Born-digital is a term used to describe objects created digitally, such as email, spreadsheets, datasets, and images. The digital files you create in your work could benefit future Wellcome Library researchers. This page explains the process for donating your digital archives.
We assess the potential long-term research value of all material according to our Collection Development Policy, which attempts to identify material that feeds into current research, or documents areas of significant future development in our field.
We balance this against the likely costs involved in acquisition and long-term preservation. Digital material raises some particular issues. The content and condition of paper archives can be quickly assessed with the naked eye, but this is not the case with digital files, and for this reason we rely heavily on the contextual information that accompanies potential acquisitions of digital material. The more information available, the more likely we will be able to make an informed decision. In addition, older and more obscure formats are always going to be harder to work with, and there is no guarantee of success. However, many problems can be overcome with your help.
This is something we would like to discuss with you, as it is something we decide on on a case by case basis. Generally though, we prefer to receive material in its original format, so, for example, we want to receive your emails digitally, but your hand written letters in hard copy.
All digital material received by the Library is intended, at some stage, to be made available to the public for historical research, so all our actions are directed to that objective.
The first thing that we do with all digital material is to put it through our virus checking process. This ensures that all the digital archives we take in are safe to introduce into our systems. We will contact you if we encounter any problems.
Once the material has successfully completed our virus checking process, we copy it into our secure digital storage system to await cataloguing. Once in the system, we can monitor your material to make sure it doesn’t become altered in any way. We will also undertake any necessary preservation activity, for example, migrating to a newer format to ensure continued accessibility.
At the point of cataloguing, your material will be removed from our digital preservation system so an archivist can work on it. The newly catalogued collection will be made available via our digital delivery system. Researchers will then be able to view your material, subject to the conditions of our access policy.
This is something we would like to discuss, as we want to make this process as easy as possible for you.
If your digital archives are held on your computer, we can transfer them directly using one of our portable hard drives. Staff may come and help you with this. Equally, if material is held on portable media such as CDs we would prefer you to pass these straight to us. We can return them once the data has been copied, or arrange to have them securely destroyed.
The most important thing is that your archives are transferred to us securely, which is why we cannot accept material by email. This is largely because automated security measures, including virus checking, mean there is a possibility that parts of your archive may be deleted or altered without us being made aware it has happened.
If there are papers you are considering donating to us, we would like to discuss this with you before you start any project. We would much prefer to receive papers in their original form, rather than as digitised facsimiles.
If you are setting out on a digitisation project for your own purposes, we cannot offer a commercial digitisation service, or give recommendations. However, we can suggest a few things to think about before embarking on the process.
Digitisation has many benefits. It can enable access for people who cannot consult the originals in person due to location or condition of the original. It can also allow enhanced access, such as the ability to zoom in on details of a painting, or convert page scans to text so that they can be searched.
However, as a preservation strategy, digitisation is not a cheap or easy option. Digitising a large body of material is a complex and expensive process that requires careful thought and planning. You will have to consider many things including storage, security and access. You will need to supervise the process to ensure that everything is digitised consistently, and that files are structured in an appropriate way, for example, pages in a book are accessed in order. Additionally, digitising and making available material you do not own or have not secured the rights to may be a breach of copyright law.
Digitisation is an effective way of making material accessible, but is not ideal as a preservation strategy. We would advise you to think carefully about what you want to achieve before embarking on any major projects.
If you have any other questions, or would like more information, please contact:
183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE, UK
T +44 (0)20 7611 8722
F +44 (0)20 7611 8369