Guide

Making your digital collections easier to discover

Developing techniques to increase reach of your digital collections, optimise them for discovery and evaluate their usage and impact.

Introduction

Universities and other organisations have made considerable investment in creating collections of digitised resources for learning, teaching and research. However, these resources are not always as discoverable as they could be by online audiences.

This means that students and learners may miss opportunities to benefit from valuable primary source material. It can also limit the impact of digital collections on education and research, both locally and internationally.

This guide aims to help you make your digitised collections more discoverable and easier to use, including advice on demonstrating usage and impact of your collections.

Resource discovery in action: case studies

In 2018 Jisc commissioned Sero HE to interview academics who were actively engaging with digital archival collections in learning, teaching and research.

From embedding digital archival collections into the curriculum, to creating open educational resources to support students and researchers, to using digital tools to help students develop better skills of reflection, analysis and evaluation, these case studies demonstrate how the variety and depth of interaction with digital archives can improve pedagogy in both undergraduate and postgraduate studies in the United Kingdom.

View the resource discovery in action case studies

Digital archives built by students: inherited learning at University of Hertfordshire

Inherited learning is the latest stage of a programme to develop digital history methods in the undergraduate curriculum at the University of Hertfordshire’s history department.

Involving more members of staff than before and a range of topics, it engages students in discovering visual and textual material from online archives in response to specific remits. Learners construct the results into new archival collections that are published on the open web and used as a resource on which subsequent student cohorts can build. Harnessing students’ propensity to use digital technology in their studies, as well as generally in their lives, it puts this to use in the service of techniques integral to the evolution of the discipline and the construction of genuine historical knowledge. Read the case study (pdf).

Digital diseases: creating 3D models of human bones at the University of Bradford

Digitised diseases is a collection of 3D models of human bones created at the University of Bradford in partnership with the Royal College of Surgeons of England and Museum of London Archaeology.

The collection provides an open access resource for both students and researchers which supports the study of human osteology and palaeopathology, physical anthropology and related medical disciplines. Students can use this collection in conjunction with hands-on access to real specimens, in an innovative and integrated learning environment. Read the case study (pdf).

Turning students into scholars: embedding digital collections in the history collection at Cardiff University

Working directly with primary sources in an online digital archive, primarily the UK Medical History Library, has been embedded into the curriculum of a second year social history of medicine module at Cardiff University.

The aim is to take advantage of the accessibility of digital archives so as to introduce students to working with primary source materials early in their education, to offer a grounding in techniques associated with the digital humanities and to progress them faster towards independent research. Read the case study (pdf).

Wikimedia in the curriculum: addressing the challenges of digital and information literacy, digital scholarship and open knowledge at the University of Edinburgh

The University of Edinburgh is the first university in the UK to appoint a university-wide Wikimedian in residence. Their role is to work with course teams and students across the university, to demonstrate how learning to contribute to Wikipedia can become part of the university’s strategy to help develop information and digital literacy skills. Read the case study (pdf).

Teaching with digital archives to improve pedagogy: teaching digital history techniques to undergraduates at Loughborough University

Good teaching in a digital world requires that students learn the digital skills they need both for their studies and their future careers. With imagination and willingness to experiment, university teachers can use digital tools to help students develop better skills of reflection, analysis and evaluation.

However, experience in history at Loughborough University shows that, with imaginative use of digital archival collections, it is possible to go further, enabling students to work directly with primary sources in ways not previously feasible. Read the case study (pdf).

Observing the 80s: creating and curating a digital archive collection at University of Sussex

Observing the 80s is a collection of digitised material drawn from multiple sources including the mass observation project at the University of Sussex.

Having been created in 2013/14 as a collaborative project with undergraduate and postgraduate students working together with academic staff, librarians and IT experts, the materials are now available as an open educational resource (OER) and used for a variety of teaching purposes at the university fo Sussex, including the module "1984: Thatcher's Britain". Read the case study (pdf).

Panopticon and the people: digital approaches to the history of crime and punishment at University of Liverpool

The undergraduate module 'panopticon and the people’ was developed by Dr Zoe Alker, Lecturer in the department of sociology, social policy and criminology at the University of Liverpool. Launched in 2017/18 the module uses a range of digital archive collections, both freely available and subscription services, to engage students directly with primary sources. Read the case study (pdf).

Resource discovery in action: historical case studies

Since the launch of this guide in 2014, Jisc has worked with UK higher education academics and librarians to highlight resource discovery and the use of digital collections. The audio and written case studies created between 2014 and 2017 provide valuable insights into the methods used by academics and librarians to showcase digital collections.

View the historical case studies

Board of Longitude

Huw Jones, Cambridge University Digital Library, illustrates the huge impact that engaging with academic researchers can have on the discovery and use of digital materials through use of the Board of Longitude project. Watch the Board of Longitude case study video.

Modelling, reconstructions, virtual worlds - connecting collections, researchers and the public

Louise Hampson, the Centre for the Study of Christianity and Culture, University of York, discusses the use of modelling, reconstructions and virtual worlds to bring collections and original academic research together. Watch the digital past case study video.

In the loop

As an example of social media in action Linda Newington, University of Southampton, discusses the success of temporarily using Twitter to promote the Knitting Reference Library @intheloop3 activities. Watch the in the loop case study video.

Social media and the balanced value impact model

Focusing resource discovery activities and social media strategies at the Museum of Design and Architecture, Middlesex University using the balanced value impact model. Read the full case study (pdf).

Using Flickr to promote special collections

Uploading photographs of 19th and early 20th century China from the Sir Robert Hart Collection to Flickr by Queen's University, Belfast. Read the full case study (pdf).

Using Google Search console to track impact and use of collections

Implementing search engine optimisation (SEO) to understand users and use of special collections and the National Fairground Archive at the University of Sheffield. Read the full case study (pdf).

Using resource discovery techniques to create a user-friendly web presence

Adopting best practices in resource discovery and website design to re-launch the Museum of Rural English Life at the University of Reading. Read the full case study (pdf).

Improving student engagement with Box of Broadcasts

Promoting internal use of the Box of Broadcasts (BoB) at the University of West London to improve student engagement with the library. Read the full case study (pdf).

Promoting use of The Education Times Collection

Maximising visibility and the impact of online digital collections at University College London. Read the full case study (pdf).

Promoting the institutional repository

Strategies to promote take-up in deposit and discovery of materials in the institutional repository at the University of West London. Read the full case study (pdf).

Make Google searches work for you

Search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo are major discovery tools for all online audiences, including students and researchers.

Research repeatedly identifies Google as the main starting point for a wide range of users.

Improving the way digital collections and their items are found and displayed by Google is therefore the primary mechanism by which the discoverability of resources can be improved for all audiences.

Strategic outcomes

Improving how your content is found and displayed by web search engines like Google can contribute to institutional strategies to:

Enhance reputation

Reputation for research, learning, teaching and more broadly as an institution is developed on a number of fronts ranging from impact measures to astute marketing and publicity. Most would agree that high profile collections can play a part in that mix, demonstrating scholarly tradition, worthy investment and learning opportunity, especially in the humanities.

Digitised content can make a strong contribution to these objectives by:

  • Making the institution collections richly visible to the widest audience online
  • Providing a vehicle for widely resonant press releases and associated social media
  • Generating exposure through use in A-level teaching

Improve efficiency and effectiveness

The strategic outcomes of digitisation can alternatively be described in terms of economy, efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery. This is particularly evident in the cases of learning and teaching and of research, where digitisation brings opportunities for greater effectiveness (personalisation, collaboration, etc) as well as saving time and money.

The cases for efficiency and effectiveness can be assessed by comparing current practice (for example in curation, learning and research). However, it is important to beware of overstating economic benefits as the costs of digitisation are highly variable and may be set against zero cost (though less effective) alternatives.

Offer economy of access

Alongside memory institutions, universities recognise the importance of providing access to unique texts and other assets of scholarly significance held in their special collections. However, supporting physical access is costly and inefficient for all parties. Whilst principally of interest to researchers in the institution, in the wider HE community and beyond, the potential for these assets to enrich the learning and teaching experience is increasingly recognised, especially if they can be readily accessed in digital form.

