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NIUDL Collection Development Policy

1. Introduction

1.1 Mission

Northern Illinois University Libraries’ digital collections consists of unique materials that support the teaching and research mission of the University. Materials are typically digitized from the Libraries' collections, often drawn from Rare Books and Special Collections and the Regional History Center & University Archives, or through collaborative partnerships with other institutions. In addition to digitization, the following activities are core to the mission of NIU’s digital collections: 

  • Researching new technologies and methods that extend the library’s traditional reach, including support for digital humanities projects.
  • 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.

1.2 Audience

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

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

1.3 Scope

This policy does not apply to the Southeast Asia Digital Library, which has its own collection development policy written and maintained by the Committee on Research Materials on Southeast Asia (CORMOSEA).

2. Priorities for Digitization

2.1 Priority Areas

NIU Libraries have identified the following areas for new projects based on collection strengths and priorities within the library and university. While proposals outside of these areas will be considered, they represent the University Libraries’ current collecting goals.

University history: Documents, photographs, recordings, publications, and objects related to the history of NIU and typically held in the University Archives. These collections include the student newspaper, alumni magazines, yearbooks, oral histories, performance recordings, and course catalogs. 

Local, regional, and Chicagoland history: Collections related to the history of DeKalb County, the other seventeen northern counties of Illinois, and Cook County. These collections will typically come from the Regional History Center and local community partners. 

Popular Culture: Popular fiction and related ephemera, including dime novels, story papers, series books, science fiction, and comic books, held in Rare Books and Special Collections. 

Marginalized Groups: Collections that deepen public understanding of the histories of people of color and other communities and populations whose work, experiences, and perspectives have been insufficiently recognized or unattended. These groups include, but are not limited to, Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other People of Color; Women; Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Non-binary, and other Genderqueer people and communities; Immigrants, including undocumented immigrants; Displaced populations; Blind, Deaf, and Disabled people and communities; and Colonized, Disenfranchised, Enslaved, and Incarcerated people.

2.3 Priority Factors

The following factors will be taken into consideration when prioritizing new projects. See Appendix 1 for a Priority Factors rubric.

Significance: The importance of the project on the basis of its long-term benefits to research, education, public programming, and local or institutional history.

Curricular and Research Relevance: The extent to which digitizing the collection will directly support teaching and research efforts of instructors, faculty, and staff or the creation of Open Educational Resources. Priority will be given to projects that are being digitized at the request of or in collaboration with instructors to support current or future curriculum. 

Diversity and Inclusion: Whether the project will deepen public understanding of underrepresented communities, cultures, or groups.

Rights and Access: Priority is given to digitization of materials that are in the public domain or to which NIU holds the copyright. Under special circumstances, materials that are protected by copyright may be approved, even if access to the public is restricted. 

Preservation: Some materials in the collection are extremely fragile or at risk of being lost if they are not digitized. This factor takes into consideration both the urgency of digitization, as well as the potential for preservation. 

3. Copyright Status of Materials

Digital collections 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. Most of the materials in NIU’s digital collections are either in the public domain, their copyright is owned by NIU, or a copyright holder has granted NIU the right to make the material available online. NIU has also made some material available when a copyright holder is unknown or unreachable, although such materials will be removed at the request of any legitimate copyright holder. In special cases, materials that is under copyright may still be digitized if public access is restricted. 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 October 2021, 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 9,000 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 focused on Nick Carter LibraryPluck and Luck, and Fame and Fortune Weekly. In January 2017, NIU 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 publisher of the format. The project involved digitizing Albert Johannsen’s personal collection, acquired by NIU in 1967, and included related publications from Villanova’s special collections. A total of 5,400 dime novels were digitized and made freely available to read and download on Nickels and Dimes. In July 2020, Northern Illinois University, Villanova University, Stanford University, Bowling Green State University, and Oberlin College received a Humanities Collections and Reference Resources grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for $338,630 to digitize the dime novel of Street & Smith, the only major publisher to survive the dime novel era and successfully transition into publishing pulp magazines and comic books. This project will involve digitizing 4,409 volumes of dime novels and story papers, which will be published on each institution's website and aggregated through In addition to producing images and full-text, the project will also add detailed bibliographic information about Street & Smith's publications to, including entries for every story and author. 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 and was last revised on October 22, 2021. It will be reviewed annually, or as needed, by the NIU Libraries’ Digital Collections Steering Committee to assure timely revisions as technology progresses, strategies and experiences mature, and resources change.

Appendix 1: Priority Factor Rubric

There are a total of 35 points possible. 


0: The materials are not unique, have been previously digitized by other institutions, and access has been made freely available without restriction to the public; or digitization is not likely to make a significant impact on teaching, scholarship, or public programming.

5: The materials are not unique, but no wide-scale efforts have been made to digitize similar collections at other institutions, the collections are behind a paywall, or digitization is only feasible through a collaborative effort. The project is likely to generate new scholarship, lead to new public programming, or change our understanding of the world; or the project is important to documenting or understanding local or institutional history.

10: The materials are unique and digitization will fill an important gap in the historical, cultural, or institutional record; the project is likely to generate new scholarship, lead to new public programming, or change our understanding of the world; or the project is important to documenting or understanding local or institutional history. 

Curricular and Research Relevance 

0: The project does not have curricular relevance or align with any existing academic programs. The relevance to research is unknown or uncertain.

2: The project aligns with existing academic programs, but currently has no curricular relevance and no researcher has requested digitization. 

4: A non-affiliated researcher has requested digitization of the collection for use in their research or teaching or the collection has been frequently requested in the past. 

6: A student has requested digitization of the material for use in their research.

8: A faculty or staff member has requested digitization of the collection for use in a class or research or a subject librarian has aligned this project with an emerging research trend. 

10: The project directly involves students and faculty as active collaborators, e.g., through contextualization of digitized materials or the creation of Open Educational Resources. 

Diversity and Inclusion 

0 or 5: The project either does or does not deepen our understanding of the histories of people of color and other communities and populations whose work, experiences, and perspectives have been insufficiently recognized or unattended.

Rights and Access 

0: The material is under copyright, the rights holder is known, and permission has been denied or it is unlikely to be granted because of commercial or moral concerns. Digitization as outlined in the proposal opposes fair use. 

1: The material is under copyright and the rights holder is unknown, even after a reasonable effort has been made to identify the rights holder. Digitization as outlined in the proposal opposes fair use. 

2: The material is under copyright and permission to digitize as outlined in the proposal has been granted by the rights holder, but that use restricts public access. 

3: The material is under copyright and the rights holder is unknown, but digitization as outlined in the proposal favors fair use; or, the material is under copyright, the rights holder is known, and permission has not yet been requested, but digitization as outlined in the proposal favors fair use. 

4: The material is under copyright, but permission to digitize as outlined in the proposal has been granted by the rights holder, and that use includes unrestricted public access. 

5: The material is in the public domain, has been dedicated to the public domain, or has been licensed under CC BY


0: The material is at no risk of loss and is not unique or rare. 

1: The material is at low-risk of loss due to condition, but no or few copies exist in other library collections. 

2: The material is at medium-risk of loss due to condition, but it is not unique or rare.  

3: The material is at high-risk of loss due to condition, but it is not unique rare. 

4: The material is at medium-risk of loss due to condition, but no or few copies exist in other library collections. 

5: The material is at high-risk of loss due to condition and no or few copies exist in other library collections. 

Appendix 2: 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.