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Digitisation Policy


Special Collections & Archives policies supplement Queen’s University Library Resource Development & Management Policy.  This policy is complemented by the following SCA documents:

Preservation Policy

Finding aids (pdf files, database)

Collections Information Policy

Exhibition Loan Policy

Disaster Plan

Governing Body

Queen’s University Belfast


Special Collections & Archives (SCA) is responsible for management, collection development and preservation of the Library’s manuscript, map, rare print and digital collections, including modern material relating to Ireland and Ulster in particular. The institutional archive of Queen’s College Belfast and Queen’s University Belfast is an important and substantial part of our unique holdings too. The materials (books, pamphlets, manuscripts, correspondence, music, photographs, maps, records, plans and digital material) held in Special Collections are considered to be of lasting research value and include examples of the earliest printed works (incunabula), and books and pamphlets published between the 16th and early 19th centuries, as such they are intrinsic to local, national and international cultural heritage. In order to preserve the material for future readers these collections are housed in a secure and environmentally controlled setting, a proactive focus on appropriate handling and ethical management along with recourse to external expertise as required are central to the management and preservation of the collections in our care. We are continually improving access to our collections and adding a further layer of long-term protection by digitally preserving relevant material.


SCA was established as a distinct unit in the University Library in 1929. In 1984 a purpose built restricted access store with air conditioning was built in the Main Library to house Special Collections materials, the University Archive was stored separately. A dedicated reading room and office was established nearby for patrons to consult SCA materials. In 2009 a new library building was opened which included a bespoke SCA Store and reading room in compliance with BS5454:2000 guidelines. The University Archive also moved to the new McClay Library, it is co-located with additional restricted access storage space on a separate floor. The Special Collections service at Queen’s provides access to the Library's rare and early printed bookmap, and manuscript collections, as well as to more modern material relating to Ireland and Ulster in particular. The collections are interdisciplinary in content with particular strengths in Irish Studies, literature, history and politics, including nineteenth and early twentieth century China. The distinctive, rare and unique collections in SCA holdings support the research and teaching mission of Queen’s University and scholarship internationally. As these collections are an important part of our cultural heritage they are accessible to the general public as well as the staff and students of Queen’s and external researchers.

SCA has moved from supporting and developing a traditional print based collection to bridge and embrace the digital environment through creation of digital surrogates, development of new e-resources (JSTOR Ireland Collection) and a range of resource discovery tools to support research, teaching and learning (RASCAL, finding aids, databases) at Queen’s, internationally and outside the academy. We are in the process of adopting a new PRESERVICA preservation platform which acts as a repository, holding and preserving archival backups of all our digitised collections and metadata to keep our digital records useable and accessible in the long term.

Roles & Responsibilities

The Head of Special Collections and Archives is responsible for managing the Acquisition budget and co-ordinating the selection and acquisition of materials for SCA holdings. Materials for SCA are acquired with a view to retention in perpetuity. Stock selection (through purchase, donation and bequest) is informed by knowledge of SCA collection strengths and the need to balance the development of research resources with preservation responsibilities and the focus of research at Queen’s University Belfast. Nominations for stock from members of the University are welcomed, suitable items will be purchased in perpetuity within the constraints of the budget and preservation capacity available at Queen’s SCA.

In addition, Special Collections & Archives preserves and makes accessible, to the University and to the public, a range of historical archives relating to the University.



Preservation “includes all the managerial and financial considerations including storage and accommodation provisions, staffing levels, policies, techniques and methods involved in preserving library and archive materials and the information contained in them”[1]. These activities are designed to minimize the physical, chemical, and technical (bit) deterioration of the archival records, while maintaining access and useability of their informational content.

SCA materials are digitised to meet the needs of SCA and in support of research, teaching and learning at Queen’s University Belfast. We work closely with external vendors to ensure safe digitisation of rare, unique and sometimes vulnerable materials to agreed specifications and timescales.

[1] National Preservation Office (n.d)


SCA has been digitising materials from the holdings since 2003. Materials have been digitised as exemplars to show the breadth and richness of our manuscript, print, and photographic collections; for preservation purposes; to support research, teaching and learning; for large scale digital projects and in response to specific user requests.

Selection Criteria

Materials are select for digitisation in order to

  • Maximize use of Special Collections by facilitating a greater volume of networked access both locally and externally and by providing the enhanced functionality intrinsic to digitized items
  • Contribute to the preservation of original analogue materials for future users by preparation of digital surrogates with appropriate metadata
  • Facilitate new areas of enquiry, support digital scholarship and innovation
  • Raise the profile of Special Collections and the University nationally and internationally
  • Support local, national and international collaborations
  • Generate income on a cost recovery basis

Media of records created

Digitisation of Special Collections & Archives materials is to the following specifications where possible:

Image capture: 400/ 600 dpi to generate TIFF, JPEG and PDF/A versions of every image

OCR: first pass only, delivered as a Word document and PDF/A

Microfilm: this format may be considered on a case by case basis in tandem with digital surrogates

Sound files: WAV, MPEG-4


Reproduction of Special Collections & Archives materials is subject to copyright law (UK Copyright Patents and Designs Act 1988). It is also undertaken at the discretion of Special Collections staff depending on the condition of materials. At the Library’s discretion, patrons may use digital cameras to capture images for personal research purposes. All devices must be hand-held and set to 'silent'. Flash photography is not permitted. Copying of manuscript materials for personal research purposes is only permitted with the departmental book-page scanner which applies a watermark to all images captured.