Digitised content can make a strong contribution to these objectives by:

  • Alleviating pressures on curators to accommodate visiting scholars
  • Saving visiting costs to the researcher or student, with resulting environmental benefits
  • Opening up resources to students who would be unlikely to access the originals

The global pandemic of 2020-2021 showed how digital access to collections can suddenly and unexpectedly become essential when onsite access for users is not possible for some reason.

Discovery behaviours

Improving how your content is found and displayed by web search engines will help those who:

Use a general search engine to find content

Students at all levels, teachers and researchers report making use of general search engines to locate resources. Google is most often cited but others are used. Many students at undergraduate level report that they go no further than the first page of search engine results, and often no further than any Wikipedia entry highlighted. More advanced students and researchers will often use the search engine as the first stage of a more extensive discovery process.

Use a general web service, like Wikipedia, to find content

Research shows that most undergraduate students make use of well-known web-based services as a key part of their discovery behaviour. The most-used service is Wikipedia, although others such as YouTube and Flickr are mentioned for appropriate disciplines. Many students will go no further, though some will go on to cite, and some of those to visit, any references the service lists. Literature reports that teachers may also use Wikipedia, primarily to see what their students are finding. Graduate students and researchers may sometimes use Wikipedia for a quick introduction to a new topic.

Use a Google services (Scholar, Books etc) to find content

Faculty researchers not only use a general search engine to find papers and books, but will often use specialist services such as Google Scholar and Google Books as the starting point for keyword searches or for citation analyses. Advanced undergraduate and graduate students are also reported as using these services as one method of discovery. Some students report that book previews in Google Books can be sufficient for them to feel no need to seek out the full volume.

Structure your URLs

Using well-structured URLS will help:

  • Improve durability or persistence
  • Increase ease of bookmarking
  • Avoid the appearance of duplicate content to web search engines
  • Make them easier for humans to read
  • Make them easier for machines to read

In order to achieve these benefits, you need to structure URLs logically and avoid including information that is likely to change over a short time period.

Achieving well-structured URLs can be dependent on the software you are using to make a digital collection available, so might be a factor to consider when initially selecting it and when requesting or making software enhancements.

Google provides good advice on structuring URLs which will help you test yours. Tim Berners-Lee also provides useful information that will help you construct ‘cool’ URLs (also referred to as URIs).

You can carry out spot checks using key search engines to see how easily your page can be found, and the impact changing the URL has on this.

Understand relevancy ranking

Most search engines use ‘relevancy ranking’ to sort results. The aim is to have the items most relevant to the user at the top of the list.

To the extent that information is made public, understanding relevancy ranking allows you to make it easier for others to find your digital collections.

Not all search engines make their methods for relevancy ranking clear - potentially to keep mechanisms secret from competitors, or to prevent people ‘gaming’ the system to achieve high rankings.

Get your page titles correct

The title of a web page is set by the <title> tag. Typically, search engines like Google use this tag as an indicator of the topic of the page and to display in search results. It is the text used by most web browsers to display the title of your webpage.

Managing your page titles can be dependent on the software you are using to make a digital collection available, so might be a factor to consider when initially selecting it and when requesting or making software enhancements.

Get your page descriptions correct

You can describe the contents of your webpage to help search engines find relevant information by adding a description meta tag in the page code. This tag is also often used by web browsers to display a description of your page in search results.

Managing the description meta tags can be dependent on the software you are using to make a digital collection available, so might be a factor to consider when initially selecting it and when requesting or making software enhancements.

Use sitemaps effectively

Sitemaps are files published on websites that help search engines find relevant pages. They can be used to highlight new or updated content so that search engines can update indexes without looking through all of the content on a site.

Effective use of sitemaps can be dependent on the software you are using to make a digital collection available, so might be a factor to consider when initially selecting it and when requesting or making software enhancements.

Look out for software that will automatically generate and update sitemaps for you every time you make changes to your digital collection.

You should specify the location of your sitemap in a robots.txt file, as well as submitting it directly to key search engines like Google and Bing. See the Google Search Central guide and Bing guide for webmasters for information on how to do this.

The most basic measure you can carry out is to check that you publish a sitemap.

Help search engines index your content

Using a robots.txt file, a simple text file published on your website, you can control which parts of your site search engines index. You can also influence other aspects of the way a search engine crawls your website.

Using robots.txt allows you to prevent search engines indexing duplicate or incorrect content from your website. This can have a positive impact on your site’s search ranking and display in search results.

Adherence to any restrictions you place in a robots.txt file is voluntary, but all major search engines will observe the contents.

Include a pointer to your sitemap from your robots.txt file to further help search engines to effectively index your site.

The most basic measure you can carry out is to check that you publish a robots.txt file.

This list of web analytics software will give you information on using log analysis to identify changes in the way search engines crawl your site following publication of a sitemap.

Ensure images have appropriate, equivalent, alternative text

Alternative (Alt) text is a way of adding a description to an image on a web page. Commonly alternative text is provided within the alt attribute of an img element, but it can also be provided through the context and surroundings of the image in a page.

Alternative text is used by search engines to understand the content of an image and by assistive technologies such as screen readers, so providing appropriate alternative text helps to increase the discoverability and accessibility of your images.

Some large digital collection management systems might require you to use existing metadata as the alt text for images, in which case you need to consider which metadata to use and whether it will work effectively.

Add structured metadata to your pages using schema.org

Schema.org is an initiative to enable the addition of structured data to web pages in a way that can be extracted and used by search engines. Using more detailed markup for items in digital collections can enable more effective indexing and display of digital items in search engines, and in the future may allow for more powerful search options to be supported.

Create clear, simple item descriptions

Use language that will be familiar and clear to your core audiences to describe items in your collection.

Remove registration or authentication barriers for your audiences

Barriers such as registration or authentication requests can prevent legitimate users from accessing items in digital collections. Users may prefer to look for resources elsewhere rather than register for access. These barriers can also prevent search engines from effectively indexing sites.

Where authentication or registration is unavoidable, making some information available without these steps to enhance user access and search engine indexing.

Structure your page with good heading tags

Heading tags, which start with the largest heading <h1>, down to the smallest <h6>, should be used to structure a web page. This helps both users and software to understand and navigate your page.

Both Google and Bing recommend that heading tags are used to structure content on a page.

When presenting your collection consider whether certain parts of the text, like an item name, should be included in heading tags.

Keep your search engine optimisation (SEO) knowledge up to date

Search engines often change the way they index and rank websites, and will often update their advice for webmasters. Regularly review guidelines to ensure you continue to present information in the best possible way for search engines.

Using social media to promote your digital collections

Social media allows you to reach a large yet targeted audience with your digital collections. Many social media channels exist ranging from specialist email lists to Twitter and Facebook.

Activity to engage audiences through social media is best managed through an organisational social media strategy, usually as part of a wider marketing or communications plan.

In your social media strategy consider what you want to achieve, what tools you’ll use and how you’ll measure success.

Strategic outcomes

Promoting your digital collections through social media can contribute to institutional strategies to:

Enhance reputation

Reputation for research, learning, teaching and more broadly as an institution is developed on a number of fronts ranging from impact measures to astute marketing and publicity. Most would agree that high profile collections can play a part in that mix, demonstrating scholarly tradition, worthy investment and learning opportunity, especially in the humanities.

Digitised content can make a strong contribution to these objectives by:

  • Making the institution collections richly visible to the widest audience online
  • Providing a vehicle for widely resonant press releases and associated social media
  • Generating exposure through use in A-level teaching

Enrich teaching and learning

Universities are universally focused on opportunities to enhance student experience and success though enriching learning and teaching provision. Providers at all levels are looking for digital technologies to increase flexibility of mode, to enable personalisation and collaboration and to transform access to and contextualisation of resources.

