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Virtually New - Creating the Digital Collection : a review of digitisation projects in local authority libraries and archives. Final Report to the Library and Information Commission. Prepared by Consultants to the Review, Information North. Report by David Parry. London: Library and Information Commission. 1998. 129 pages. A4 Comb Binding. ISBN 1 902394 00 3. £15.45 (inc. UK post & packaging; international at cost)

Available From: Information North, Bolbec Hall, Westgate Road, Newcastle upon Tyne, England NE1 1SE Tel: ++ (0)191 232 0877 Fax: ++(0)191 232 0804 E-mail: ce24@dial.pipex.com    A WORD file of the complete report is also available.

One of the key elements in the British Government's strategy outlined in New Library: the People's Network, and in the Library and Information Commission's 20/20 Vision statement is the digitisation of hard copy material in libraries. The objective is to make key resources available at local, regional, national and global levels.

Virtually New - Creating the Digital Collection was commissioned by the LIC to provide an overview of digitisation activity in UK public libraries and archives; together with a review of progress in other sectors. It includes a Directory of Digitisation Projects in UK local authority libraries and archives; and an annotated bibliography and URL list.

Key issues and problems are discussed and the report of a focus group of senior librarians and other professionals is included.

Virtually New's key conclusion is that the public library sector urgently needs a central source of expertise in digitisation. The aim of the resource would be to identify current standards and best practice and avoid duplication of effort. Amongst its roles it would facilitate the networking of content and co-operation between libraries; maintain a record of collections digitised, and advise on technical, data and preservation standards and methodologies.

Virtually New also recommends creating, automating and networking catalogues and finding aids; and identifies the need for both targeted external funding sources and the selection of content for digitisation and funding.

There is a useful section on copyright and intellectual copyright issues.

A brief scan through the Directory shows the extent of both current and proposed activity, and also, incidentally, the wide variety of funders, from the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust to the Foundation for Sports and Arts. This information is potentially of high value to those authorities looking for possible funding agencies.

The potential reliance on the Heritage Lottery Fund. (HLF) for individual projects comes across strongly although a statement on the role of the fund (section 8.3) casts some doubts on whether it would be available for the 'umbrella' projects or co-ordinating agency envisaged by the Report.

The relationship between Virtually New and the more recent Building the New Library Network is not altogether clear and some of the issues raised in Virtually New remain unresolved in the later Report. Virtually New's chapter on funding certainly needs to be read in conjunction with Chapters 5 and 6 and Appendix 5 of Building the New Library Network.

As a record of the state of digitisation in British public libraries at the beginning of 1998 this Report is invaluable. The information included is of practical value for any library searching for funding partners or making decisions on criteria for selection or digitisation standards. For any library authority concerned about the future and potential for individual digitisation projects this Report is essential reading.


  • Library & Information Commission. Building the New Library Network. London: LIC, 1998
  • Library & Information Commission. New Library: the People's Network. London: LIC, 1997.
  • Library & Information Commission. 20/20 Vision. London: LIC, 1997

Richard Proctor
Department of Information Studies
University of Sheffield