NIUDL Collection Development Policy

1. Introduction

1.1 Mission

Northern Illinois University's Digital Library (NIUDL) consists of unique digital collections that support the teaching and research mission of the University. Materials are digitized from the Library collection, often drawn from Rare Books and Special Collections, the Regional History Center & University Archives, and the Southeast Asia Collection, or through collaborative partnerships with other institutions. In addition to digitization, the following activities are core to the mission of the NIUDL: 

  • Ongoing curation of digital assets and, as necessary, migration of early digital legacy projects into more current frameworks.
  • Establishing best practices and procedures for dealing with born-digital materials.
  • Researching new technologies and methods that extend the library’s traditional reach, including support for digital humanities projects.

1.2 Audience

Intended audiences for specific digital collections are determined through collaboration with library colleagues, and may include:

  • Students at NIU
  • NIU Faculty
  • Primary, secondary, and post-secondary education users and instructors
  • Discipline-specific scholars
  • General public researcher, including genealogists

2. Criteria for Digitization

Digitization projects generally fall into one of the following categories:

  • Ongoing digitization of library and archival materials. These projects are proposed by library and archives staff, or by staff in consultation with university faculty. The final decision for projects to be undertaken are at the discretion of the Digital Collections Steering Committee, based on the overall technical feasibility of the project and available resources. Input will be solicited from other members of the library as needed, and proposals for ongoing digitization activities will be reviewed against such factors as curricular support, library collection development policies, and the overall strategic goals of the library. Collections are digitized throughout the year as time permits, and are stored in the NIUDL repository. Ongoing digitization work is the principal activity of NIUDL.
  • On-demand digitization includes immediate requests from library staff and library/archives patrons for reproduction of library materials. These requests generally arise from work with the public or through regular activities such as exhibit planning or preservation. All on-demand digitization requests are reviewed annually for possible inclusion in the NIUDL.
  • Grant-based digitization occurs for specially funded projects. Staff may be hired to work on these projects, although NIUDL staff will manage and develop the projects. Decisions on grants to pursue are made by the Digital Collections Steering Committee, along with representatives from different segments of the library. Grant-based digitization always takes priority over other categories of digitization.

2.1 Formats

The NIUDL staff can digitize a number of analog formats including:

  • Reflective originals, which includes anything printed on an opaque surface that can be placed on a scanner bed. Examples include photographs, manuscripts, and maps.

  • Transmissive originals, both positive and negative, which refers to anything printed on a transparent surface such as slides or photograph negatives.

  • Bound materials, providing they are not excessively fragile and do not have extremely tight binding.

  • VHS cassette tape video recording and Mini-DV conversion.

  • Audio recordings from various sources.

  • Three dimensional objects or oversized print materials, which can be digitized with a large format digital camera.

NIUDL can, in some cases, handle other formats. Size of materials will need to be evaluated on a project-by-project basis to see if current equipment can handle the request, or if the purchase of new equipment is warranted. Additionally, the conversion of analog materials to digital could, in some cases, be outsourced to a vendor if it is determined to be the most cost-effective solution.

NIUDL has developed digitization guidelines for the production of digital materials which are based on industry standards for quality in digital surrogates. In some cases, higher or lower levels of quality can be set if required.

2.2 Limitations

Materials that meet the above criteria for format and subject must also be free of any of the following restrictions in order to be ingested into NIUDL:

  • The item must either be in the public domain or the copyright must be owned by Northern Illinois University, or granted by the copyright holder. In some cases, if the material does not fall into the above category, but the copyright holder is unknown or the work is “orphaned,” it may be added to the repository on the understanding that it will be removed if and when the legitimate copyright holder comes forward.
  • A digitized version of an appropriate quality or edition must not be available online.
  • Digitization of the item must be complete. Portions of materials, such as a book page, will not be added to the repository, unless the item is significant enough on its own to warrant such treatment.

