This is the second part of a two post set commenting on the OSUL’s new Digital Initiatives Program Guiding Principles.  In the first post ( I discussed some of the background and reasoning behind the development of the Guiding Principles.  Today’s post provides the principles and tries to briefly unpack how these Principles will impact the decisions being made around digital initiatives at OSUL.


Earlier this week, I provided some information around the process that the SDIWG ( and the OSUL had taken around the development of a set of Guiding Principles for the Digital Initiatives Program.  The goal in developing the Principles is to provide a framework for evaluating how the OSUL expands and develops its digital initiatives program and infrastructure.  As noted previously, the OSUL has undertaken a number of digital initiatives projects throughout the years.  These projects have led to the digitization of countless digital objects, partnerships with faculty, and exceptional digital resources that are being used every day to support the teaching and research mission of the university.  At the same time, these projects were just that – project based.  By and large, the OSUL’s digital initiatives infrastructure is made up of a conglomeration of siloed solutions that meet the needs of very specific projects, but offer the library minimal opportunity to look more holistically at our collections.  In my presentation to AdminPlus[1], I included the following slide:

Applications in Use for digital library projects

This slide represents a small, incomplete list of the applications being utilized to host digital library collections/services and represents current individual silos of information within our infrastructure.  These silos complicate a number of critical processes, including the ability to simplify discovery of local collections, the creation of sustainable digital exhibits, flexibility in our reformatting efforts, and long-term preservation that goes beyond simple byte-level validation.  As the library looks to expand both the creation and reach of our digital assets, taking a closer look at how we can make some deliberate choices around our larger digital initiatives architecture should provide benefits throughout the OSUL.

The Principles

The document has been broken down into the following 11 Guiding Principles[2].

We build services, not products
The OSU Libraries’ digital infrastructure will be conceived around the philosophy that the Libraries should be investing in the development of services, not one-off development projects.  This represents the natural maturation of the OSUL’s Digital Initiatives Program; moving from an environment that was tied to individual digitization projects and products, to a programmatic architectural approach that considers the issues of long-term sustainability, interoperability, preservation, and accessibility of resources at OSUL and beyond.   This approach should allow for the Libraries’ sharing and leveraging of data to provide better integration, access, and discovery of content.

We carefully weigh when to Build versus Buy versus Borrow
The development of the Libraries digital infrastructure must recognize the needs of the institution and weigh them against the Libraries’ desire to promote a culture of open access and open source development, and the Libraries’ current capacity to develop and support new services and systems.  The development of the Libraries’ Digital Initiatives Program will occur along a continuum of options, where tools and systems are selected based on the Libraries’ needs, support capacity, and a system or tool’s “fit” within the present environment.

We develop modular services, not monolithic systems
The Libraries’ Digital Initiatives Program will be developed around the philosophy that systems designed around modular services and components ultimately will provide a greater level of flexibility and encourage long-term innovation over traditional monolithic systems.  The Libraries’ will utilize a “plug and play” philosophy, where systems and tools are simply building blocks of a larger whole.  This approach will provide the Libraries with the greatest flexibility by allowing the Libraries to continuously evaluate the blocks that make up the larger architecture, and replace components and tools as new, better options become available.

We develop for change
In order to be successful over the long-term, the Libraries’ Digital Initiatives Program will adopt a philosophy of continual change.  The simple truth is, nothing is forever.  Whether it is the digital object and the need to refresh or migrate formats as standards change, or the iterative and incremental development of systems, services, and tools, the technology and processes that make up the Libraries’ Digital Initiatives Program will always remain in a state of flux.  By recognizing this fact, the Libraries’ will adopt a vision of iterative development.  This vision will be marked by the following tenets:

  • All things evolve – Regardless of the format, the system, or the people managing and developing a system, things will always be in a state of flux.  We acknowledge that and accept it as a part of the architectural design.
  •  Plan for continuous improvements – The Libraries will use an agile approach to systems development, adopting a philosophy of iterative development: release soon and release often, allowing the Libraries to move quickly and anticipate new needs and services.
  • It’s OK to fail – In systems development, a certain amount of risk exists.  It’s easy to react to trends, but difficult to anticipate future needs without experimentation.  Failure in this context is acceptable and periodically expected, so long as the Libraries is able to learn through the process, fail fast, and fail forward, and not lose managed content.
  • Anticipating End-Of-Life – Whether it is a data format, a tool, a system component, services, or a best practice – anticipating the migration of data, systems, and workflows is a universal constant when working within a digital environment.  The Libraries will minimize the impact of these disruptions by proactively planning and preparing for these inevitable technology shifts.

We don’t keep everything forever
While libraries understand the need to curate traditional print collections, few apply those principles of curation to the digital environment.  The simple fact is, the Libraries will not maintain all digital data forever, and the Libraries’ digital programs will need to provide a clear process for managing the life cycle of the content that the Libraries curates as part of the OSUL’s Digital Preservation Framework.  However, this goes beyond curation of content.  Technology moves at a rapid pace, and the projects and services created, used, and supported by the OSUL will need to change as well.  The Libraries’ Digital Initiatives Program must be able to thrive in this ever changing environment, and include clear assessment metrics and documented exit procedures.

We will build in assessment
The Digital Initiatives Program will embed assessment into its processes.  Utilizing available data, stories, and user feedback, the Program will seek to continually assess Program strengths, weaknesses, and needs as it moves forward.