Digitised content can make a strong contribution to these objectives by:

  • Enriching course materials and open education resources
  • Providing a window on the world of advanced study and the mechanics of scholarship
  • Offering teachers new opportunities to animate their subject areas

Enable research

Research is measured through a broad suite of impact factors that are underpinned by the strengths of people and resources. In many disciplines, those assets are increasingly distributed and virtualised, with research groups operating across faculty, institutional and geographic boundaries. The availability of content in a digital environment supports the distributed academy, providing a platform for the individual and the community.

Digitised content can make a strong contribution to these objectives by

  • Offering flexibility of access in terms of location and time
  • Linking scanned images with reusable text, lexical tools, metadata and commentary
  • Applying advancing IT techniques to analysis and comparison of texts and data
  • Providing a platform for interaction amongst scholars, linking commentary and debate directly to sources

Assist widening participation

Universities are strategically committed to widening participation across social and economic groupings in higher education for all levels (undergraduate degrees, postgraduate studies, continuing and professional education) and regardless of mode (ranging from full time to distance education and MOOCs).

Digitised content can make a strong contribution to these objectives by

  • Showcasing attractive and original learning and research content to prospective students
  • Enabling re-use, thus adding value to educational resources, not only for university use but also for schools and colleges
  • Social media amplification that brings original digitised content to the attention of key interest groups, such as A level teachers or local interest groups

Offer economy of access

Alongside memory institutions, universities recognise the importance of providing access to unique texts and other assets of scholarly significance held in their special collections. However, supporting physical access is costly and inefficient for all parties. Whilst principally of interest to researchers in the institution, in the wider HE community and beyond, the potential for these assets to enrich the learning and teaching experience is increasingly recognised, especially if they can be readily accessed in digital form.

Digitised content can make a strong contribution to these objectives by

  • Alleviating pressures on curators to accommodate visiting scholars
  • Saving visiting costs to the researcher or student, with resulting environmental benefits
  • Opening up resources to students who would be unlikely to access the originals

The global pandemic of 2020-2021 showed how digital access to collections can suddenly and unexpectedly become essential when onsite access for users is not possible for some reason.

Discovery behaviours

Promoting your digital collections through social media will help those who:

Use a general search engine to find content

Students at all levels, teachers and researchers report making use of general search engines to locate resources. Google is most often cited but others are used. Many students at undergraduate level report that they go no further than the first page of search engine results, and often no further than any Wikipedia entry highlighted. More advanced students and researchers will often use the search engine as the first stage of a more extensive discovery process.

Find content on recommendation from teachers

Students at all levels look for recommendations from teachers to guide them towards resources. These can be either through course reading lists or in the form of recommendations made in class or in a one-to-one discussion. When searching for resources to recommend, teachers tend to rely on their own specialist knowledge of the field, but may use library catalogues or online databases to check they have not missed anything relevant.

Find content by following experts

Students and researchers who are becoming familiar with their field of interest recognise the value of identifying and following experts. Establishing who are experts and finding their publications is seen as a good way to enter into a new topic of research. An overview article or chapter written by a subject expert is seen as an excellent starting point for further exploration. When preparing to teach courses staff are also likely to look for relevant courses taught by other experts for examples and to compare approaches.

Use online social tools to find content

Students and researchers use online social tools to form peer communities in which information on resources will be exchanged. Most used are e-mail lists, writing personal and shared blogs, and tracking relevant blogs, often through RSS feeds. A few report use of Twitter for this purpose, but Facebook is not mentioned. Students are more likely to use social media such as Twitter and Facebook as a way of sharing resources where this forms part of the way they keep in touch with peers and classmates.

Identify and use popular web services

Republishing content to popular web services can help you reach a wider audience.

To choose which web services might be useful, you need to consider:

  • The size and nature of the audience
  • The suitability of the platform for your type of content
  • The rights and licensing models supported by the service
  • The value the service offers to enhance your collection

The popularity, functionality and reputation of web services changes over time - it is important to regularly review which you use.

Use hashtags effectively

A hashtag (#) is a way of indicating a posting on social media is related to a particular subject. They are particularly used on Twitter. Establishing a hashtag for a collection can help both track conversations about your collection across social networks, and empower users to contribute to the conversation by using the hashtag.

Hashtags can be associated with events, short-term campaigns or promotions as well as medium to long-term use in relation to a collection.

Develop your own social network presence

Create a presence for your digital collection on a social network site such as Facebook or Twitter. Pick a network that helps you reach the right population and demographics for your collection, and review this regularly as it can change over time.

Use crowdsourcing to engage users

Crowdsourcing means to gather contributions from a large community in order to achieve a particular goal.

Make it easy for others to share your content

The easier you make it for others to share or ‘like’ your digital collection, the more you’ll increase its discoverability. Including ‘share’ buttons for the most popular social networks is a good way to start, and then consider whether there are platforms that are well suited to your content - Pinterest for images for example.

Creating engaging blog posts

A blog post can be used to highlight a particular element of your collection, adding opinion, contextual information or other engaging content that is not possible within the collection itself. Creating a blog gives you space to explore items in your collection in more detail for users.

Blog posts can be written by those involved in managing or curating your collection, or by ‘guest editors’ - people not directly associated with your collection but with an engaging message about the collection that you would like them to share.

Use aggregators to boost your collection

In academia there are a number of major online services that pull together resources relevant to researchers and students in particular sectors.

There are lots of different types of aggregators:

  • Search indexes provided by companies as a part of their discovery products, eg Primo Central
  • Aggregators that are specific to the type or purpose of the materials they pull together, eg Archives Hub and Library Hub Discover
  • Aggregators that are subject specific, eg VADS

Strategic outcomes

Using aggregators to enhance your digital collections can contribute to institutional strategies to:

Enrich teaching and learning

Universities are universally focused on opportunities to enhance student experience and success though enriching learning and teaching provision. Providers at all levels are looking for digital technologies to increase flexibility of mode, to enable personalisation and collaboration and to transform access to and contextualisation of resources.

Digitised content can make a strong contribution to these objectives by

  • Enriching course materials and open education resources
  • Providing a window on the world of advanced study and the mechanics of scholarship
  • Offering teachers new opportunities to animate their subject areas

Enable research

Research is measured through a broad suite of impact factors that are underpinned by the strengths of people and resources. In many disciplines, those assets are increasingly distributed and virtualised, with research groups operating across faculty, institutional and geographic boundaries. The availability of content in a digital environment supports the distributed academy, providing a platform for the individual and the community.

Digitised content can make a strong contribution to these objectives by

  • Offering flexibility of access in terms of location and time
  • Linking scanned images with reusable text, lexical tools, metadata and commentary
  • Applying advancing IT techniques to analysis and comparison of texts and data
  • Providing a platform for interaction amongst scholars, linking commentary and debate directly to sources

Enhance reputation

Reputation for research, learning, teaching and more broadly as an institution is developed on a number of fronts ranging from impact measures to astute marketing and publicity. Most would agree that high profile collections can play a part in that mix, demonstrating scholarly tradition, worthy investment and learning opportunity, especially in the humanities.

Digitised content can make a strong contribution to these objectives by

  • Making the institution collections richly visible to the widest audience online
  • Providing a vehicle for widely resonant press releases and associated social media
  • Generating exposure through use in A-level teaching

Offer economy of access 

Alongside memory institutions, universities recognise the importance of providing access to unique texts and other assets of scholarly significance held in their special collections. However, supporting physical access is costly and inefficient for all parties. Whilst principally of interest to researchers in the institution, in the wider HE community and beyond, the potential for these assets to enrich the learning and teaching experience is increasingly recognised, especially if they can be readily accessed in digital form.

Digitised content can make a strong contribution to these objectives by

  • Alleviating pressures on curators to accommodate visiting scholars
  • Saving visiting costs to the researcher or student, with resulting environmental benefits
  • Opening up resources to students who would be unlikely to access the originals

The global pandemic of 2020-2021 showed how digital access to collections can suddenly and unexpectedly become essential when onsite access for users is not possible for some reason.