3. Copyright Status of Materials

Materials available in NIUDL are made available for research, teaching, and private study under Title 17 of the United States Code. Users of the site are responsible for determining copyright restrictions for any further use. Many of the materials in NIUDL are either in the public domain or their copyright is retained by NIU. In special cases, a copyright holder has granted NIU Library or Archives the right to make this material available online. NIUDL has also made some material available when a copyright holder is unknown or unreachable, although materials will be removed at the request of any legitimate copyright holder. All materials contain a rights statement indicating the above conditions.

4. Maintenance and Removal

Deaccessioning is an active collection management tool that allows the University Libraries at Northern Illinois University to refine, focus, and improve its collections. Digital files are subject to the same deaccessioning policies as other materials in the University Libraries’ collection. If all or part of a collection is deaccessioned, it will be deleted from the repository. Generally, all digital objects will remain as accessible as possible, but removal may occur for reasons of collection weeding, storage issues, and data curation. All deaccession decisions must comply with legal and ethical standards and reflect the University’s role as a trustee of the materials in its collections for the benefit of the campus community, researchers, and the public. Deaccession criteria is detailed in Appendix 1.

Deposit agreement requirements and responsibilities

NIU Digital Collections reserves the right to deaccession assets or collections on a case-by-case basis, with due observance of institutional and contractual obligations. Collection managers can deaccession objects from the digital archive as part of a responsible collection management decision.

University Archive Records

Retention periods are based on the creation of a retention schedule, which outlines the regulatory, statutory and legal requirements for management of information under which the University operates. Additional considerations are any business needs that may exceed the mandated requirements and records with historic, intrinsic, or enduring value. Long-term records are those that are identified to have a continuing value. Based on the period assigned in the retention schedule, these may be held for periods of 25 years or longer, or may even be assigned a retention period of "indefinite" or "permanent".

University records are managed in accordance with the State Records Act (5 ILCS 160). Retention and disposition schedules for University records are detailed in the Record Retention Schedule.

5. Accessibility

NIUDL is committed to making its digital assets as accessible as possible. This commitment includes:

  • Web design that complies with section 508 of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and internal standards set by NIU.
  • Digital objects and metadata available through commonly and freely available standards.
  • The highest quality file for all digitized objects belonging to NIUDL will be made as openly available as possible.
  • The long-term storage and maintenance of digital objects and metadata records.

If portions of any site are inaccessible, please contact us.

6. Existing Digital Collections

As of January 2017, the following designated Digital Collections existed and will be continued; a brief sketch of each is appended:

Nickels and Dimes

Dime novels were a format of inexpensive popular literature produced in the United States from 1860 through the 1920s. An antecedent to the pulp magazine, comic book, and mass market paperback, they contain some of America's earliest popular fiction, including Westerns, detective novels, love stories, and even proto-science fiction. Nickels and Dimes includes more than 2,000 dime novels digitized from NIU's Albert Johannsen and Edward T. LeBlanc collections. The first phase of this project began in 2013, with the seminal Beadle's Dime Novels, and subsequent phases have focused on Nick Carter LibraryPluck and Luck, and Fame and Fortune Weekly. In January 2017, Northern Illinois University and Villanova University received a Digitizing Hidden Collections grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) for $448,893 to digitize the dime novels of Beadle & Adams, the first and most important publisher of the format. The project will involve digitizing Albert Johannsen’s personal collection, acquired by NIU in 1967, and will include related publications from Villanova’s special collections. A total of 5,400 dime novels will be digitized and made freely available to read and download on Nickels and Dimes. In addition, the project will incorporate metadata from Johannsen’s The House of Beadle and Adams and its Nickel and Dime Novels (1950), one of the most significant works of dime novel scholarship and bibliography of the 20th century, including relationships between stories, editions, and authors. This will be published as open linked data on and include digital holdings information, which will be used to coordinate dime novel digitization across multiple institutions. Acquisitions level: active. Preservation level: full.

