Benchmarks and conclusion
5. New Zealand and international born digital benchmarks
While it is unfair to make too many extrapolations from comparisons to previous surveys undertaken in other countries and international regions, it is interesting to note some basic international trends for benchmarking purposes. As Figure 14 illustrates, New Zealand’s collecting levels are similar to those reported by US and Canadian institutions in OCLC’s 2010 survey, and higher than those from the 2013 OCLC UK/Ireland and the Europeana 2015 survey. However as the New Zealand survey was the only one to focus specifically on born-digital archival material, our sample may be weighted toward those more likely to already be collecting or holding born-digital content.
Figure 14: Percent of survey participants reporting born-digital holdings by survey
One of the major themes highlighted by this survey is the need and desire for more training in working with born-digital materials. New Zealand survey respondents identified lack of staff expertise as their main impediment to collecting and managing born-digital materials, as their biggest challenge, and ranked building staff expertise as their highest requirement for future born-digital collecting. These results were unsurprising as previous OCLC reports for both the United States and Canada and the United Kingdom and Ireland noted a skills gap in the area of education and training for working with born-digital materials. The 2010 US/Canada OCLC report found that 83% identified education or training in born-digital records as needed and the 2013 UK/Ireland report showed that 78% cited born-digital materials as a key area identified as needing staff development. (1)
The 2010 and 2013 OCLC reports found that born-digital collections were “undercollected, undercounted, undermanaged, unpreserved, and inaccessible.” Unfortunately, this could easily be used to describe New Zealand’s born-digital cultural heritage in 2016.
Institutions across New Zealand are collecting born-digital material, and expect to collect more in the near future. This survey has also revealed that the majority of New Zealand institutions have had researcher requests for access to these born-digital collections. However much of this cultural heritage material is not described in catalogues or collection management systems, and has not been transferred from physical carrier media. These collections are at risk of software and hardware failure and obsolescence. They lack secure management and storage, and are inaccessible to researchers.
Survey respondents identified a number of main challenges or impediments to better management of born-digital collections. Overwhelmingly institutions reported a lack of either staffing, or staffing with expertise in collecting and caring for born-digital archival content, as well as lack of funding and lack of technical infrastructure.
While acknowledging the limited funding environment that most New Zealand cultural heritage institutions experience, there are concrete short and medium term steps the GLAM sector could engage with in order to ensure these cultural heritage collections are better managed and preserved.
These results suggest that an increased focus on education and building an awareness, knowledge, and practical experience working with born-digital material should be a top priority for New Zealand GLAMs. Professional cross-sector training and improved expertise in this area are needed for organisations to feel appropriately placed to manage these collections. The survey data (and individual comments) indicate that a collaborative approach to how and what to collect, as well as guidance and assistance in developing processing workflows, would aid in better preserving and providing access now and in the future to our born-digital cultural heritage.
Thank you to the entire Digital Collection Strategy Team, and especially Leigh Rosin for reading many drafts and providing the support and encouragement to complete this research. Thank you also to my many colleagues across the National Library, who read drafts and provided feedback on the survey and report, especially members of the Preservation Research and Consultancy and Arrangement and Description Teams. Thank you to all my managers within both the Alexander Turnbull Library and the National Library leadership, who encouraged this research and gave me the time and support to complete it. Finally, thank you to Jackie Dooley at OCLC Research, who was generous with her time and encouragement, and who provided me with useful advice and thoughtful comment on the draft survey.
1. OCLC Research, Survey of Special Collections and Archives in US and Canada, OCLC Research, Survey of Special Collections and Archives in the United Kingdom and Ireland. ^