Shira Peltzman, Jessica Venlet & Brian Dietz

Shira Peltzman, Jessica Venlet & Brian Dietz

Last updated on 26 February 2020

By Brian Dietz (Digital Program Librarian for Special Collection, NC State University Libraries), Shira Peltzman (Digital Archivist, UCLA Library) and Jessica Venlet (Assistant University Archivist for Digital Records and Records Management, UNC at Chapel Hill University Libraries)

The decisions facing those who work with born-digital archival materials are myriad. While it has become increasingly easier to find technical processing workflows and lists of handy tools, documentation and guidance on exactly how to provide access to our born-digital collections has lagged behind in our collective conversations. 

Over the last several years, a few like-minded efforts in the U.S. to tackle this common challenge coalesced into the DLF Born-Digital Access Working Group (BDAWG) in 2017. Among other things, the group set out to explore the questions: What if the Levels of Digital Preservation included access?  Does access have to be an all or nothing choice? What are some of the key considerations - technical or policy - that make access to born-digital materials possible?

On February 10, 2020, the Working Group released version one of its Levels of Born-Digital Access. The document is broken down into five areas: Accessibility, Description, Research Support & Discovery, Security, and Tools. Each area contains three levels of suggested criteria as well as helpful resources. 

Developing the Levels of Born-Digital Access was a two-year-long process that involved multiple rounds of revision and community feedback. Initially, the plan was to create a single grid that was similar in appearance and structure to the Levels of Preservation. A draft of this grid was presented to participants of the BitCurator Users Forum in September 2018 and the Digital Library Federation Forum in October 2018. Based on the feedback we received, it became clear that major structural changes would be necessary. Specifically, community members made it clear that the grid was trying to convey too much information in too little space. We took this as our cue to expand the grid into a longer-form white paper that details our approach and considerations; a section for each of the five areas we address, including a bulleted list of actions for each level and accompanying lists of resources, examples, and tips; and a one-page table version of the Levels that users could easily reference. 

We released a draft of this white paper in November 2019, making it available for another round of community feedback. We were delighted (and occasionally overwhelmed! -- it was fairly common to open up the draft in Google Docs and see 50+ other readers) by the number of thoughtful comments and suggestions we received. This time around, a major focus of the feedback was finding ways to make the Levels more broadly applicable to a wider audience, including both smaller and non-U.S.-based institutions. 

Based on this, we attempted to rework the document to be more applicable as guidelines that can be implemented regardless of institution type, size, and location, and according to each institution’s needs, resources, and abilities. Rather than leading with U.S.-specific standards, for instance, general recommendations are offered first and are then illustrated with examples from U.S. practices and standards. We hope that the Levels can be adapted to suit needs across communities, and we anticipate exploring how to integrate these adaptations into future iterations. With that in mind, what changes do you foresee making? What process will you follow to make those changes? Is contributing those changes back something you’d be likely to do?

This project was over two years in the making, which is a long time for a grassroots initiative like this to percolate. When it comes to this type of project, it’s not uncommon for attrition to set in as the timeline expands. Remarkably, group members remained engaged and invested throughout the project, even as new goal posts were added. We think this is the result of several things: first and foremost, we were trying to solve (or at the very least, mitigate) a problem that was clearly defined and with which we’d all had personal experience. Secondly, we had confidence that our goals were achievable. And lastly, we were excited by the potential that others in the field would find our output helpful.

Our collaborators included Elvia Arroyo-Ramírez, Kelly Bolding, Princeton University, Danielle Butler, Alston Cobourn, Jessica Farrell, Alissa Helms, Kyle Henke, Charles Macquarie, Camille Tyndall Watson, Ashley Taylor, and Paige Walker.

Community feedback, which will always be welcome, can be sent to the Born-Digital Access Working Group Chairs, currently Jessika Drmacich and Karla Irwin, via the group’s Google Group

The Working Group has recently started several new sub-groups, addressing issues like Documentation and Pre-Acquisition Curatorial Workflows--and there’s still time to get involved with these initiatives (again, contact the Working Group Chairs if interested). 

We would like to extend our gratitude to the DLF for supporting our work.

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