Southeast Asia Digital Library

In 2005, the US Department of Education's Technological Innovation and Cooperation for Foreign Information Access (TICFIA) program awarded a four-year, $780,000 grant to a consortium of institutions from around the world to create the Southeast Asia Digital Library. The grant was administered by Northern Illinois University (NIU) Libraries, which also housed and maintained the digital library. A consortium of institutions represented by librarians from the Committee on Research Materials on Southeast Asia (CORMOSEA) and faculty from participating institutions acted as an advisory committee to guide the digital library from its inception. Work on the library commenced at NIU Libraries and around the world in October 2005 to provide free access to archives of textual, still image, sound, and video resources, covering both historical and current information from the region. Over the four years of the grant, the Southeast Asia Digital Library supported eight constituent content projects at partner institutions in the US and Southeast Asia. In 2009, the Southeast Asia Digital Library received a second round of funding from the TICFIA program, supporting the development of nine new initiatives. Acquisitions level: active. Preservation level: full.

The Northern Illinois University Latinx Oral History Project

This collection contains audio and video interviews with NIU faculty, students, and staff, undocumented migrants, community activists and leaders, and other Latinxs in the region. Many of the interviews have focused on themes of family, identity formation, Latinx social and political organizing, and the difficulties faced by the undocumented in the United States. Interviews continue to be collected and processed by NIU undergraduate and graduate students in the Center for Latino and Latin American Studies. Some interviews have also been deposited in the Regional History Center at NIU’s Founders Memorial Library and are open to researchers for consultation.

Lee Shreiner Sheet Music Collection

Lee Schreiner (Rockford, IL) donated a large portion of his sheet music collection--several thousand pieces--to Rare Books and Special Collections in 2014. Music in the collection covers much of the early 20th century, with coverage especially strong during World War I (1914-1918). Because most Americans either had access to pianos or watched performers at music halls, sheet music is an ideal medium for studying popular and visual culture. Pieces in this collection reflects popular opinion about the war, as well as the changing status of women and minorities. Acquisitions level: active. Preservation level: full.

Regional History Center and University Archives

Contains digitized materials from significant collections in the Regional History Center and University Archives, including all of the Norther yearbooks, as well as items from the W.W. Embree Collection, the Postcard Collection, Woodbury-Forsythe Diaries, Vanderhoof Family Papers, Spring Creek United Church of Christ, Taylor Farm Records, Sons of Norway Valhall Lodge No. 168 Records, LeRoy Community Grange No. 1873 Records, and the Grant Army of the Republic Records (Mendota). Acquisitions level: active. Preservation level: full.


Lincoln/Net is the product of the Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project. Based at Northern Illinois University, the Lincoln Project works with a number of Illinois institutions, including the University of Chicago, the Newberry Library, the Chicago Historical Society, Illinois State University, the Illinois State Archives, Lewis University, and Knox College. Collaborating institutions have contributed historical materials, including books, manuscripts, images, maps and other resources, including Northern Illinois University, Illinois State Library, Newberry Library, Chicago Historical Society, Lewis University Library, University of Chicago Library, Illinois State University Library, Illinois State Archives, Knox College Library, and Northwestern University Library. The Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project was funded by the Illinois State Library, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Illinois Humanities Council, the Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the DeKalb County Community Foundation, the Illinois Board of Higher Education, ESRI, and the Ruth McCormick Tankersley Charitable Trust. Acquisitions level: static. Preservation level: full.

Mark Twain's Mississippi

Mark Twain made the Mississippi Valley in the nineteenth century an integral part of American historical memory and mythology in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), and Life on the Mississippi (1883). This project provides a fully searchable and indexed digital library of primary source materials, including Twain's celebrated Mississippi works themselves, collected text materials include his known correspondence from the period that he trained and served as a river pilot (from the collections of the Mark Twain's Papers Project at the University of California, Berkeley), as well as steamboat passengers' travel narratives and accounts and descriptions of individual cities, plantations, and other notable sites along the Mississippi. These materials were drawn from the collections of Northern Illinois University Libraries, The Newberry Library, the St. Louis Mercantile Library, and Tulane University Libraries. The Mark Twain's Mississippi Project was generously funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Acquisitions level: static. Preservation level: full.