Discovery behaviours

Enhancing your digital collections through the use of aggregators will help those who:

Use an online research resource or a database to find content

Researchers, both graduate students and faculty, bookmark and then directly access online resources, including collections and databases, that they find valuable and to which they want to make return visits. Old Bailey Online and the Astrophysics Data System are two examples studied in the literature, but there are many more.

Find content on recommendation from teachers

Students at all levels look for recommendations from teachers to guide them towards resources. These can be either through course reading lists or in the form of recommendations made in class or in a one-to-one discussion. When searching for resources to recommend, teachers tend to rely on their own specialist knowledge of the field, but may use library catalogues or online databases to check they have not missed anything relevant.

Understand relevancy ranking

Most search engines use ‘relevancy ranking’ to sort results. The aim is to have the items most relevant to the user at the top of the list.

License your content correctly to enable suitable reuse

Enabling the reuse of resources, or the data describing resources, can enhance discoverability. It makes digital materials, or descriptions of those materials, available in a wider range of services and locations. 

Find aggregated catalogues your audiences use

There are many specialist catalogues and indexes that the audiences you want to reach are already using. Developing an understanding of the services that are used by your target audiences will allow you to ensure your collections are presented to them.

Specialist aggregated catalogues might include the discovery service used by your local library, a subject specific aggregator or a service which targets a specific type or use of materials.

Make use of established cataloguing standards

Using established cataloguing standards allows you to ensure that when your content is aggregated, the descriptions you use for your collection will work alongside descriptions from other collections.

Use common data formats for metadata

Make it easy for others to access and use the descriptions you give to items in your collection by using common data formats. This allows aggregation services, catalogues and other external organisations to incorporate your content in their platform, making it more discoverable.

Publish metadata describing digitised resources under an extremely permissive license such as CC0

Enabling the reuse of metadata (the data describing resources) can enhance discoverability by making descriptions of the materials, available in a wider range of services and locations. The ‘CC0’ (Creative Commons Zero) public domain declaration essentially puts the data into the public domain making it highly reusable for any purpose.

The Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting

The Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting, or OAI-PMH is a well-established mechanism that allows systems to automatically share metadata. Supporting OAI-PMH enables third party services to copy your descriptive data, increasing its discoverability.

The OAI-PMH is supported by a substantial number of organisations, including national services such as Archives Hub and library discovery services like Primo and Summon.

Sharing data through OAI-PHM can be an addition or an alternative to offering data through other APIs or regular data exports. To support OAI-PHM you may require specific software, which is worth considering when making software purchases.

Get your resources listed on library discovery indexes

Many universities now subscribe to ‘discovery’ services which index large numbers of resources. By getting your resources added to these they will be more discoverable by researchers, teachers and students.

Improve processes for exporting content

By creating processes that ensure the regular export of data from your collection you allow third party platforms to access it and make it discoverable. If you update the export mechanism regularly you can ensure third parties have fresh data.

Sharing data through regular exports can be an addition or an alternative to offering data through other APIs or methods such as OAI-PMH.

Make your collection available for learning and teaching

Students of all levels look for recommendations from their teachers to help them discover new resources, making teachers and lecturers a key path to sharing content from your digital collection.

To support the use of your digital collection in learning and teaching you might wish to develop guidance for teachers on how to use it in a learning context. This might involve developing self-contained packages based on your digital collection that meet clear teaching needs.

The UNESCO and OER Africa report, 'Understanding The Impact of OER: Achievements and Challenges' examines the global growth of OERs, with case studies from several countries including Australia, South Africa and the United Kingdom. 

Strategic outcomes

Making your digital collection available for learning and teaching can contribute to institutional strategies to:

Enrich learning and teaching

Universities are universally focused on opportunities to enhance student experience and success though enriching learning and teaching provision. Providers at all levels are looking for digital technologies to increase flexibility of mode, to enable personalisation and collaboration and to transform access to and contextualisation of resources.

Digitised content can make a strong contribution to these objectives by

  • Enriching course materials and open education resources
  • Providing a window on the world of advanced study and the mechanics of scholarship
  • Offering teachers new opportunities to animate their subject areas

Enhance reputation

Reputation for research, learning, teaching and more broadly as an institution is developed on a number of fronts ranging from impact measures to astute marketing and publicity. Most would agree that high profile collections can play a part in that mix, demonstrating scholarly tradition, worthy investment and learning opportunity, especially in the humanities.

Digitised content can make a strong contribution to these objectives by

  • Making the institution collections richly visible to the widest audience online
  • Providing a vehicle for widely resonant press releases and associated social media
  • Generating exposure through use in A-level teaching

Improve efficiency and effectiveness

The strategic outcomes of digitisation can alternatively be described in terms of economy, efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery. This is particularly evident in the cases of learning and teaching and of research, where digitisation brings opportunities for greater effectiveness (personalisation, collaboration, etc) as well as saving time and money.

The cases for efficiency and effectiveness can be assessed by comparing current practice (for example in curation, learning and research). However, it is important to beware of overstating economic benefits as the costs of digitisation are highly variable and may be set against zero cost (though less effective) alternatives.

Contribute to widening participation activities

Universities are strategically committed to widening participation across social and economic groupings in higher education for all levels (undergraduate degrees, postgraduate studies, continuing and professional education) and regardless of mode (ranging from full time to distance education and MOOCs).

Digitised content can make a strong contribution to these objectives by

  • Showcasing attractive and original learning and research content to prospective students
  • Enabling re-use, thus adding value to educational resources, not only for university use but also for schools and colleges
  • Social media amplification that brings original digitised content to the attention of key interest groups, such as A level teachers or local interest groups

Discovery behaviours

Making your digital collection available for learning and teaching will help those who find content on recommendation from teachers.

These can be either through course reading lists or in the form of recommendations made in class or in a one-to-one discussion. When searching for resources to recommend, teachers tend to rely on their own specialist knowledge of the field, but may use library catalogues or online databases to check they have not missed anything relevant.

Related resources

License your content correctly to enable suitable reuse

Enabling the reuse of resources, or the data describing resources, can enhance discoverability. It makes digital materials, or descriptions of those materials, available in a wider range of services and locations.

This can be simply about making descriptive data widely available so that other services can provide facilities to search and find items in a collection. It could include applying a licence to enable use of specific versions of resources (thumbnails, low-resolution images, extracts from texts), or licensing a resource for use in other environments.

Licensing a resource doesn’t mean you have to give up all rights. While you’ll enable more types of reuse if your licence is permissive, it may sometimes be necessary to put conditions on the use of your content.

Licensing a whole collection and the items within it are not the same thing - a licence for one doesn’t necessarily indicate a licence for the other, and you need to consider this when applying them.

Some services (eg Wikipedia or Europeana) may require specific licence before you can use them to promote your digital content. You’ll need to consider this carefully before applying licenses to your content.

Make use of Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons stores public domain and freely-licensed educational media content. Contribute content to Wikimedia Commons can open a significant channel for discovery.

Create resource packages for teachers

Teachers are often looking for resources that meet specific pedagogical needs which they can use without further adjustment. Creating resources that meet specific and defined pedagogical needs can make it easier for teachers to re-use content.

Use common data formats for metadata

Make it easy for others to access and use the descriptions you give to items in your collection by using common data formats.

Provide APIs to enhance access to your collection

An API is an online interface that allows software systems to communicate with one another and exchange information. A well-documented API for resources in a digital collection allows third parties to develop new ways to interact with them.

Publish metadata describing digitised resources under an extremely permissive licence such as CC0

Enabling the reuse of metadata (the data describing resources) can enhance discoverability by making descriptions of the materials, available in a wider range of services and locations. The ‘CC0’ (Creative Commons Zero) public domain declaration essentially puts the data into the public domain making it highly reusable for any purpose.

While there are often practical reasons why there are restrictions on the reuse of a digital resource (eg a high-resolution scan of an image or text), the descriptive data associated with the resource is often not subject to the same considerations, and so often this metadata can be licensed much more permissively than the described resource. Where ‘discoverability’ is concerned, the more widely descriptions of a collection are available, the better.

