Some Considerations When Proposing a Digital Project

An Essay of the LISNews Summer Series

At the Detroit Area Library Network (DALNET), we are often asked by member libraries to help them design digital projects. Everyone may have a different idea of what a digital project is: creating new content, organizing access to existing online content, digitizing existing collections, etc. So, in addtion to consulting with our members, over the years we have created several handouts about things to consider when you are thinking about creating a digital project. Since my last blog article was about the effects of the digital world on library systems I thought in this article I would talk about some of the planning elements that we have suggested to our libraries when they are creating digital content.

1. Scope of the project

I think it is important to start with defining the scope of the project. To define the scope of a project it may be useful to answer these types of questions:

• What is the purpose of the project; why are you creating this new project?

• What material should be included in the proposed digital project? Is the project duplicative of other existing digital material?

• Is the project finite in the scope of materials to be included or will it be an ongoing effort to digitize new materials?

• Who will have access to the project/information created? Will the project only be accessible to internal constituents or will the project be open to anyone online? Check out the Open Content Alliance.

2. Project Costs

Of course you have to think about financing before you get too far involved. Think about who will incur the costs for the project or how will the project costs be paid for? How will the project be maintained or sustained financially? Make sure to consider these costs that may be associated with creating and maintaining the digital project:

• Equipment
• Personnel
• Preservation materials
• Maintenance, hosting, and access of the project
• Legal and/or registration fees

3. Copyright

Libraries know all about copyright, right? Make sure creation of your project does not violate copyright. Consider:

• Who owns copyright of the materials to be included in the digital project?

• What steps may be necessary to acquire permissions for creating digital copies of materials to be included in the digital project?

• What costs may be associated with acquiring copyright permissions?

• Check out: the U.S. Copyright Office, Is It Protected By Copyright? slide rule, and the Section 108 spinner

4. Standards and systems to employ

In libraries, any project undertaken should follow standards and defined systems; we are the organizers of information! Sometimes, however, it can be a task to select which ones to use! Try thinking about:

• What type of software/database will be used?

• What standard for a metadata scheme will be chosen if relevant? Dublin Core, MARC, Encoded Archive Description (EAD), others . . .

• Accessibility considerations: W3C/WCAG, Open Archives, etc.

• What steps will be taken to ensure that selected standards are employed once they are selected?

5. Work Responsibilities, Timelines, and Target Dates

Perhaps its a given that part of the project plan has to include who will do all the work. But make sure to consider these areas:

• Who will contribute to the content and creation of the project? In what way will each participant be involved?

• What policies should be developed to guide content contribution?

• Who will be responsible for project oversight?

• Who will be responsible for maintaining the project? Will the project need continual review or will the project have a “completion date?”

• What are the target dates for staff access and public access? Are these dates the same or different?

6. Marketing and Review

Don't forget about marketing and review. Any business venture or new product needs marketing to be successful. Whether by word of mouth or through conventional and/or online tools think about how your project will be marketed. Make sure the marketing is part of the project plans you have created for work assignments and timelines.

Be prepared to review the success of your project. Define how the use or usefulness of the project will be reviewed before you start. Will you be able to get statistics from the system you have selected? Make sure that you will be able to review the project in a way that is important to you and your constituents.

7. Get going on your new digital projects! Have fun! Create new and unique information resources that show why you library is valued!

If you would like to get some ideas for projects, check out the DALNET Digital Projects page. What are your ideas for projects or for digital preparation of digital project plans?


Steven K. Bowers received his Master of Library and Information Science from Wayne State University. He presently is Executive Director of the Detroit Area Library Network (DALNET).  He was named a Library Journal Mover & Shaker in 2008.

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