American Archives

Beginning in 1837, the printer Peter Force, who also served as mayor of Washington, D.C., devoted sixteen years to collecting thousands of pamphlets, booklets, and newspaper articles pertaining to the "Origin, Settlement, and Progress of the Colonies in North America" from the Revolutionary Era in order to preserve them for future generations. He published them in a set of nine large volumes that he called the American Archives. By the late twentieth century Force's collection of materials from the years 1774-6 had become a valuable scholarly resource, as it contained the only surviving copies of many important documents. But while a number of large research libraries around the world held the American Archives in their collections, it remained an underused resource. Scholars and students alike struggled with Force's unwieldy index and complicated organization of the materials. In 2001, Northern Illinois University Libraries and Professor Allan Kulikoff of the University of Georgia received grant funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support the digitization of the American Archives. This project allow its users to use sophisticated search and indexing software to explore Force's volumes. Professor Kulikoff has also produced a thematic indexing scheme describing the contents of every individual text in the American Archives collection. Together, these tools will offer scholars, students, and lifetime learners with unprecedented new access to these important primary source materials from American history. Acquisitions level: static. Preservation level: full.

Illinois During the Gilded Age

Contains primary source materials and original interpretive resources shedding light on the history of Illinois in the period 1866-1896. Primary source materials, which include texts and images, are drawn from the collections of Northern Illinois University Libraries, The University of Chicago Library, the Newberry Library, Illinois State University Libraries, the Schingoethe Center for Native American Cultures at Aurora University, and the Joiner History Room at the DeKalb County History Center. Interpretive materials include short narrative and thematic descriptions of the period, as well as sets of essays devoted to several special topics: American Populism; the Pullman Strike; The Haymarket Bomb; Ida B. Wells, and Frances E. Willard. Available multi-media materials include interpretive videos in which leading scholars discuss the period and special topics, as well as latter-day recordings made of period sheet music. Acquisition level: static. Preservation level: full.

Illinois During the Civil War

Contains primary source materials and original interpretive resources shedding light on the history of Illinois during the American Civil War. Primary source materials include texts and images, and are drawn from the collections of Northern Illinois University Libraries, the University of Chicago Libraries, the Illinois State Historical Society, Illinois State University Libraries, and the Joiner History Room at the DeKalb County History Center. Available multi-media materials include interpretive videos in which a leading scholar discusses the events of the war. Acquisition level: static. Preservation level: full.

7. Review Cycle

This policy was approved on June 8, 2017. It will be reviewed annually, or as needed, by the Digital Collections Steering Committee to assure timely revisions as technology progresses, strategies and experiences mature, and resources change.

Appendix 1: Deaccession Criteria

NIUDL staff will evaluate all deaccession proposals on a case-by-case basis and in accordance with the statutory provisions quoted above. Each item being considered for deaccession must meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • Relevance: inclusion of the asset in the collection does not support the NIUDL mission or fit within the collection development policy.
  • Care of the Object: care cannot not be provided for assets in unsupported formats or NIUDL lacks resources to cover special preservation requirements associated with an asset.
  • Duplication: the asset is an exact duplicate or unnecessarily duplicates the subject matter or relevance of another asset within the collection.
  • Authenticity: the asset lacks historical value or usefulness for any of the following reasons:
    • integrity
    • authenticity
    • identity
    • provenance
  • Access: the asset cannot be rendered or presented because of advanced deterioration (e.g. bit rot), obsolescence, or because the item has been migrated to a standard format or a format which equally or better represents the item.
  • Rights: NIUDL staff received a request to remove the asset from the copyright holder.
  • Privacy: the asset includes personal information such as SSNs, phone numbers, addresses, etc.
  • Sustainability: the asset is available in another Trusted Digital Repository.
  • Security: the asset is found to be malicious in nature and/or potentially damaging to other items in the collection.