Born-Digital and in the Virtual Reading Room

By Christine Kim

This post is the thirteenth in a bloggERS series about access to born-digital materials.

At the University of California, Irvine (UCI), we wanted to provide access to the rapidly growing volume of born-digital records but couldn’t really justify the time it would take to look through every single item to evaluate its relevance. This balance of providing access to researchers while simultaneously evaluating the digital content is a huge challenge we’re faced with as we justify collecting and preserving with promoting access to information.

What did we come up with? The Virtual Reading Room (VRR).

In order to for me to properly introduce the VRR and explain how it truly fits into our growing suite of digital resources, we need to back up a few paces. Let’s start from our digital collection page, UCIspace @ the Libraries, which we like to call UCIspace for short. UCIspace is where our digital collections currently live (though we have been working on a big move with the California Digital Library to transition to Calisphere) and includes a variety of materials, such as digitally reformatted collections (images, audio-visual files, oral histories, pdf documents, etc.), as well as born-digital collections. UCIspace is powered by DSpace, a highly customizable open source software package that preserves and enables open access to all sorts of digital files and is administered by the super amazing and incredibly talented IT folks at the UCI Libraries.

We currently have 13 collections on UCIspace, of which six collections include born-digital materials. The six collections may include both digitally reformatted as well as born-digital items, which all co-habitate in peace. They are all now digital and treated with equal amounts of care.

These six collections include born digital materials. Total views from date of creation to February 1, 2016.
These six collections include born-digital materials. Total views from date of creation to February 1, 2016.


Okay, so we have digitally reformatted and born-digital materials available through UCIspace. Then what’s the VRR all about? Well, our VRR is a virtual space that resides within UCIspace in order to provide an extra layer of security for certain items or sub-collections.

We were acquiring volumes and terabytes of hard drives and digital files and raw footage, and our collecting pace was not going to slow down to let us catch up with identifying its digital content. We learned from our physical backlog that if we waited, this material would never be available for access. But we also knew that we couldn’t just make this stuff available. Could we apply MPLP practice to born-digital materials?

That’s where the VRR comes in. We thought, hey, what if we have people agree to certain terms and conditions, and then put these items behind a login so that folks can have access once they agree to some conditions? We like to dream big. And so with that thought, we investigated with our IT unit to see what the possibilities and limitations were. As it turns out, they like to turn dreams into reality.

Any item within the VRR has a certain level of privacy–you can’t just go into the collection page and see the image. The item is “locked” and resides behind a login screen.

Items from the Mark Poster born digital files, 1985-2009. Top item is unrestricted. Bottom item indicates it is accessible through the Virtual Reading Room.
Items from the Mark Poster born-digital files, 1985-2009. Top item is unrestricted. Bottom item indicates it is accessible through the Virtual Reading Room.

Selecting an item within the VRR will prompt a login screen. In order to gain access, both remote researchers and those using reading room public workstations must request access via the VRR Registration Form.

Application for the Virtual Reading Room in UCISpace @ the Libraries.
Application for the Virtual Reading Room in UCISpace @ the Libraries.

Submitting this form provides the user with a login and password, but the most important factor is that the researcher agrees to certain terms and conditions as part of requesting access to VRR materials. These terms are indicated within the “Rules of Use.”

A check-box counts as a digital signature!
A check-box counts as a digital signature!

The “Rules of Use” lists a handful of conditions of use, including the statement: “All digital content in UCIspace @ the Libraries is made publicly available for use in research, teaching, and private study.” The complete “Rules of Use” document is available for all to read.

What type of collections are available in the VRR? For now, we have two collections with items in the VRR, the Mark Poster Born Digital files and the Richard Rorty Born Digital Files. One key aspect is that the entirety of the collection does not have to be in the VRR–DSpace allows us to create a collection, and manage sub-collections so that only selected portions of the collections are behind a login screen.

What are the results of the VRR? Well, here are some use statistics.

From date of creation to February 1, 2016.
From date of creation to February 1, 2016.

How did we make this happen? Having awesome teammates definitely helps. But along those lines, it also helps to have a clear understanding of how a great team operates. Communication, dreaming big, and having a mutual goal of providing excellent public services.

Please reach out to Christine Kim (christik [at] uci [dot] edu) if you have any questions about the Virtual Reading Room, UCIspace, or anything else about UCI Libraries Special Collections & Archives.

Kim_BornDigiandintheVirtualReadingRoom_ERSblog_6Christine Kim is the Public Services Assistant at the UC Irvine Libraries, Special Collections & Archives. She is responsible for connecting researchers with archival and special collections materials, and delights in sharing the resources uniquely available at UC Irvine. She holds an MLIS from San Jose State University and a BA in both History and Film & Media Studies from UC Irvine.

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