We focus on the user
The OSUL will strive to create a user friendly environment, developing intuitive services, and systems that support the Libraries’ strategic mission in advancing discovery and learning.  Utilizing techniques such as focus groups, user feedback, and testing, the OSUL will strive to provide a superior, user-focused environment.

  • We work with partners
    A digital initiatives program is a very complex undertaking, and its success will depend upon leveraging partnerships within the Libraries, across the University, and with stakeholders external to OSU.

    • Partners, not customers:  One of the benefits of adopting an agile development environment is the necessity for close partnerships between IT departments (Digital Initiatives, Applications Development & Support, and Infrastructure Support) and the Libraries as a whole.  Going forward, the expectation is that librarians and IT will work collaboratively throughout the life-cycle of a project.
    • Excellence to Eminence:  As the University and the OSUL strive to embrace the move from excellence to eminence, one aspect of that transformation is the participation in large, national and international collaborations.  Nationally and internationally, issues related to digital initiatives, preservation, semantic data, repositories, etc. are being actively researched.  OSUL must strive to find a place at that table, and look for strategic opportunities to build new and exciting partnerships outside the University, and with the larger library community.

We embrace research as a core, fundamental value
One of the fundamental purposes of a university is to cultivate research at all levels, including systems development.  This goes beyond the development of new services to considering the fundamental shifts occurring in libraries and positioning the OSUL to be a significant contributor and valued partner as the library community wrestles with these issues.  The need to research, experiment, and push boundaries must be a core part of the program.  

We strive to stay grounded in the real world
The pace of technological change can be dizzying as is the wide range of new services, systems, and best practices available.  The Digital Initiatives Program will seek to cultivate an environment of experimentation and innovation, while staying grounded in the knowledge that local needs must be met.  While these two values can sometimes clash, the Program will seek to provide a balance between innovation and the need to bring together collections and people through the engagement and integration of scholarship and instruction.

We are driven by standards
Forecasting the future is never an exact science.  Like a meteorologist, we look at available information and make the best decisions that we can.  And while we may not always hit the mark, standards provide the touchstones that will keep the OSU Libraries grounded.  Standards apply to all areas of a digital initiatives program.   They can be found in project management and the need to utilize systematic approaches to planning and development.  Standards also inform our decisions around object formatting and reformatting, metadata schemas and vocabularies, and system interoperability and design.  The Digital Initiatives Program will work with the OSUL and its partners to help the Libraries navigate these sometimes muddy waters to ensure that we are following a best set of standards and practices.  Utilizing well-established international and national standards over locally created best practices, OSUL will strive to create an environment that will support long-term sustainability and promote interoperability between services, assets, and systems, both locally and with our partners.

How Do these Principles Impact Me?

One of the tricky things about documents like this is that it may not always be clear how they may impact the work that you do at OSUL.  It’s a fair question, the notion of digital initiatives can be quite nebulous encompassing a wide range of activities.   If these are the OSUL’s principles around its Digital Initiatives Program, how might one expect these principles to impact their work?  To answer that question, I’d like to go back to the goal of why we created the Principles…essentially, to allow the OSUL to transition towards a more deliberate digital initiative architecture that would enable the Libraries to expand its digital assets and extend the reach and impact of those materials.  In order to do that, the OSUL is undergoing an evaluation of all the components that make up its current digital architecture and applying these principles to those resources to see if they will enable the Libraries to support this vision.  This means taking a hard look at how the Libraries creates exhibits, supports digital collection curators, provides access to audio and video content, as well as examining historically internal processes like archival collection and item accessing.  Likewise, it includes looking at the ways in which the Libraries has traditionally stored and managed its metadata, as well as the mechanisms that we may or may not have in place to share and reuse the data both within the library and interested partners.  It’s also about anticipating what comes next, as we look at the current trends around interdisciplinary research in the sciences and the humanities.  The Libraries digital assets represent a wealth of information that can be mixed, mined, and visualized to produce new and exciting research – but only if Libraries’ can expose this data to researchers in a way that they can query and use.  Currently, the Library utilizes a myriad of tools, often siloed by project, to support our digital infrastructure.  As the Libraries works to move toward a less siloed and more modular environment, these siloed tools will give way to tools or services that afford the Libraries more opportunities to integrate collections, simplify long-term preservation and curation tasks, support digitization and reformatting efforts, and simplify the discovery experience around our locally created collections.

In preparing to discuss the Principles with AdminPlus, the SDIWG created a sample use case to demonstrate the types of questions that these Principles would generate, and how they would help guide the discussion around the investigation of a new repository component.  For individuals interested in getting a better understanding of how these Principles will help impact the decisions around OSUL’s Digital Initiatives Program, you can find this Use Case[3].

Finally, I realize that there will be questions….I hope that there are questions as folks look to engage with the Principles and the goals that I have set out over these two posts.  In subsequent weeks and months, the SDIWG group will continue to take to this blog to continue to discuss topics related to digital initiatives and the ongoing work at OSUL to reshape our process around these projects.  Likewise, we will be looking to directly engage with faculty and are currently identifying smaller groups and forums within the library to have what I hope will be lively and targeted discussions.  This is the first step of what I hope will be a longer, sustained conversation here at OSUL.





[1] Guiding Principles Presentation made to AdminPlus:

[2] OSU Digital Initiatives Program Guiding Principles:

[3] Applying the OSU Digital Initiatives Program Guiding Principles Use Case:

[4] SDIWG Committee Page:

[5] SDIWG Public Wiki Page: