Heather Ryan is the Director of Special Collections, Archives & Preservation and Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado Boulder Libraries. She earned her PhD in Information and Library Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Walker Sampson is the Digital Archivist at the University of Colorado Boulder Libraries. He earned his MS in Information Science at the University of Texas at Austin before beginning work at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in 2011.

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