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Meta-Module #2: Working with Digital Collections

This "meta-module" introduces some tools and resources for finding and creating digital collections, as well as methods for utilizing collections for digitally-inflected research and teaching.

Estimated Completion Time = 5 hours


  • Increased understanding of the affordances of print versus digital media for research and teaching
  • Improved familiarity with existing repositories and platforms for managing digital materials (either born-digital or digitized)
  • Improved ability to evaluate digital projects and collections


Digital scholarship methodologies generally require data to be in digital form for analysis and display, whether that data consists of text and numbers or other common formats such as images, audio, or video. For this reason, digital scholarship projects also commonly involve the creation of digital materials, either through digitization or through the generation of born-digital artifacts. Since the "digital turn"1 in the humanities and social sciences, the long-term preservation of digital materials created throughout the lifespan of a digital project has become a central concern for both digital scholarship practitioners and academic libraries that support or partner on digital projects.2

Online collections of digital materials are therefore a fundamental component of digital scholarship, and numerous technologies have been developed over the past few decades to assist in managing and preserving digital collections as well as sharing them online. From archives and collections management software to repository platforms and web content management systems (CMS), a variety of both open and proprietary tools are available that can help researchers and institutions manage their digital collections and make them available for a wide audience to view or interact with online.

While this module directly addresses only one commonly used platform for working with digital collections - Omeka - the readings and activities introduce some fundamental issues, approaches, and theoretical concepts that are critical for understanding digital collections within the context of academic libraries.

1 Mills, Kathy Ann. 2010. "A Review of the “Digital Turn” in the New Literacy Studies." Review of Educational Research 80 (2): 246–271.
2 Russell, Kelly, Ellis Weinberger, and Andy Stone. 1999. "Preserving digital scholarship: the future is now." Learned Publishing 12 (4): 271-280.


  • Complete SSRC Module 5: Building Digital Collections

  • Additional Readings

  • Review the SSRC's list of Digital Collections

    • Select and explore 2 or 3 collections that are unfamiliar to you
    • Consider the following questions for the collections you selected:
      • Who created this collection - was it an individual, a project team, an academic institution, a non-profit organization, a commercial publisher, etc.? How might the authorship of a collection impact how it is organized or how it might be used?
      • Can you determine the criteria for the inclusion of materials in this collection?
      • Who is responsible for maintaining this collection? Is it static or continuously developing?
      • What kind of funding model supports the collection - short-term grant funding, ongoing institutional support, or some combination? How might the funding model affect the availability of the materials in this collection, if a researcher relies on these materials for their research or teaching?
  • Skim the SSRC article on Picking a Platform for a Digital Project, for content management systems that are useful for digital collections (especially Omeka and Mukurtu)

  • Explore the resources on Always Already Computational - Collections As Data

    • Read the Santa Barbara Statement on Collections as Data
    • Select and explore 2 or 3 Collections as Data "Facets". These are examples of ways that libraries, museums, and archives are developing practices, infrastructure, and services to encourage the computational use of digital collections.
    • Consider the following questions for the facets you selected:
      • What issues or practical concerns was this implementation of Collections as Data responding to within its institutional context? Does it attempt to address the needs of a particular community or physical collection?
      • What would your library require to implement Collections as Data practices, and are there communities at your institution that might benefit from such services?
  • "Meta" Questions to Consider

    • What digital collections does your library make available to its users, and how might the user interfaces for those collections impact the experience of utilizing the collections for research or teaching?
    • How is your library currently engaging campus communities or public audiences with your digital collections? How might (or how do) your digital collections support digital scholarship work at your institution?
  • Short Reflection

    • Take a few minutes and try to articulate what you will take away from the readings, activities, and resources covered in this module. What is one concept that you feel you now understand better? One topic that was completely new to you? One question you would like to explore further?

Additional Resources

Useful lists of online collections

Resources for selecting a digital collections platform

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