New Shared Born Digital Access Solution at Yale University Library

by Jonathan Manton and Gabby Redwine

Yale University Library (YUL) recently completed a project to create a shared solution for providing secure reading room access to restricted born-digital collections, primarily for YUL special collections units with no such existing solution, namely the Arts, Divinity, Medical Historical and Music Libraries. The objective was to devise a base hardware and software configuration for a machine in each unit that could effectively and securely provide reading room access to born-digital content and be supported and maintained by YUL’s Library IT unit. The project team successfully developed, tested and will soon deploy this solution. Project Co-Leads Gabby Redwine and Jonathan Manton discuss the method used to develop this solution as well as the end product.


Following initial brainstorming exercises and demonstrations of existing born-digital access solutions currently in use at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library (BRBL) and YUL’s Manuscripts and Archives (MSSA) unit, the project team formulated a set of principles and functional requirements for a shared base image. Library IT created an image prototype that incorporated these requirements. Each member of the project team then extensively tested this prototype using a collection of dummy materials intended to represent the variety of software and file formats, file sizes, and content types typically found in collections of born-digital materials. A final version of the base image was then created following feedback from this testing and further refinement.

End product

The final solution produced by this project incorporates a reusable base image that can be installed on a laptop with separate accounts for staff and patron access. Docking the laptop will allow staff to charge the battery and (via a physical connection to the Yale network) populate the machine collection content for a patron. The laptop can then be undocked, thus disconnecting it from the network, and simply handed to a patron in a reading room for use in a “locked down” environment.

This workstation:

  • Provides a clean, secure environment for accessing born-digital collections in a reading room.  
  • Provides a common Windows environment, navigable by most users.
  • Prevents patrons from copying or otherwise transferring content to removable media or remote network locations, or accessing their personal email account.
  • Allows patrons to create local working copies of collections content on the desktop during their session, that they can annotate.
  • Provides common software packages for accessing the most prevalent file formats currently found within YUL’s collections, with QuickView Plus provided for any files not supported by these common applications.
  • Imposes a non-networked environment when patrons are using the machine undocked. However, a network connection is available once the laptop is returned to a docking station with an ethernet connection, allowing designated staff to access the machine, either locally or remotely.
  • Allows patrons to search across a corpus of collection materials efficiently.

Project Team: Christopher Anderson (Divinity Library); Molly Dotson/Mar González Palacios (Arts Library); Melissa Grafe/Katherine Isham (Medical Historical Library); Jonathan Manton (Music Library, project co-lead); Gabby Redwine (BRBL, project co-lead); Beatrice Richardson (Library IT); Cvetan Terziyski (Library IT). Consultants: Julie Dowe (BRBL); Jerzy Grabowski (MSSA).