Digital collections

The digital collection services of the Williams College Special Collections seeks to collect, manage, preserve and disseminate digital objects that support the educational mission of the College, are in need of preservation, are part of the history of the College, and are rare and unique.

The development of digital collections is in keeping with Special Collections’ intention to describe, arrange, digitize, and disseminate our collections and to provide “the retention, preservation, and research use of its collections.” Digital collection development involves Special Collections and others as appropriate.

Digital Collections are composed of digital objects, whether born-digital or digitized, regardless of item type. Text, audio, still and moving images, datasets, etc. are all included. Collecting activities focus on content that can be made accessible to a wide audience. In some cases we may need to restrict access to the College’s records in order to adhere to copyright laws or restriction periods.


The focus of the Williams College’s Digital Collections is unique or rare content from collections owned by Special Collections or the College at large. Unique and rare content may be created through digitization of selected analog materials or through the transfer of born-digital content. Williams College Digital Collections may also include other types of open access scholarly materials (for example, data sets, data visualizations, creative works, working papers, preprints, publications, etc.) as the need arises.

Items and collections encouraged:
  1. Be produced, submitted or sponsored by Williams College faculty, staff, or students.
  2. Be scholarly, research-oriented, pedagogical, or illuminate the history of the College and support the overall educational mission of Williams College.
  3. Have enduring value.
  4. Have copyright clearance if the copyright is not held by the submitter/s or Williams College.
  5. Comply with local, state and federal content and privacy laws, and with College policies and standards of conduct.
Special Collections is highly supportive of collections that:
  1. Represent the cultural, geographic, economic, and political diversity of Williams College.
  2. Constitute objects for which access would be improved by inclusion in Special Collections: linking between items, innovative ways to comprehend the material, etc.
  3. May be difficult to access physically.
  4. Comprise materials that are in need of preservation.
  5. Complement existing digital content.
  6. Have materials that are dispersed.

As a rule, we do not digitize or accept digitized versions of inactive analog records of enduring value that have not been officially transferred to the Special Collections, though Special Collections reserves the right to make exceptions if warranted. While the Library and the Center for Educational Technology (CET) will continue to digitize non-unique images for teaching based on faculty demand, those materials are not in scope for this document. This document will be reviewed periodically and updated as needed.


Special Collections is responsible for the selection, creation, delivery, and preservation of the digital collections. We adhere to national and international community-based standards and best practices, including A Framework of Guidance for Building Good Digital Collections (NISO) and the Federal Agencies Digitization Initiative Still Image Working Group’s Technical Guidelines for Digitizing Cultural Heritage Materials (FADGI), in all our work.

Through our small digital production studio and the outsourcing of special formats, Special Collections is responsible for programmatic digitization of rare and unique materials. In other words, we produce preservation-quality digital objects as part of the development of coherent digital collections that support the mission of Special Collections and the College. Digitization decisions will be guided in part by the Collection Development Policy for Special Collections, which outlines specific subject areas collected and states the department’s commitment to “to appraise, collect, organize, describe, preserve, and make available the College’s records of permanent administrative, legal, fiscal, and historical value.”

Selecting content, whether born-digital or digitized, is only one piece in the ongoing process of building digital collections. The development and management of digital collections also involves project management and strategic planning; metadata architecture, creation, and management; the development and use of Williams Digital Collections and ArchivesSpace to create, manage, preserve, and deliver digital content; and the ongoing assessment of digital collections and the previously mentioned services. We work closely with other units in the Williams College Libraries and the Office of Information Technology (OIT) to develop and realize our goals, and collaborate with other units in the College and with external institutions and organizations when appropriate.

Personal Archiving

We encourage potential contributors interested in digitizing their own content in preparation to be added to Special Collections, to coordinate with the Digital Resources Archivist/Records Manager in advance to establish the correct digitization methods.

Associated Analog Material

Inactive records of enduring value, held in analog form in offices and departments on campus (regardless of whether those records have already been digitized by the current holder), must be transferred to Special Collections before that content can be added to the digital collections. This is in keeping with the ongoing role of Special Collections, allowing staff to have continued access to analog original materials in case re-digitization is ever necessary.

Organization and Metadata

Special Collections will collect and produce metadata to describe collections and items in our collections. Different schema may be employed to support different projects/collections. Metadata Object Description Schema (MODS) is the Special Collections standard schema.

Collections must be organized and described before it can be digitized. Books must be cataloged. archives, records, and manuscript materials must be processed and have a resource record in ArchivesSpace, though item-level metadata may be created as part of the development of a digital collection. Metadata must follow current digital collections standards, as well as guidelines developed by Special Collections.


Digitization activities will likely fall into one of three categories:

  • Ongoing digitization of entire collections or large portions of collections- Ongoing digitization is carried out by the Digital Resources Archivist/Records Manager and student workers. These projects are generally not subject to specific deadlines.
  • Specially-funded digitization projects made possible through grants or gifts- These may involve additional short-term staff and will likely be subject to specific deadlines and special project parameters.
  • Scan on Demand- Digitization based on user requests of materials that are rare or unique, fit the selection criteria, and receive regular use. This includes material requested by researchers using Special Collections and by faculty for teaching purposes.


As the designated repository for rare books, records of the College, select professional work of its faculty and alumni, and other collections in support of the curriculum, Special Collections assumes primary responsibility for long term preservation of its digital holdings. 

Select digital collection material is available through Williams Digital Collections, the public interface that houses archival material, theses, faculty work, and publications. Additionally, we provide access to born digital materials in the Weber reading room and remotely in accordance with the the Digital Library Federation’s Levels of Born Digital Access.

Maintenance and Removal

These guidelines are designed in part to ensure the development of digital collections that are of high quality, useful and usable, and cohesive. It is possible, however, that individual objects or entire collections may need to be removed or de-accessioned for reasons of violation of copyright or copyright dispute, inaccurate data or facts, collection weeding, storage, or the material is no longer in support of the Williams scholarly community. These decisions will be made in conjunction with the Digital Resources Archivist/Records Manager, Archivist, Director of Libraries, and others as appropriate and will be handled on a case by case basis. Under some circumstances, objects will be removed from view, but to avoid loss of the historical record, all such transactions will be traced in the form of a note in the metadata.