Collaborate with the users of your collection

Engage the existing users of your digital collection in order to enhance it, make it more accessible and create recommendations.

Work with suitable partners

Find and partner with organisations that can assist you in exploiting your digital content. Collaboration could take many shapes, but should help you achieve your institutional goals and reach new audiences.

Some of the web’s most popular sites offer an opportunity for you to reach large audiences with your content.

Services such as Wikipedia, YouTube and Flickr perform well in search engine rankings, and are often used by undergraduate students as well as by researchers looking to find information on topics they are not familiar with. They also often offer additional functionality such as social media integration and APIs which you can take advantage of.

Strategic outcomes

Ensuring you get the most out of popular web destinations can contribute to institutional strategies to:

Enhance reputation

Reputation for research, learning, teaching and more broadly as an institution is developed on a number of fronts ranging from impact measures to astute marketing and publicity. Most would agree that high profile collections can play a part in that mix, demonstrating scholarly tradition, worthy investment and learning opportunity, especially in the humanities.

Digitised content can make a strong contribution to these objectives by

  • Making the institution collections richly visible to the widest audience online
  • Providing a vehicle for widely resonant press releases and associated social media
  • Generating exposure through use in A-level teaching

Improve efficiency and effectiveness

The strategic outcomes of digitisation can alternatively be described in terms of economy, efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery. This is particularly evident in the cases of learning and teaching and of research, where digitisation brings opportunities for greater effectiveness (personalisation, collaboration, etc) as well as saving time and money.

The cases for efficiency and effectiveness can be assessed by comparing current practice (for example in curation, learning and research). However, it is important to beware of overstating economic benefits as the costs of digitisation are highly variable and may be set against zero cost (though less effective) alternatives.

Contribute to widening participation activities

Universities are strategically committed to widening participation across social and economic groupings in higher education for all levels (undergraduate degrees, postgraduate studies, continuing and professional education) and regardless of mode (ranging from full time to distance education and MOOCs).

Digitised content can make a strong contribution to these objectives by

  • Showcasing attractive and original learning and research content to prospective students
  • Enabling re-use, thus adding value to educational resources, not only for university use but also for schools and colleges
  • Social media amplification that brings original digitised content to the attention of key interest groups, such as A level teachers or local interest groups

Ensure economy of access

Alongside memory institutions, universities recognise the importance of providing access to unique texts and other assets of scholarly significance held in their special collections. However, supporting physical access is costly and inefficient for all parties. Whilst principally of interest to researchers in the institution, in the wider HE community and beyond, the potential for these assets to enrich the learning and teaching experience is increasingly recognised, especially if they can be readily accessed in digital form.

Digitised content can make a strong contribution to these objectives by

  • Alleviating pressures on curators to accommodate visiting scholars
  • Saving visiting costs to the researcher or student, with resulting environmental benefits
  • Opening up resources to students who would be unlikely to access the originals

The global pandemic of 2020-2021 showed how digital access to collections can suddenly and unexpectedly become essential when onsite access for users is not possible for some reason.

Discovery behaviours

Ensuring you get the most out of popular web destinations will help those who:

Use a general web service to find content

Research shows that most undergraduate students make use of well-known web-based services as a key part of their discovery behaviour. The most-used service is Wikipedia, although others such as YouTube and Flickr are mentioned for appropriate disciplines. Many students will go no further, though some will go on to cite, and some of those to visit, any references the service lists. Literature reports that teachers may also use Wikipedia, primarily to see what their students are finding. Graduate students and researchers may sometimes use Wikipedia for a quick introduction to a new topic.

Use a Google services (Scholar, Books etc) to find content

Faculty researchers not only use a general search engine to find papers and books, but will often use specialist services such as Google Scholar and Google Books as the starting point for keyword searches or for citation analyses. Advanced undergraduate and graduate students are also reported as using these services as one method of discovery. Some students report that book previews in Google Books can be sufficient for them to feel no need to seek out the full volume.

Use online social tools to find content

Students and researchers use online social tools to form peer communities in which information on resources will be exchanged. Most used are e-mail lists, writing personal and shared blogs, and tracking relevant blogs, often through RSS feeds. A few report use of Twitter for this purpose, but Facebook is not mentioned. Students are more likely to use social media such as Twitter and Facebook as a way of sharing resources where this forms part of the way they keep in touch with peers and classmates.

Related resources

Culture24: Let’s Get Real

Structure your URLs

Using well-structured URLS will help:

  • Improve durability or persistence
  • Increase ease of bookmarking
  • Avoid the appearance of duplicate content to web search engines
  • Make them easier for humans to read
  • Make them easier for machines to read

Republish your content on popular web services

Republishing content to a number of popular web services can help you reach a wider audience.

To choose which web services might be useful, you need to consider:

  • The size and nature of the audience
  • The suitability of the platform for your type of content
  • The rights and licensing models supported by the service
  • The value the service offers to enhance your collection
  • The popularity, functionality and reputation of web services changes over time - it is important to regularly review which you use.

Make use of Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons stores public domain and freely-licensed educational media content. Contribute content to Wikimedia Commons can open a significant channel for discovery.

Wikimedia Commons is used by Wikimedia Foundation projects, including Wikipedia, to store digital media. It is therefore a major source of content to illustrate and support articles in Wikipedia.

While you can upload images yourself, it is worth engaging with the Wikimedia Commons community to develop an understanding of appropriate approaches. Note that you can’t contribute materials that are listed under a non-commercial use licence.

Target websites and services your audience use

Major web services have specific demographic profiles and are often used for different purposes. Developing a strategy that takes your knowledge of major web services and prioritises those that are used by your target audiences and are suitable for your content will ensure your communications are effective.

The demographics of a website are likely to change over time, so keep a close eye on your strategy and review your target services as required.

Make it easy for others to share your content

The easier you make it for others to share or ‘like’ your digital collection, the more you’ll increase its discoverability.

Host a Wikipedia edit-a-thon

A Wikipedia edit-a-thon is an event where people edit Wikipedia together. Participants are introduced to items from your collection, and you will make the Wikipedia community aware of your collection’s strengths.

Edit-a-thons are usually focused on a specific topic and may target specific Wikipedia articles for improvement. These events have become well-established throughout the UK and can be held online or in a face-to-face setting, or a mixture of both. 

Creating engaging blog posts

A blog post can be used to highlight a particular element of your collection, adding opinion, contextual information or other engaging content that is not possible within the collection itself.  

Improve the user experience of your digital collection

User experience refers to the overall experience users have when using a service. User experience is a very wide-ranging concept but it is often associated with aspects of 'usability' in relation to web-based services.

To improve the user experience of your digital collection, you need to consider the needs of your users, how they find and navigate your collection, and the tasks they go on to complete as a result.

Strategic outcomes

Enhancing the user experience of your collection can contribute to institutional strategies to:

Enrich learning and teaching

Universities are universally focused on opportunities to enhance student experience and success though enriching learning and teaching provision. Providers at all levels are looking for digital technologies to increase flexibility of mode, to enable personalisation and collaboration and to transform access to and contextualisation of resources.

Digitised content can make a strong contribution to these objectives by

  • Enriching course materials and open education resources
  • Providing a window on the world of advanced study and the mechanics of scholarship
  • Offering teachers new opportunities to animate their subject areas

Enable research

Research is measured through a broad suite of impact factors that are underpinned by the strengths of people and resources. In many disciplines, those assets are increasingly distributed and virtualised, with research groups operating across faculty, institutional and geographic boundaries. The availability of content in a digital environment supports the distributed academy, providing a platform for the individual and the community.

Digitised content can make a strong contribution to these objectives by

  • Offering flexibility of access in terms of location and time
  • Linking scanned images with reusable text, lexical tools, metadata and commentary
  • Applying advancing IT techniques to analysis and comparison of texts and data
  • Providing a platform for interaction amongst scholars, linking commentary and debate directly to sources

Enhance reputation

Reputation for research, learning, teaching and more broadly as an institution is developed on a number of fronts ranging from impact measures to astute marketing and publicity. Most would agree that high profile collections can play a part in that mix, demonstrating scholarly tradition, worthy investment and learning opportunity, especially in the humanities.

