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Program Digital Collections Management

Processing Digital Collection Content

This guidance defines criteria and levels of processing for digital content at the Library of Congress.

Digital content that is selected and acquired for the Library of Congress’ permanent collection then is taken through various other actions by digital content managers, which allows the Library to “process” the content. These actions include describing content, preparing it for inventorying in approved inventory systems, sustaining the content via the Library’s inventory and storage systems, and finally making the content accessible. In this context, "processing" represents the series of activities necessary to move digital content from an initial decision to select it, through to its management as part of the Library’s collection. Digital “processed content” is fully managed as part of the Library’s collection, meaning it is inventoried, described, and made available to users through the appropriate standards and methods.

Staff across the Library of Congress collaborate to accomplish the efficient performance of both routine and nonstandard processing tasks to ensure long term management and access to digital collection materials.

Four criteria for processed digital collection content

Digital content is considered processed when it is inventoried, organized, described, and available to users. Processing requires that digital content is:

  1. Inventoried in an approved digital content inventory system. This is essential to make sure content is not at risk of loss
  2. Organized in a meaningful structure. This is essential to make sure the content is comprehensible in relation to how it is described.
  3. Described in an approved metadata system. This is essential to enable discovery and access. Generally, this step includes the identification and assignment of an appropriate unique identifier, which is usually, though not always, a Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN).
  4. Accessible in an approved system that enables discovery. This is essential for making materials available to users.

Processed Content Meets All Four Criteria

Each of the four criteria are essential to ensure enduring access to digital collection content. To this end, when any of these criteria are not appropriately met, the content should be considered unprocessed.

For example, if the Library hosts and provides access to uninventoried content, that material is considered unmanaged and is not yet part of the permanent collection. Without being properly inventoried during processing, the content is considered at risk of loss since it is not under appropriate administrative or custodial control. Likewise, content that is fully inventoried, organized, and described will not be considered as processed if access remains undetermined or unavailable.

Good practice includes reporting on and tracking each of the four criteria individually, as it allows for the quick identification of incomplete processing tasks.

Appropriate Levels of Processing Vary by Content Type and Purpose

Any content that is considered to be processed must meet all four criteria. Certain factors, generally related to content type, as well as the objectives of a particular project, collection, or program, may impact the level of processing assigned to digital collection materials. For example, eBooks should be processed as individual titles or volumes, but resource limitations may reduce capabilities for creating comparably robust amounts of accompanying metadata at that level of granularity. Similarly, some digitized content from reels of microfilm may be deemed to be best inventoried, organized, described, and managed at the reel level, while other content digitized from microfilm might be described or organized differently in accordance with the format of the content that was originally microfilmed. Given that eResource material is often made available by a third party, the bulk data received from eResource vendors may be inventoried and described in bulk in its original order until a time comes where it would warrant further processing. 

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