Cornelius Van Vorst, ca.1620; 
Jersey City Free Public Library; Grover Cleveland Political Cartoon; 
Grover Cleveland Birthplace Historical Site Collection Peter Lee, former slave, ca.1880; 
Hoboken Historical Photographs Collection; Farm Map of Hillsboro, Somerset County, 1860; 
Historical Maps of New Jersey Collection; Bathing Beauties, 1890-1930; 
American Labor Museum/Botto House National Landmark Collection; Flag Salute, 1950; 
Seabrook Farms Collection;
Collection Value

This page provides resources for Archivists, Curators, and Librarians. Are there websites and online guides you find particularly useful that aren't listed here? Please send a URL and brief description to NJDH.

There are a number of criteria to consider in selecting collections to digitize. The list below is not exhaustive but will hopefully guide you in evaluating your collections for digitization, and particularly for inclusion in the New Jersey Digital Highway.

  1. Relevance to the Organization's Mission and collection development goals
  2. Usefulness to the Organization's Primary Audience(s)
  3. Added Value for Preservation and Access to Unique or Irreplaceable Collections
  4. Supporting the Development of the Organization's Digital Collection Development Program
  5. References
1. Relevance to the Organization's Mission and Collection Development Goals

Any collection selected should serve, and hopefully enhance, the organization's mission. Selecting a collection that is representative of the organization's collection strengths can highlight the information and services that the organization provides to users in a very visible and engaging manner.

The organization's collection development policy, which provides guiding principles and generally the scope and strengths of the organization's collection, is a good starting point for selecting collections. If the collection development policy does not address the digitizing of existing collections, you will probably want to modify the policy or reference a separate policy on selecting collections to digitize. If you do not have such a policy, you might want to wait until you have created a few digital collections, or at least be prepared to extensively revise a draft digitization policy. Creating digital collections is a learning process, so be flexible and open to unexpected results, particularly in terms of the user's response to digital collections.

If your organization does not have a collection development policy, it is useful to develop at least an analysis of your collection scope and strengths and also identify priorities for meeting your users' information needs through acquiring new materials and digitizing existing collections.

The New Jersey Digital Highway collection development policy is an example of a policy designed to meet the needs of a statewide cultural heritage information portal. You can find guidance on selecting collections to digitize that are appropriate for inclusion in NJDH within the policy.

2. Usefulness to the Organization's Primary Audience(s)

Digital collections can be very visible and potentially attract a very large audience across space and time. A digital collection adds value for your primary audience by being readily available for use at the time and place of their choosing. Digital collections are also more flexible and functional in their use. Digital resources can be excerpted; reused in electronic term papers or presentations; displayed before a large audience, such as a class of students; "remixed" into another digital work; linked from a bibliography to provide comprehensive access to an information topic; and more.

Since digital collections can be used in many more ways than the traditional browsing and research of analog collections, it is difficult to predict user engagement with a digital collection in advance. However, there are a number of steps an organization can take to select collections with the most potential usefulness for the target audience:

  • Survey your users. You can ask your users, in a focused survey or as part of a larger user survey, which collections or which subject areas they would most like to see digitized.
  • Predict digital collection use based on the usage patterns for your analog collections. Usage for popular collections will certainly increase, rather than decrease, with digital availability.
  • Benefit from the experiences of similar organizations, with similar collections, who may differ from your organization primarily based on geographic location. The assessment of collection impact by a peer organization can be very useful because you can gain some insight into how users interact with digital collections. This can help you make decisions about presentation of the digital collection as well as marketing the collection, in addition to informing the selection process.
  • Select materials with rich contextual information. Resources that have context: names, dates, circumstances, a rich background of historical or biographical information, have inherent interest to users, particularly to those who are discovering the content for the first time or lack familiarity with the subject area. Collections with finding aids, interpretive commentary, or that have complementary collections that add depth and richness to the primary source documents are strong candidates for digitization, as are collections that emerged from exhibitions with catalogs and curator's notes. These collections will be more immediately useful than resources that are largely undocumented and anonymous and require considerable user effort to make them contextually relevant and interesting.
  • Community context. A collection that complements a community or organization event can have inherent interest to local users, such as a collection of photographs from the early days of a town's history timed to coincide with a major anniversary of the town's founding. Collections that have contextual relevance to the community are also important because they immerse the organization in its community, as an active contributor and supporter of community events. A major caveat to this approach is that the organization should first determine whether or not the collection has lasting value beyond the defining community event that triggers its creation.
3. Added Value for Preservation and Access to Unique or Irreplaceable Collections

Analog materials are inherently fragile. Every use of an analog resource contributes to its ultimate deterioration and eventual destruction. Digitizing resources provides two benefits: (1) it reduces handling of fragile materials by users, who can view the digital surrogate instead. It also means that collections that have been withdrawn due to fragility and deterioration can once again be made available. (2) Digital preservation of resources is increasingly being viewed as an acceptable preservation strategy for unique information. If the organization conforms to emerging digital standards and practices for digital preservation, particularly for the creation and ongoing management of digital objects, a digital master image can be a useful and permanent surrogate for the original analog resource. This does not mean that analog resources can be thrown away or that no care should be taken to maintain them after they are digitized. There is no true substitution for the original source object. This simply means that the organization has a digital master that provides the most faithful representation of the source object as possible, as part of its strategy for maintaining its unique and valuable collections.

The New Jersey Digital Highway has a strong digital preservation focus at its core. NJDH has implemented a sophisticated repository architecture (Fedora) and metadata implementation to insure long-term management and availability of the resources in its care. In addition, digital file creation standards for NJDH represent or exceed current best practices in the digital archiving field. Participating in NJDH is a solid strategy for incorporating digital preservation into your collection management activities.

4. Supporting the Development of the Organization's Digital Collection Development Program

Developing a digital collection effort is labor intensive and very much a learning experience, with the opportunity to make many mistakes along the way. You will want to select a useful collection, but also a collection that supports the organization's own learning and development objectives. You will want to select a collection that can be technically supported (digitized, cataloged and made available over the web) by your organization or by a consortial initiative, such as New Jersey Digital Highway. An organization just starting out may want to develop a strategy for collection selection and digitization issues first, rather than developing a full repository infrastructure. Selecting a collection that can support the mission of a consortial repository, such as New Jersey Digital Highway, can be an excellent strategy for beginning the digital collections learning process.

Any collection selected should support your users but also your organization's learning curve for developing digital projects. If you are just beginning a digital library initiative, you will want to select a collection that is fairly small, consisting of simple (one-piece) objects, in stable physical condition, with few surprises (oversized materials, materials of uncertain origin, etc.), etc. Photographs, postcards, and one-page textual documents, such as letters or records, are a good choice. You should also select a collection with good contextual information, so that you are not spending your time researching the collection instead of learning the technology and developing a digital workflow for your organization.


Libraries and Archives Canada. Collection Development Framework: Collecting Principles.

National Information Standards Organization (NISO). A Framework of Guidance for Building Good Digital Collections. 2nd edition, 2004.

Harvard University. Selection for Digitization: a Decision-Making Matrix.

Library of Congress. Selection Criteria for Preservation Digital Reformatting.

IMLS Bookmark and Share