Digitised content can make a strong contribution to these objectives by

  • Making the institution collections richly visible to the widest audience online
  • Providing a vehicle for widely resonant press releases and associated social media
  • Generating exposure through use in A-level teaching

Improve efficiency and effectiveness

The strategic outcomes of digitisation can alternatively be described in terms of economy, efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery. This is particularly evident in the cases of learning and teaching and of research, where digitisation brings opportunities for greater effectiveness (personalisation, collaboration, etc) as well as saving time and money.

The cases for efficiency and effectiveness can be assessed by comparing current practice (for example in curation, learning and research). However, it is important to beware of overstating economic benefits as the costs of digitisation are highly variable and may be set against zero cost (though less effective) alternatives.

Assist widening participation

Universities are strategically committed to widening participation across social and economic groupings in higher education for all levels (undergraduate degrees, postgraduate studies, continuing and professional education) and regardless of mode (ranging from full time to distance education and MOOCs).

Digitised content can make a strong contribution to these objectives by

  • Showcasing attractive and original learning and research content to prospective students
  • Enabling re-use, thus adding value to educational resources, not only for university use but also for schools and colleges
  • Social media amplification that brings original digitised content to the attention of key interest groups, such as A level teachers or local interest groups

Build a scholarly record

Alongside a range of institutions and authorities, Universities play a critical role in building the scholarly record, not only by undertaking research and cultivating dialogue but also in capturing, validating and preserving scholarly assets. These assets include underlying data, publications and artefacts. 

Digitised content can make a strong contribution to these objectives by

  • Making unique assets more accessible for citation, social recommendation and re-use as a result of representing them in the digital world
  • Providing a digital backstop in the preservation chain
  • Reducing wear and tear on original artefacts

Offer economy of access

Alongside memory institutions, universities recognise the importance of providing access to unique texts and other assets of scholarly significance held in their special collections. However, supporting physical access is costly and inefficient for all parties. Whilst principally of interest to researchers in the institution, in the wider HE community and beyond, the potential for these assets to enrich the learning and teaching experience is increasingly recognised, especially if they can be readily accessed in digital form.

Digitised content can make a strong contribution to these objectives by

  • Alleviating pressures on curators to accommodate visiting scholars
  • Saving visiting costs to the researcher or student, with resulting environmental benefits
  • Opening up resources to students who would be unlikely to access the originals

The global pandemic of 2020-2021 showed how digital access to collections can suddenly and unexpectedly become essential when onsite access for users is not possible for some reason.

Discovery behaviours

Enhancing the user experience of your collection will help those who:

Use a general search engine to find content

Students at all levels, teachers and researchers report making use of general search engines to locate resources. Google is most often cited but others are used. Many students at undergraduate level report that they go no further than the first page of search engine results, and often no further than any Wikipedia entry highlighted. More advanced students and researchers will often use the search engine as the first stage of a more extensive discovery process.

Use a general web service to find content

Research shows that most undergraduate students make use of well-known web-based services as a key part of their discovery behaviour. The most-used service is Wikipedia, although others such as YouTube and Flickr are mentioned for appropriate disciplines. Many students will go no further, though some will go on to cite, and some of those to visit, any references the service lists. Literature reports that teachers may also use Wikipedia, primarily to see what their students are finding. Graduate students and researchers may sometimes use Wikipedia for a quick introduction to a new topic.

Use Google services (Scholar, Books etc) to find content

Faculty researchers not only use a general search engine to find papers and books, but will often use specialist services such as Google Scholar and Google Books as the starting point for keyword searches or for citation analyses. Advanced undergraduate and graduate students are also reported as using these services as one method of discovery. Some students report that book previews in Google Books can be sufficient for them to feel no need to seek out the full volume.

Use online research resources or databases to find content

Researchers, both graduate students and faculty, bookmark and then directly access online resources, including collections and databases, that they find valuable and to which they want to make return visits. Old Bailey Online and the Astrophysics Data System are two examples studied in the literature, but there are many more.

Find content on recommendation from teachers

Students at all levels look for recommendations from teachers to guide them towards resources. These can be either through course reading lists or in the form of recommendations made in class or in a one-to-one discussion. When searching for resources to recommend, teachers tend to rely on their own specialist knowledge of the field, but may use library catalogues or online databases to check they have not missed anything relevant.

Find content by following experts online

Students and researchers who are becoming familiar with their field of interest recognise the value of identifying and following experts. Establishing who are experts and finding their publications is seen as a good way to enter into a new topic of research. An overview article or chapter written by a subject expert is seen as an excellent starting point for further exploration. When preparing to teach courses staff are also likely to look for relevant courses taught by other experts for examples and to compare approaches.

Use online social tools to find content

Students and researchers use online social tools to form peer communities in which information on resources will be exchanged. Most used are e-mail lists, writing personal and shared blogs, and tracking relevant blogs, often through RSS feeds. A few report use of Twitter for this purpose, but Facebook is not mentioned. Students are more likely to use social media such as Twitter and Facebook as a way of sharing resources where this forms part of the way they keep in touch with peers and classmates.

Find content by following citation chains

Researchers, both graduate students and faculty, place high value on following bibliographic references from books and articles they are reading, as a way of expanding their reference lists. This applies both to when they are researching new topics and as a way of expanding their knowledge of a research field in which they are already active.

Structure your URLs

Using well-structured URLS will help:

  • Improve durability or persistence
  • Increase ease of bookmarking
  • Avoid the appearance of duplicate content to web search engines
  • Make them easier for humans to read
  • Make them easier for machines to read

Relevancy ranking

Most search engines use ‘relevancy ranking’ to sort results. The aim is to have the items most relevant to the user at the top of the list.

Get your page titles correct

The title of a web page is set by the <title> tag. Typically, search engines like Google use this tag as an indicator of the topic of the page and to display in search results. 

Use ‘alt’ texts to describe images

'Alt' text is a way of describing adding a description to an image on a web page. Search engines understand the content of an image by the ‘alt’ description you assign to it.

Carry out regular user testing

Work with real users of your digital collection to test how easily they are able to perform specific tasks. Use the findings of your testing to improve the public interface of your service, and retest on a regular basis.

Create clear, simple item descriptions

Use language that will be familiar and clear to your core audiences to describe items in your collection. Google recommends that you carefully consider the words users might search with to find your content, and be aware that different audiences might use different words.

Avoid using specialist terms that are often associated with digital collections and catalogue interfaces - your audience are unlikely to understand them.

Remove registration or authentication barriers for your audiences

Barriers such as registration or authentication requests can prevent legitimate users from accessing items in digital collections. 

Know your audience, and speak to them

Research shows clearly that different types of discovery behaviour are used by different types of user, and therefore it isn’t surprising that different strategies are required to address these behaviours and reach the correct people.

Clearly identifying the audiences and behaviours you primarily wish to address with your digital collection will help you make decisions on prioritising investment when making your resources discoverable online.

Learn to use log files

Log files are records, usually time-stamped, which are created automatically by software applications.

The type of data recorded in log files can vary considerably packages, log analysis software is often available. Such data should help you gain an understanding of how your collection is being used.

Ensuring your digital collections reach academic researchers

Research practice varies widely across disciplines and between individual researchers, however there are some research behaviours which are common among research communities.

A common behaviour is citation chaining - following bibliographic references to find further useful resources. There are also new approaches to research - in digital humanities researchers are using software to interact with research materials.

Understanding these behaviours could help you make your digital collection more accessible for academic researchers, and embed your digital resources in academic outputs where they can be discovered by new audiences.

Strategic outcomes

Making your digital collection available for learning and teaching can contribute to institutional strategies to:

Enable research

Research is measured through a broad suite of impact factors that are underpinned by the strengths of people and resources. In many disciplines, those assets are increasingly distributed and virtualised, with research groups operating across faculty, institutional and geographic boundaries. The availability of content in a digital environment supports the distributed academy, providing a platform for the individual and the community.

