The No-nonsense Guide to Born Digital Content

Apr 2018 | 256pp

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The No-nonsense Guide to Born Digital Content

Heather Ryan and Walker Sampson

This book offers a comprehensive, entry-level guide that focuses explicitly on how to collect and manage born-digital content for ‘boots on the ground’ practitioners.

Libraries and archives of all sizes are collecting and managing an increasing proportion of digital content. Within this body of digital content is a growing pool of ‘born-digital’ content: content that has been created and has often existed solely in digital form. Providing continued, sustainable access to a wide array of born-digital content is a challenge for libraries and archives, particularly because of the broad and highly technical skills needed to build and sustain born-digital content management workflows.

The No-Nonsense Guide to Born Digital Content provides an entry level how-to guide that aims to help ease inexperienced students and practitioners into this area. It explains step by step processes for developing and implementing born-digital content workflows in library and archive settings of all sizes and includes a range of case studies collected from small, medium and large institutions internationally.


  • the wide range of digital storage media and why this is different to, and similar to, existing content
  • the various sources of born-digital content and how they are appraised and considered for collection
  • retrieving and preparing content to allow it to be brought into the library or archive
  • storage systems and applying archival arrangement philosophies
  • description, preservation and access
  • methods for designing workflows for born-digital collection processing
  • strategies and philosophies to move forward as technologies change.

This book will be useful reading for LIS and archival students and professionals who are working with, or plan to work with, born digital content. It will also be of interest to museum professionals, data managers, data scientists, and records managers. 

List of figures and tables
Foreword - Trevor Owens
List of abbreviations


What is born-digital content?
Why is this important?
About the book
Additional resources
Representing the world of libraries and archives

1. Digital information basics

What is digital information?
Digital file types
Storage media
Command line basics
Code repositories
Further reading

2. Selection

Types of born-digital content
Format- versus content-driven collecting decisions
Mission statements, collecting policies, and donor agreements
Gift agreements
Stanford University’s approach to selection in web archiving
Further reading

3. Acquisition, accessioning and ingest

Principles in acquisition
Acquisition of born-digital material on a physical carrier
Checksums and checksum algorithms
Acquisition of network-born materials 
Further reading

4. Description

General fields and types of information
Descriptive standards and element sets
General element sets
Descriptive systems
Use cases
Further reading

5. Digital preservation storage and strategies

A note on acquisition
A note on file formats
Thinking about storage
Digital preservation policy
Further reading

6. Access

Deciding on your access strategy
Methods of access
Use case
Further reading

7. Designing and implementing workflows

A note on tools
Design principles
Workflow and policy
Case study
Further reading

8. New and emerging areas in born-digital materials

Technology in general
Software and apps
Cloud technologies
Digital art and new media
Emerging descriptive and access methods
Growing your skills
Further reading


Appendix A – Resources

Appendix B - Basic unix command line prompts




Heather Ryan is the Director of Special Collections, Archives and Preservation and Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado Boulder Libraries. She earned her PhD in Information and Library Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She started her career in libraries as a library aid when she was 13, went on to a career as a graphic designer and web architect, and has since been working in the libraries and archives fields for over ten years. 

Walker Sampson is the Digital Archivist at the University of Colorado Boulder Libraries. He earned his MS in Information Science at the University of Texas at Austin before beginning work at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in 2011. He’s been doing the digital archives dance in Colorado since 2014.

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