Our Digital World’s 2018 Survey of Digitization needs and practices

Digitization in Ontario Public Libraries: A Fresh Look

Read our report on digitization in Ontario public libraries

Canadian and Ontario cultural organizations
are working hard to make our documentary
heritage accessible online – for researchers,
students, teachers, genealogists, artists, and
anyone else interested in our collective past.
The technical, financial, and strategic aspects of
heritage digitization are understudied. Particularly
understudied are public libraries, organizations that
provide a wide variety of community services – but
perhaps aren’t the first to come to mind when you
think about documentary heritage. But, as we found
out, libraries are playing a big role in community
heritage and collective memory.

Over the summer of 2018, we asked public
libraries in Ontario to tell us about their work in
this area – whether they have archival or special
collections, what items they hold, how they are
digitizing those collections, and what feedback
they get. We received a 53% response rate; our
respondents serve 85% of Ontario’s population.

Our key findings:

• Three-quarters of Ontario public libraries
have special collections
• Almost 60% are currently collecting unique
materials – 80% through unsolicited donations
• 89% of collecting libraries take in locallyrelevant
• Almost half of all libraries accept digital
materials; another 28% plan to in the future
• Most library special collections do not
represent women, Indigenous people, people
of colour, immigrants, Franco-Ontarians,
LGBTQ communities, or other marginalized
groups we asked about
• Almost every community has an organization
to accept unique materials, whether it be
a library, archive, museum, or historical
society – many have more than one collecting
• Most libraries have no strategic or practical
guidelines to govern digitization or digital
• 36.4% of collecting libraries were digitizing
when we asked; 26% have never digitized
• Many libraries digitize on a project basis,
usually because of a one-time opportunity
• Half of respondents rely solely on their
library’s budget for digitization funding; 80%
of budgets allocate under $5,000/year for
• 85% said their library allocates less than
0.5FTE for digitization work
• Most respondents said that lack of staff time,
lack of project funding, lack of ongoing
funding from the library budget, and lack of
training and expertise were major barriers to
• Libraries are interested in training on almost
everything: digital preservation, imaging,
copyright, multimedia conversion, metadata,
grant-writing and fundraising, digital storage
and access, and “where to start”
• 74% of libraries would contribute metadata to
an aggregate search portal, though most of
those would like technical or financial help
• Most libraries are not doing targeted outreach
around their digital collections with the
community; about 20% only do passive or
informal advertising in general
• Most are measuring the use of their digital
collections with web analytics, often for
annual statistics or library board reporting;
some are using them to plan future outreach,
fundraising, or digitization activities.
“It is extremely difficult for small libraries to fund digitization
projects and maintain collections.”