Digitised content can make a strong contribution to these objectives by

  • Offering flexibility of access in terms of location and time
  • Linking scanned images with reusable text, lexical tools, metadata and commentary
  • Applying advancing IT techniques to analysis and comparison of texts and data
  • Providing a platform for interaction amongst scholars, linking commentary and debate directly to sources

Enhance reputation

Reputation for research, learning, teaching and more broadly as an institution is developed on a number of fronts ranging from impact measures to astute marketing and publicity. Most would agree that high profile collections can play a part in that mix, demonstrating scholarly tradition, worthy investment and learning opportunity, especially in the humanities.

Digitised content can make a strong contribution to these objectives by

  • Making the institution collections richly visible to the widest audience online
  • Providing a vehicle for widely resonant press releases and associated social media
  • Generating exposure through use in A-level teaching

Improve efficiency and effectiveness

The strategic outcomes of digitisation can alternatively be described in terms of economy, efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery. This is particularly evident in the cases of learning and teaching and of research, where digitisation brings opportunities for greater effectiveness (personalisation, collaboration, etc) as well as saving time and money.

The cases for efficiency and effectiveness can be assessed by comparing current practice (for example in curation, learning and research). However, it is important to beware of overstating economic benefits as the costs of digitisation are highly variable and may be set against zero cost (though less effective) alternatives.

Build a scholarly record

Alongside a range of institutions and authorities, Universities play a critical role in building the scholarly record, not only by undertaking research and cultivating dialogue but also in capturing, validating and preserving scholarly assets. These assets include underlying data, publications and artefacts. 

Digitised content can make a strong contribution to these objectives by

  • Making unique assets more accessible for citation, social recommendation and re-use as a result of representing them in the digital world
  • Providing a digital backstop in the preservation chain
  • Reducing wear and tear on original artefacts

Discovery behaviours

Making your digital collection available for learning and teaching will help those who:

Use a Google services (Scholar, Books etc) to find content

Faculty researchers not only use a general search engine to find papers and books, but will often use specialist services such as Google Scholar and Google Books as the starting point for keyword searches or for citation analyses. Advanced undergraduate and graduate students are also reported as using these services as one method of discovery. Some students report that book previews in Google Books can be sufficient for them to feel no need to seek out the full volume.

Use an online research resource or a database to find content

Researchers, both graduate students and faculty, bookmark and then directly access online resources, including collections and databases, that they find valuable and to which they want to make return visits. Old Bailey Online and the Astrophysics Data System are two examples studied in the literature, but there are many more.

Find content by following experts

Students and researchers who are becoming familiar with their field of interest recognise the value of identifying and following experts. Establishing who are experts and finding their publications is seen as a good way to enter into a new topic of research. An overview article or chapter written by a subject expert is seen as an excellent starting point for further exploration. When preparing to teach courses staff are also likely to look for relevant courses taught by other experts for examples and to compare approaches.

Use online social tools to find content

Students and researchers use online social tools to form peer communities in which information on resources will be exchanged. Most used are e-mail lists, writing personal and shared blogs, and tracking relevant blogs, often through RSS feeds. A few report use of Twitter for this purpose, but Facebook is not mentioned. Students are more likely to use social media such as Twitter and Facebook as a way of sharing resources where this forms part of the way they keep in touch with peers and classmates.

Find content by following citation chains

Researchers, both graduate students and faculty, place high value on following bibliographic references from books and articles they are reading, as a way of expanding their reference lists. This applies both to when they are researching new topics and as a way of expanding their knowledge of a research field in which they are already active.

Related resources

Reports on the changing behaviours of information seekers:

Historical reports on evolving user behaviours:

Provide clear guidance in citing your content

As citation chaining is often used by researchers to discover useful content, making it very simple for them to accurately cite items from your digital collection will increase the chance of future researchers discovering it.

It can be challenging to ensure that researchers cite the digital representation of an item, rather than the original physical or printed material but providing a clear citation guide can help.

License your content correctly to enable suitable reuse

Enabling the reuse of resources, or the data describing resources, can enhance discoverability.

Make use of established cataloguing standards

Using established cataloguing standards allows you to ensure that when your content is aggregated, the descriptions you use for your collection will work alongside descriptions from other collections. 

Use common data formats for metadata

Make it easy for others to access and use the descriptions you give to items in your collection by using common data formats.

Provide APIs to enhance access to your collection

An API is an online interface that allows software systems to communicate with one another and exchange information. A well-documented API for resources in a digital collection allows third parties to develop new ways to interact with them.

Developers might use your API to create tools that reveal new aspects of your collection, promote it or make it available in a new way. To successfully support an API you need to nurture a community around it.

Collaborate with the users of your collection

Engage the existing users of your digital collection in order to enhance it, make it more accessible and create recommendations.

There are many potential activities you could use to engage a community. You will need to think about your desired outcome and the type of audience you wish to engage in order to select a good engagement technique.

Ensure your systems work with reference management software (eg Zotero, RefWorks, Mendeley, EndNote)

As citation chaining is often used by researchers to discover useful content, making it very simple for them to accurately cite items from your digital collection will increase the chance of future researchers discovering it.

There is a handful of widely used reference management software used in the academic sector. Supporting mechanisms to add references and citations to these packages will make it easier for researchers to cite items from your collection and increase opportunities to reach other researchers in the future.

Improve processes for exporting content

By creating processes that ensure the regular export of data from your collection you allow third party platforms to access it and make it discoverable.

Create champions for your digital collections

Many people rely heavily on recommendations from those they respect in order to discover useful resources online. Recommendations might come from teachers, fellow students, fellow researchers, or even family and friends.

Engage those who are using your digital collection and ensure they have the ability to promote and otherwise champion your digital collection if they so wish. You will benefit from their efforts to tell their personal network about your collection.

Strategic outcomes

Creating collection champions can contribute to institutional strategies to:

Enrich teaching and learning

Universities are universally focused on opportunities to enhance student experience and success though enriching learning and teaching provision. Providers at all levels are looking for digital technologies to increase flexibility of mode, to enable personalisation and collaboration and to transform access to and contextualisation of resources.

Digitised content can make a strong contribution to these objectives by

  • Enriching course materials and open education resources
  • Providing a window on the world of advanced study and the mechanics of scholarship
  • Offering teachers new opportunities to animate their subject areas

Enable research

Research is measured through a broad suite of impact factors that are underpinned by the strengths of people and resources. In many disciplines, those assets are increasingly distributed and virtualised, with research groups operating across faculty, institutional and geographic boundaries. The availability of content in a digital environment supports the distributed academy, providing a platform for the individual and the community.

Digitised content can make a strong contribution to these objectives by

  • Offering flexibility of access in terms of location and time
  • Linking scanned images with reusable text, lexical tools, metadata and commentary
  • Applying advancing IT techniques to analysis and comparison of texts and data
  • Providing a platform for interaction amongst scholars, linking commentary and debate directly to sources

Enhance reputation

Reputation for research, learning, teaching and more broadly as an institution is developed on a number of fronts ranging from impact measures to astute marketing and publicity. Most would agree that high profile collections can play a part in that mix, demonstrating scholarly tradition, worthy investment and learning opportunity, especially in the humanities.

Digitised content can make a strong contribution to these objectives by

  • Making the institution collections richly visible to the widest audience online
  • Providing a vehicle for widely resonant press releases and associated social media
  • Generating exposure through use in A-level teaching

Discovery behaviours

Creating collection champions will help those who:

Find content on recommendation from teachers

Students at all levels look for recommendations from teachers to guide them towards resources. These can be either through course reading lists or in the form of recommendations made in class or in a one-to-one discussion. When searching for resources to recommend, teachers tend to rely on their own specialist knowledge of the field, but may use library catalogues or online databases to check they have not missed anything relevant.

