This month marks a new departure for us at the Resource Centre, as we spread the word about our first open-access digital collection: A (very nearly) full set of the Commission for Racial Equality‘s (CRE) publications.
541 pamphlets, reports, guides, etc etc, covering all aspects of race relations policy, practice and debate in the UK, from 1976 to 2007. These publications can be accessed free, by anyone, through the University of Manchester Library’s digital collections database. We invite you all to browse the collection and spread the word!
We originally acquired the publications as part of a very large donation from the CRE library, following the organisation’s dissolution (into the work of the Equality and Human Rights Commission) in 2007. This material, which includes publications from a variety of organisations in addition to the CRE’s own publications, is now part of our library collection* and has proved popular with race researchers who visit the Resource Centre.
This is all well and good, but of course we know that not every interested researcher can come to Manchester and spend time in our library. The call to digitise and widen access is getting louder, and we’re keen to respond… but there are barriers. Not only the widespread difficulties of skills, funds and resources for digitisation work, and the questions of where to host the material, how to create access and how to ensure long-term preservation. But also, as much of the material in our collection was produced in the last 50 years it is still under copyright – copyright that, for the most part, we don’t own. This greatly limits what we can digitise. But even where ownership has been transferred to us, as in our oral history collections, we don’t take the law literally. We are very cautious about how we reproduce and give access to the often highly personal stories we have been entrusted with. If we don’t fully understand the implications of a new digital platform, or think it might contravene the expectations and wishes of our donors, we won’t risk using it.
But hurray! The CRE publications came to us complete with copyright transfer documentation, so the collection was a perfect (if ambitious) candidate for our first digitisation project.
A number of people were involved in this work, but notably our (at the time) Library Manager Julie Devonald who fundraised, managed the digitisation process and secured a digital platform, and our Documentation Officer Carly Morel who transformed a bulging disk of 541 PDFs into a digital collection. When she isn’t working for us, Carly is part of the digital preservation team at the University of Manchester Library, so she not only has indispensable expertise and access to technical support, but also a genuine (and some might say unfathomable) enthusiasm for metadata, archival standards and digital processes.
Having overcome many barriers with this project, we are now starting to think digitally. We’re identifying archive and library material that a) we can legally digitise, b) we’d be comfortable making available online and c) we believe would be of value to a national and international audience. It may only be a tiny percentage of the collection, but over the coming years we hope to develop a unique and engaging digital resource with real research value.
*We also have a substantial archive of the CRE’s organisational papers, take a look at the catalogue here .