May 21, 2022

New Report/Case Studies from ARL and ITHAKA S+R: “Searching for Sustainability: Strategies from Eight Digitized Special Collections”

The report is titled, Searching for Sustainability: Strategies from Eight Digitized Special Collections and was released by ARL and ITHAKA S+R today.

About the Report

The report aims to address one of the biggest challenges facing libraries and cultural heritage organizations: how to move their special collections into the 21st century through digitization while developing successful strategies to make sure those collections remain accessible and relevant over time.


Nancy L. Maron, Sarah Pickle, and Deanna Marcum


November 2013

Research funded by IMLS. 

The report includes 8 case studies.

Report and Case Studies

Direct to Full Text Report (49 pages; PDF)

Direct to Case Studies

From a Summary/News Release

“Eighty percent of ARL libraries report digitized special collections are central to their current strategic direction,” said ARL executive director Elliott Shore, citing a survey of ARL members conducted by Ithaka S+R in 2012. “And yet we often hear libraries say that they are unable to adequately staff and fund these efforts over time.”


Each case study begins with a brief history of a project and an outline of the project’s current sustainability strategy. It then focuses on the project’s economic model and other sources of value, like its ability to attract and serve its users. The studies also highlight potential risks and lessons that others can learn from these project experiences.

The summary report brings together key takeaways from the studies, revealing that collections are most successful when their creation and maintenance are mainstreamed in ways that diverge from special collections of the past. The report also shows that collections best succeed when they align strongly with the missions of their home institutions. While there is not one clear answer or silver bullet for success, there are consistent themes. Some of these reflect insights that emerged from previous studies of digital projects, such as having strong, dedicated leadership and funding models that fit the intentions and value of the resource—from membership fees to strategic partnerships of various kinds.


About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.