Find content by following experts online

Students and researchers who are becoming familiar with their field of interest recognise the value of identifying and following experts. Establishing who are experts and finding their publications is seen as a good way to enter into a new topic of research. An overview article or chapter written by a subject expert is seen as an excellent starting point for further exploration. When preparing to teach courses staff are also likely to look for relevant courses taught by other experts for examples and to compare approaches.

Use online social tools to find content

Students and researchers use online social tools to form peer communities in which information on resources will be exchanged. Most used are e-mail lists, writing personal and shared blogs, and tracking relevant blogs, often through RSS feeds. A few report use of Twitter for this purpose, but Facebook is not mentioned. Students are more likely to use social media such as Twitter and Facebook as a way of sharing resources where this forms part of the way they keep in touch with peers and classmates.

Find content by following citation chains

Researchers, both graduate students and faculty, place high value on following bibliographic references from books and articles they are reading, as a way of expanding their reference lists. This applies both to when they are researching new topics and as a way of expanding their knowledge of a research field in which they are already active.

Related resources

Reports on the changing behaviours of information seekers:

Historical reports on evolving user behaviours:

Create resource packages for teachers

Teachers are often looking for resources that meet specific pedagogical needs which they can use without further adjustment.

Use crowdsourcing to engage users

Crowdsourcing means to gather contributions from a large community in order to achieve a particular goal. While the primary goal of crowdsourcing activities might not be to increase visibility of a collection, this is a common side-effect.

Building a crowdsourcing platform from scratch could be a significant undertaking, however many existing platforms are available that you might find are suitable. Examples include Zooniverse and HistoryPin.

Give your staff clear internal roles

Many digital collections are created through limited time projects and as such can lack clear staff roles. Responsibilities to manage, promote and engage audiences in digital collections may not fall into traditional staff roles designed around physical collections, and may introduce new stakeholders like the institutional web team.

By creating clear staff roles you can ensure the targeted management and promotion of your collection to avoid issues effecting long-term sustainability.

Provide APIs to enhance access to your collection

An API is an online interface that allows software systems to communicate with one another and exchange information. A well-documented API for resources in a digital collection allows third parties to develop new ways to interact with them.

License your content correctly to enable suitable reuse

Enabling the reuse of resources, or the data describing resources, can enhance discoverability.

Publish metadata describing digitised resources under an extremely permissive license such as CC0

Enabling the reuse of metadata (the data describing resources) can enhance discoverability by making descriptions of the materials, available in a wider range of services and locations. The ‘CC0’ (Creative Commons Zero) public domain declaration essentially puts the data into the public domain making it highly reusable for any purpose. 

Collaborate with the users of your collection

Engage the existing users of your digital collection in order to enhance it, make it more accessible and create recommendations.

There are many potential activities you could use to engage a community. You will need to think about your desired outcome and the type of audience you wish to engage in order to select a good engagement technique.

Host a Wikipedia edit-a-thon

Wikipedia edit-a-thon is an event where people edit Wikipedia together. Participants are introduced to items from your collection, and you will make the Wikipedia community aware of your collection’s strengths.

Work with suitable partners

Find and partner with organisations that can assist you in exploiting your digital content. Collaboration could take many shapes, but should help you achieve your institutional goals and reach new audiences.

Ensure your digital collections integrate with your organisation’s systems

Within a single organisation there may be a variety of systems that are used to search for resources. To ensure a digital collection is discoverable by users within an institution it should be indexed within every institutional discovery system.

Typically, resources are indexed in discovery systems by the regular transfer of metadata. This might be through the regular import/export of data or through the Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting - OAI-PMH.

There are two common open source discovery systems used by university libraries - Blacklight and VuFind. There are also a number of commercial services available, including EBSCO’s Discovery Service, Ex Libris’ Primo and OCLC’s WorldCat Local.

Strategic outcomes

Ensuring your digital collection works well with local discovery services can contribute to institutional strategies to:

Enrich learning and teaching

Universities are universally focused on opportunities to enhance student experience and success though enriching learning and teaching provision. Providers at all levels are looking for digital technologies to increase flexibility of mode, to enable personalisation and collaboration and to transform access to and contextualisation of resources.

Digitised content can make a strong contribution to these objectives by

  • Enriching course materials and open education resources
  • Providing a window on the world of advanced study and the mechanics of scholarship
  • Offering teachers new opportunities to animate their subject areas

Enable research

Research is measured through a broad suite of impact factors that are underpinned by the strengths of people and resources. In many disciplines, those assets are increasingly distributed and virtualised, with research groups operating across faculty, institutional and geographic boundaries. The availability of content in a digital environment supports the distributed academy, providing a platform for the individual and the community.

Digitised content can make a strong contribution to these objectives by

  • Offering flexibility of access in terms of location and time
  • Linking scanned images with reusable text, lexical tools, metadata and commentary
  • Applying advancing IT techniques to analysis and comparison of texts and data
  • Providing a platform for interaction amongst scholars, linking commentary and debate directly to sources

Improve efficiency and effectiveness

The strategic outcomes of digitisation can alternatively be described in terms of economy, efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery. This is particularly evident in the cases of learning and teaching and of research, where digitisation brings opportunities for greater effectiveness (personalisation, collaboration, etc) as well as saving time and money.

The cases for efficiency and effectiveness can be assessed by comparing current practice (for example in curation, learning and research). However, it is important to beware of overstating economic benefits as the costs of digitisation are highly variable and may be set against zero cost (though less effective) alternatives.

Ensure economy of access

Alongside memory institutions, universities recognise the importance of providing access to unique texts and other assets of scholarly significance held in their special collections. However, supporting physical access is costly and inefficient for all parties. Whilst principally of interest to researchers in the institution, in the wider HE community and beyond, the potential for these assets to enrich the learning and teaching experience is increasingly recognised, especially if they can be readily accessed in digital form.

Digitised content can make a strong contribution to these objectives by

  • Alleviating pressures on curators to accommodate visiting scholars
  • Saving visiting costs to the researcher or student, with resulting environmental benefits
  • Opening up resources to students who would be unlikely to access the originals

The global pandemic of 2020-2021 showed how digital access to collections can suddenly and unexpectedly become essential when onsite access for users is not possible for some reason.

Discovery behaviours

Ensuring your digital collection works well with local discovery services will help those who use an online research resource or a database to find content.

Researchers, both graduate students and faculty, bookmark and then directly access online resources, including collections and databases, that they find valuable and to which they want to make return visits. Old Bailey Online and the Astrophysics Data System are two examples studied in the literature, but there are many more.

Further information

Higher Education Library Technology Wiki: Discovery.

Understand relevancy ranking

Most search engines use ‘relevancy ranking’ to sort results. The aim is to have the items most relevant to the user at the top of the list.

Make use of established cataloguing standards

Using established cataloguing standards allows you to ensure that when your content is aggregated, the descriptions you use for your collection will work alongside descriptions from other collections.

Use common data formats for metadata

Make it easy for others to access and use the descriptions you give to items in your collection by using common data formats. 

Publish metadata describing digitised resources under an extremely permissive license such as CC0

Enabling the reuse of metadata (the data describing resources) can enhance discoverability by making descriptions of the materials, available in a wider range of services and locations. The ‘CC0’ (Creative Commons Zero) public domain declaration essentially puts the data into the public domain making it highly reusable for any purpose.

The Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting

The Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting, or OAI-PMH is a well-established mechanism that allows systems to automatically share metadata. Supporting OAI-PMH enables third party services to copy your descriptive data, increasing its discoverability. 

Get your resources listed on library discovery indexes

Many universities now subscribe to ‘discovery’ services which index large numbers of resources. By getting your resources added to these they will be more discoverable by researchers, teachers and students.

Examples of discovery services include:

  • EBSCO’s discovery service
  • Ex Libris’s Primo Central Index
  • Proquest’s Summon
  • OCLC’s WorldCat Local

Work with the discovery service supplier to add resources to the central index, rather than just the local index, to ensure your collections are discoverable by all users of the service.

Improve processes for exporting content

By creating processes that ensure the regular export of data from your collection you allow third party platforms to access it and make it discoverable. 

This guide is made available under Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC-ND).