Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Digital Commonwealth?

The Digital Commonwealth is a web portal or gateway to digital assets hosted by Massachusetts cultural institutions.  Cultural institutions include libraries, museums, historical societies, archives, research institutions, and other repositories of our cultural heritage.  The Digital Commonwealth is currently developing a repository service that will be available to its members as a hosting option for digital content.

What is the difference between a repository and a portal?

A repository stores and maintains all the components of a digital collection (including both metadata and digital objects) according to a framework of policies and standards.  By means of its technological infrastructure, the repository provides access to the digital content.

A portal contains only the metadata that enables the discovery of the digital objects; it does not contain the actual digital objects.  For example, when a user searches and browses within a portal, the search results will provide the user with links to websites outside the portal that display the digital objects.  The portal is roughly comparable to an online searchable index or an Internet search engine, which displays information about web pages and provides links to them, but does not display the pages themselves.

Who can join the Digital Commonwealth? 

Massachusetts cultural institutions who already have digitized collections or who have collections they wish to digitize are welcome to join the Digital Commonwealth, as are group sponsoring organizations such as regional networks and consortiums. These group sponsoring organizations work with their members to provide training and support (e.g., NMRLS,  Consortia, C/W MARS).

Why should you join the Digital Commonwealth?

Membership in the Digital Commonwealth will be beneficial to your researchers and patrons as well as your institution.  Benefits for patrons include a search tool that will allow researchers to search across the collections of many Massachusetts cultural organizations with a single query.  This search tool allows researchers to focus on their search within a single seamless integrated interface and aids researchers discover institutions or collections that were previously unknown to them.

Benefits for your institution include:
  • the ability to reach a wider audience than through an individual Web presence;
  • the opportunity to obtain consistent, reliable, and standardized information on best practices and standards for digitizing;
  • an increased potential for cooperation and collaboration among institutions;
  • an enhanced awareness of digital collections held by other complementary institutions;
  • and the possibility for “value-added” features – online exhibits, lesson plans, etc., using collection items from a variety of institutions without the need for borrowing, moving, or handling original items.

What does it cost to join the Digital Commonwealth?

Membership levels and first year fees:
  • $50.00           Small Institutional Member (with two or fewer paid staff)
  • $100.00         General Member
  • $500.00         Group Sponsoring Member (multi-institutional associations that plan to work with their own membership to join the DigiComm, e.g. NOBLE or SAILS)

Fees in the future will increase when start-up grant funding is exhausted.  Participants will also incur digitization, hosting, and administration costs, which are not covered by the annual membership fee.

How can my institution participate in the Digital Commonwealth?

There are several ways to participate.
Harvested Site
Institutions with existing digital collections and associated metadata that are compatible with the Digital Commonwealth's standards may be integrated into the portal so that search results will include their digital assets.  We will work with your institution to arrange for access to your metadata and digital collection.  This level of participation requires that an institution join the Digital Commonwealth as a Small Institutional Member or as a General Member. See fee schedule above.

Shared Repository
Institutions may participate through shared repositories which are compatible with Digital Commonwealth standards (such as NMRLS or C/W MARS).  We are working with other organizations to encourage formation of such repositories.  An institution that chooses to participate in the Digital Commonwealth via a shared repository will need to make technical, financial, and governance arrangements directly with the host of the shared repository.  This type of participation requires that the shared repository join the Digital Commonwealth as a Consortia Member. See fee schedule above.

Linked Site
Cultural institutions which host digital materials on the Web that are not compatible with the Digital Commonwealth's standards may still be listed as online resources.  A description of your digital collection and a link will be posted on the Digital Commonwealth portal. This level of participation requires that an institution join the Digital Commonwealth as a Small Institutional Member or as a General Member. See fee schedule above.
Read more to understand the basics of the technical implemenation and for information on the participation requirements.


How can I stay informed about, and participate in, the development of the Digital Commonwealth?

The Digital Commonwealth website ( and Digital Commonwealth blog ( contains the latest information about the project. 

How is the project governed?

Review the bylaws prepared by the Digital Commonwealth Board of Directors. If you are interested in participating on any of our committees, please contact us.

Where can I read overview information about digitization?

Please read the Getting Started with Digital Commonwealth web page. 

What standards does Digital Commonwealth use to assemble the information in its index?

Digital Commonwealth uses Open Archives Initiative (OAI), a protocol for metadata harvesting, and Dublin Core.  Dublin Core is an international metadata standard that has been for describing countless digital collections worldwide. Simple or Standard Dublin Core consists of a set of 15 optional and repeatable elements. The elements are used to provide information about an object, such as its title, creator, date, subject, etc. For Digital Commonwealth, Dublin Core (encoded in XML) will be harvested via the OAI protocol and incorporated into the search index.


Within the Open Archives Initiative protocol for metadata harvesting, Data Providers (institutions)  make available their metadata about existing digital collections, and a Service Provider (Digital Commonwealth) harvests the metadata using an automated application.  Then, the Service Provider offers access to the harvested metadata through a web-based search engine to users.

Under the OAI model, Data Providers supply *only* the metadata for their collections: the digital resources themselves remain at the owning institution.  The metadata records describe the digital objects and provide information that allows a user to locate and view the desired resource.  After gathering the metadata from participating institutions, the Service Provider offers access to the digital objects through a web-based search engine.


 A good starting point to understanding the Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PHM), is the Open Archives Forum's online tutorial, OAI for Beginners.

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