Born-digital is a term used to describe objects created digitally, such as email, spreadsheets, datasets, and images. Wellcome Collection collects, catalogues and preserves such material alongside traditional analogue formats. This page sets out our process for acquiring and preserving born-digital archives and provides guidance for potential depositors.
If you have a potential donation you would like to discuss, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We assess all potential long-term research value of all material according to our Collection Development Policy. We aim to build unique and distinctive collections that help to challenge the ways people think and feel about health.
The content and condition of born-digital archives cannot be assessed with the naked eye, as is the case with paper archives. For this reason, we rely heavily on the contextual information that accompanies potential acquisitions of born-digital archives. The more information available, the more likely we will be able to make an informed decision. Contextual information can include directory structures, metadata such as filenames and dates and information provided by the depositor about the content of the archive.
In addition, we consider the accessibility of older and more obscure storage media and balance the potential research value of the content against the costs of accessing and preserving the data.
We do not make acquisition decisions based purely on the file formats born-digital archives are held in and will, in principle, accept all formats.
Preparatory work undertaken by the donor can make the processing and cataloguing of born-digital archives much easier and also improve the discoverability and usability of the records for future researchers. The following actions are particularly helpful:
- Check the media and files you intend to deposit to ensure you do not accidentally give us anything you do not wish us to have, or would fail our appraisal criteria. For instance, we will not keep software installation disks and you may not wish us to acquire your private correspondence or family photos.
- Ensure file and folder names are meaningful. You may wish to either enhance the names or provide an explanation alongside the original.
- Remove any passwords from password-protected files.
- Document useful contextual information. This could include a list of acronyms used, an overview of the content of key folders or the history of certain files (e.g. files created on a 1990s Mac before being moved to a Windows machine in the late 2000s).
- Label portable media and ensure existing labels are legible.
- If you have obsolete media and have retained equipment to read the disks, it would be very helpful for you to copy the files off the original media onto modern storage. If you do this, please make a note of the original media type.
This is something we would like to discuss, as we want to make this process as straightforward and secure as possible.
If your born-digital archives are held on your computer, we can transfer a copy onto our portable hard drive. 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.
If we are acquiring born-digital archives alongside your paper archives, we will collect both together. We appreciate it if you can keep your digital media clearly separate from your paper as they undergo different processes once they have been donated.
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.
As a rule we prefer to receive material in its original format, so, for example, we want to receive your emails digitally, but your handwritten letters in hard copy.
If you only hold digital surrogates of hard copy records we are happy to discuss options with you as it is something we decide on a case by case basis. If we do decide to acquire digital surrogates, we require as much information as possible about the original records and digital surrogates. For instance, the size and format of the original records and the method with which the digital surrogates were created.
All archives received by Wellcome are intended, at some stage, to be made available to the public for research, so all our actions are directed to that objective.
Our first step is to virus check the digital files we receive to ensure that they are safe to introduce into our systems. We will contact you if we encounter any problems.
Once the files have been successfully checked for viruses, we copy them to a temporary processing area to undergo initial assessment. We assess the files to ensure they meet our collecting criteria and record contextual information that will be added to the catalogue.
Next, we transfer the files into our secure digital storage system. Once there, the files are monitored to ensure they do not become altered in any way. We will also undertake any necessary preservation actions, for example, migrating to a newer format to ensure continued accessibility.
At the point of cataloguing, catalogue records will be created for your digital material. We generally catalogue to disk level, rather than digital file level. This means, if you donate a floppy disk, we will create a catalogue record for that disk and will describe its content, but we will not create catalogue records for each digital file on that disk. The catalogue record will provide an overview of the content, along with other useful information such as the date range of the files and their types (e.g. image files, audio files, databases etc.).
As part of the process, the digital files will be sensitivity reviewed and an access status applied in line with our access procedures.
Once finished, the catalogued records will be available to view via our digital delivery system and researchers will be able to order and view the records, subject to the conditions of our access procedures. Follow the links to view examples of catalogued born-digital records: ART/AFH/D/6, ART/LAB/C/5.
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