Publication quality images, subject to condition of originals, may be supplied on application.

Further information on reproduction, permissions and charging is available online


Special Collections & Archives will consider collaborations with other institutions and organisations on a case by case basis.

SCA will seek to avoid competition and conflict with other institutions and organisations.

When discussing potential projects SCA will draw attention to the existence of other institutions and organisations with similar or overlapping digital resource development activities, to prevent unnecessary duplication of activity and ensure synergies are explored where practical and appropriate.


In addition to creating digitised resources from SCA holdings, SCA may from time to time engage in digitisation projects with external institutions and organisations in order to acquire surrogates of unique and distinct materials to support research, teaching and learning at Queen’s.


SCA staff are responsible for the selection of the majority of print and other materials added to SCA holdings. Nominations from members of the University are welcome and digital surrogates of suitable collections may be negotiated in line with SCA collection development policy.


SCA is very grateful for donations as they enhance our ability to facilitate research and extend support for teaching and learning at all levels. All donations must be evaluated in line with the SCA collection development policy in order to maintain a balanced approach to collection development, facilitate access and manage preservation needs into the future. Donations of digital content must therefore be accepted selectively. All donations are finalised with an appropriate Deed of Gift Agreement (Appendix I) which outlines the terms and conditions of deposit, transfer of title and clarification regarding any associated copyrights.


SCA accepts bequests from individuals and organisations, however they are evaluated on a case by case basis to ensure that SCA at Queen’s is actually the most appropriate location for deposit and also to ensure the balanced development of SCA holdings. All bequests are finalised with an appropriate Deed of Gift Agreement (Appendix I) which outlines the terms and conditions of deposit, transfer of title and any associated copyrights.


Surrogates of archival materials not easily accessible which contribute to the balanced development of SCA holdings and meet research or teaching needs of Queen’s community may be acquired from time to time. Special Collections & Archives may also create new collections.

Conditions associated with accessions

All acquisitions are assessed for their ability to enhance SCA holdings. A number of related selection criteria are employed when appraising materials for acquisition.


The depositor must own or be authorised to transfer title to material, a deed of gift or deposit agreement must be signed. Materials must be free of legal encumbrances or excessive restrictions and become the outright property and responsibility of SCA with or without associated copyright/s.


Focus must be relevant to SCA collecting remit, this does not mean however that subject areas represented in SCA collections already is sufficient justification for acquisition.

Research & Teaching

Resources are acquired to support balanced development of the collection or to facilitate research and teaching interests now or in the foreseeable future. 


Files must be in a reasonable physical condition and in a format which can be easily supported at SCA.


Resources which require equipment or skills beyond the department’s resources to preserve or facilitate access will not normally be considered or accepted. SCA will also consider its capacity and expertise to manage materials.


Files should not duplicate SCA holdings.


SCA will take into account the potential use at Queen’s and the limited or easy availability of very expensive resources elsewhere.  The uniqueness, rarity and authorship of materials will also factor into the selection process.


Surrogates of archival or rare print materials not easily accessible, which contribute to the balanced development of SCA holdings and meet research or teaching needs of Queen’s community, may be acquired from time to time.


Resources acquired with the assistance of internal or external grant aid will be held in compliance with the terms and conditions of said funding bodies.


SCA operates under the following principles:

  1. There should be a strong presumption against the disposal by sale of any materials in its holdings
  2. The authority to transfer materials to a more suitable repository, if it is accepted that the materials would benefit from relocation, rests with SCA
  3. SCA will evaluate and reserve the right to dispose of materials deemed to fall outside the collecting and preservation remit. This entitlement will be made clear in advance of the transfer of title
  4. In the event that Special Collections & Archives ceases to exist and in recognition that materials in SCA holdings have significant research, teaching and cultural value for society, reasonable efforts will be made to offer the resources to appropriate institutions to facilitate access for research, education and the public.


Special Collections & Archives will create appropriate metadata to ensure accurate identification of files and facilitate easy retrieval by patrons. In house guidelines for documenting SCA collections are available to ensure a standardised approach to file naming for all collections in SCA.

Digital files which are closed to the public for data protection or confidentiality will be made available internally to Special Collections & Archives department only.

Special Collections & Archives may also distribute and make digital content available on a range of platforms and through networks to facilitate resource discovery as the opportunity arises.

Rights Protection and legislative compliance

While Information Services will make digital surrogates of selected items from SCA collections available online, this material is for personal or research use only. Any other use, including commercial or scholarly reproductions, redistribution, publication, or transmission, whether by electronic means or otherwise, without prior written permission, is prohibited. SCA will continue to grant or withhold permission on a case by case basis, and a usage fee may be charged depending on proposed use of SCA content. 

In order to protect the University’s rights and comply with current legislation (without being restrictive to the genuine scholar), digitised content will be made available through an appropriate digital asset management system which enables digital rights management and open access.

The policy statement will be reviewed at intervals of not more than three years.

Date of issue current version: August 2023

Date of review: August 2026