Library of Congress Digitization Strategy: 2023-2027

The following post was co-authored with Steve Morris, Chief of Digital Collections Management and Services and Tom Rieger, Manager of Digitization Services. 

The Library of Congress has a new Digitization Strategy for its collections. As we did for the Library’s Digital Collections Strategy, we are excited to share this overview of it with readers of The Signal blog. We get a lot of questions about what we digitize and why, and hopefully this provides a little bit of insight into our institutional plans and priorities.

The Library has expanded the amount and throughput of our digitization efforts dramatically over the past three decades. In 2020 we finished digitizing the last of our presidential papers – all of the personal papers of the presidents from George Washington to Calvin Coolidge are now available to anyone with an internet connection. In 2021, we opened a new Digital Scan Center, which significantly increased digital image production capabilities and postproduction processes. So far, we have digitized more than nine million items in our collections, with particular strengths in newspaper issues, manuscripts, and pictorial materials.

Over the next five years, the Library will expand, optimize, and centralize its collections digitization program to significantly expand access to users across the country to rare, distinctive, and unique collection materials which can be made openly available online and use digitization as a core method for preservation reformatting of rights restricted collection materials. Below are the five guiding strategic objectives for this work.

Strategic Objectives

  1. Transition from one-off project-based digitization toward the systematic digitization of rare, distinctive, or unique materials in the Library’s collections that can be made openly available online: Over the last two decades the Library has scaled up capacity to support major digitization projects using a targeted project-based approach, with priorities established according to a variety of factors. Evolving user expectations necessitate a more systematic approach that prioritizes material that can be made openly available online and that is not already available online from other institutions.
  2. Systematically deploy digitization as a core method for preservation and collection management workflows: Over the last five years, the Library has made significant progress in transitioning preservation reformatting from the production of print facsimiles or microfilm to digitization. This shift not only meets current preservation requirements, but it also supports enhanced onsite or offsite access. Going forward, the Library will use digital systems for reformatting, and will integrate digital delivery into collections management processes.
  3. Enhance the reach of library programs, exhibitions, events, and special initiatives by establishing a rapid-response focused and targeted projects digitization program in support of priority initiatives: A wide range of Library programs, events, and special initiatives draw on and offer opportunities to deepen engagement with the Library’s collections. Enhancing processes and capacity to support a range of rapid-response digitization projects will support these efforts.
  4. Review and improve the operational effectiveness, organizational structure, governance and prioritization processes for digitization efforts in support of the increasingly central role of digitization for access and preservation: As digitization has become an increasingly important technology for access to and preservation of Library of Congress collections, a wide range of organizational units have developed capacity to support this work on a large scale. It is critical to further mature digitization into core areas of the overall collections program. This includes but is not limited to clarifying roles for prioritizing specific digitization initiatives, and affirming requirements for technical standards.
  5. Implement end-to-end tracking and reporting on the status of digitization of collection items: The Library has for many years measured digitization efforts in terms of total counts of master files produced. This is a useful metric, but it does not align with other methods for counting Library collection items. Further, tracking total counts of master files produced does not necessarily mean that those images have been fully processed and been successfully made available to Library users. Over the next five years, the Library will implement methods and approaches to fully track digitization of collection materials from the beginning of projects to the point where they have been successfully made available to users.