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).

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2 thoughts on “New Shared Born Digital Access Solution at Yale University Library

  1. This sounds fantastic and I know that this is an extremely common issue and one of the biggest challenges in working with born digital materials. Are you going to be presenting any of the details of your systems and your methodology anywhere? I would be *very* interested!

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