Introduction and context

1. Introduction

“Born digital” refers to content created digitally or electronically, and without an analogue original or equivalent. Increasingly the material and content being created by New Zealanders, and collected by New Zealand Aotearoa cultural heritage organisations across the Gallery, Library, Archives, and Museum (GLAM) sector will be born digital. Collecting, managing, and preserving this born digital archival and special collections material creates new challenges and opportunities for New Zealand’s cultural heritage organisations.

The National Library of New Zealand (NLNZ) has had a digital collecting program and presence in New Zealand for over ten years. We have recognised increased requests for advice and assistance by other organisations, however we had little non-anecdotal evidence or data about the levels and kinds of born digital collecting already taking place in New Zealand. So in 2016 the National Library of New Zealand undertook an environmental scan of the current state of “born digital” archival and special collections material across the country. We wanted first to uncover data about how well prepared and positioned the GLAM sector is to collect and preserve these collections in memory institutions, and second to measure New Zealand’s progress against international benchmarks.

1.1 Defining our terms

For this survey we were particularly interested in “born digital” archival and special collections content.

We defined archival and special collections material broadly as “that material, in any format, held in archives and special collections, whether these collections are held by libraries, archives, museums, historical societies, or other institutions.” (1)

We defined born digital to survey recipients as: “content that is created and managed in a digital form and has no analogue original.” (2) Examples of born digital material include: digital photographs, digital documents, digital manuscripts, electronic records, static data sets, dynamic data, digital art, digital oral histories, digital audio and video, and digital media. It is worth noting that while these definitions were included in all survey communications, a number of calls and emails were received asking for clarification and more details about what exactly born digital means and how it differs from digital material generally. This indicates that, at least in some areas, there is and has been a lack of exposure and familiarity with the concept of born-digital collecting.

2. Summary of key findings

The survey reveals that while the vast majority of New Zealand GLAMs are collecting or expect to soon be collecting born-digital material, far fewer have the policy, staffing, and infrastructure in place to care for these collections. A key theme running throughout responses and across institutional type and size was the lack of staff with the knowledge and expertise to manage born-digital archival material.

The vast majority of New Zealand cultural institutions hold born-digital archival material (81%) and even more (86%) expect to be collecting and managing born-digital material in the next two years, with 100% of university libraries reporting that they expect to be collecting born-digital in the next two years.

All institutions reported expecting to collect more born-digital content in the near future.

New Zealand survey respondents identified lack of staff expertise as their main impediment to collecting and managing born-digital materials, and ranked building staff expertise as their highest requirement for future born-digital collecting.

Survey respondents reported their greatest impediment to digital collecting is staff with the necessary training and expertise (61%), followed closely by time to plan, funding, and technical infrastructure.

While the majority of New Zealand institutions are collecting or are responsible for born-digital archival material, only 32% reported having a plan or strategy already in place.

Born-digital content is held in diverse genres across New Zealand, however most institutions (77%) reported holding digital photographs, 50% held digital audio and video, and more than 45% held born-digital oral histories, archival organisational records, email archives, and reports and publications.

88.7% of institutions currently holding born-digital material reported holding that material on physical digital media. Obsolete physical digital media carriers, such as 5.25” and 3.5” floppy disks, are held by 33% and 60% of these institutions respectively. However only 33% reported currently transferring any born-digital content to a more secure and stable environment.

53% of institutions have one or fewer persons responsible for working with born-digital content.

Looking 10-15 years into the future, survey respondents ranked building staff expertise with born-digital material and better technical infrastructure as their top requirements.

3. Overview of survey methodology

We undertook this survey in the hopes that uncovering the current state of born-digital collecting in New Zealand might be useful for organisations interested in setting strategic priorities, and might support more informed decision-making. Data collected by OCLC in similar (though broader) studies of research libraries across North America and the United Kingdom uncovered some current trends in collecting practice. That data has been used to support decision-making, set strategic priorities and develop collaborative projects. (3) This survey has been designed to act as an environmental scan, identifying some of the norms, gaps, and challenges across New Zealand when it comes to collecting, managing, and preserving born-digital archival materials.

Using a combination of both quantitative and qualitative research questions, the survey was drafted to provide data about the current management of born-digital content across New Zealand. A number of open ended questions were included to draw out ideas, trends, and challenges faced by GLAM sector professionals across the country. The early draft was developed following a literature scan of recent survey research in the area of born digital collecting internationally. (4) Further questions were developed to account for specific questions the Digital Archivists and Web Archivists at the Alexander Turnbull Library wanted to ask. The initial draft survey questions were then sent out for peer review among digital specialists both within the NLNZ and outside the Library. Following feedback and refinement, the survey questions were finalised in May 2016.

The survey was sent directly to organisational contacts across New Zealand in late May 2016 and was open for three weeks. The survey population attempted to account for all cultural heritage institutions in New Zealand that could hold archival or special collections materials. The survey was accordingly sent out to a list of institutions compiled from Museums Aotearoa’s Museum Directory, Archives New Zealand’s Directory of Archives in New Zealand, and the National Library’s Directory of New Zealand Libraries. Two weeks prior to the survey being sent out, a letter was sent apprising contacts that the survey was imminent and requesting any alternate nominations for people to complete the survey. The survey was also publicised through the New Zealand Library listserv (NZlibs) and the listserv for New Zealand Archives and Records professionals (NZrecs), again asking for suggestions of contacts who may be interested in participating in the survey; these calls resulted in a number of further institutional contacts.

The online survey included a total of fifty-two questions covering eight main areas. These were:

  1. The institutional make-up of survey respondents
  2. Basic information about the extent of born digital collections
  3. Management of born digital collections
  4. Digital systems and strategies
  5. Web archives
  6. Born digital processing and workflows
  7. Staffing
  8. Access to born digital archival collections

There were a total of 107 valid and complete responses from a total population of 371; the response rate was 29%.

Once the survey closed, results and data from multiple choice and selection questions were automatically collated and reports, tables, and charts were generated by the survey program, SurveyMonkey. Incomplete and duplicate survey responses were filtered out before analysis of results began. Because none of the questions were required, and because some of the answers to specific questions would filter a respondent’s follow-up questions, not all respondents answered all questions.


  1. This definition is borrowed from the OCLC report by Jackie Dooley and Kathreine Luce, Taking our Pulse: The OCLC Research Survey on Special Collections and Archives, OCLC Research, October 2010, p16. ^
  1. Richard Pearce-Moses, “Born digital” in Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology, Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2005, and Ricky Erway, “Defining ‘Born Digital’: An Essay” (pdf, 35KB), OCLC Inc., November 2010. ^
  1. OCLC Research, Survey of Special Collections and Archives in US and Canada. ^
  1. Beside the OCCL survey reports, see also: Gerhard Jan Nauta and Wietske van den Heuvel on behalf of the Europeana/ENUMERATE, Survey Report on Digitisation in European Cultural Heritage Institutions 2015 (pdf, 1MB), June 2015; Wilbert Helmus, Survey on selection and collecting strategies of born digital heritage – best practices and guidelines (pdf, 113KB), UNESCO-Persist, March 2015; and Rachel Appel, Alison Clemens, Wendy Hagenmaier, and Jessica Meyerson, Born Digital Access in Archival Repositories: Mapping the Current Landscape, Preliminary Report, August 2015. ^