CLIR Responds to Survey Results
by Deanna B. Marcum
Problems in Building Digital Collections
by Abby Smith
A Collaborative Approach to Collection Storage
by Deanna B. Marcum
Artifact Task Force Review Complete
by Abby Smith
THE COUNCIL ON Library and Information Resources (CLIR) is an independent organization that has neither membership nor an endowment. We receive support from foundations and from more than 160 sponsoring institutions that contribute to CLIR because they see our agenda as being important to their own.
We value our independence; it allows us to think expansively about the major challenges confronting information organizations and to write and speak about these issues. Although this independence serves us well in that it positions us to be a neutral and honest broker, we also want to know that our work is useful to the library, archival, and scholarly communities. To that end, in October 2000, we engaged Karen and Randall Allen of the Communications Office, Inc., to survey our current and potential sponsors to determine how effectively we are serving the communities we aim to reach. Our consultants interviewed a random sample of sponsors and potential sponsors, and presented their findings to CLIR in April 2001.
The survey findings have been sent to our sponsors and are available on the Web (http://staging-clir.wordpress.clir.org/survey.pdf is no longer available). They have given us a better understanding of where we have accomplished our goals of stimulating thought and prompting action and where we are falling short of our aspirations.
As we examined the survey results, our greatest concern was that many in the community do not understand what we are and what we do. Of equal concern is the question of possible overlap of CLIR’s agenda with that of the Association of Research Libraries and other library organizations.
CLIR is an issue-driven organization. We have tended to move from one topic to another because we have seen needs and have identified individuals willing to work with us on addressing those needs. Given this issue-driven approach, it is not surprising that our sponsors often do not know what is next for CLIR. Without dismissing the opportunities that present themselves, we are committed to making our plans and projects better known and to presenting them in context.
In the coming months, CLIR program staff will develop a plan for our work over the next year or two. We believe we have been deliberate and strategic in choosing our projects and activities, but we want to be certain that our sponsors better understand the initiatives we have undertaken and, more important, why we have selected specific topics. Our goal is to have our supporters understand the agenda we have set on behalf of libraries and other information agencies.
We are concerned about the perception, held by a few of the survey respondents, that there might be overlap between CLIR’s agenda and the agendas of other organizations. There is so much work to be done that no organization can afford to duplicate the effort of another. We believe, however, that many issues can be advanced through the coordinated work and unique contributions of organizations that have a common goal. In working with our peer institutions, we will make a concerted effort to discuss our plans with them and to explore possibilities for collaboration.
An examination of the survey findings also revealed that our publications, although considered high quality, could be better tailored to specific audiences. For example, directors often route our publications to members of their staff because they find our reports too long and detailed for their purposes. We need to provide better executive summaries of our work—while continuing to provide the detailed reports that practitioners require.
One additional message we have heard clearly is that our supporters want more timely electronic communication. Several individuals from sponsoring institutions asked for notification by e-mail when reports are published, along with a brief description of their content. In response, we have launched e-bulletin, an electronic newsletter that provides our sponsors with updates on current projects, notification of new publications, and announcements of future events. In a similar vein, we are revising CLIR’s Web site so that news of our activities and publications can be more easily retrieved.
Survey interviewees repeatedly noted that the community trusts CLIR to identify important issues and to provide the highest-quality resources to stimulate thinking and promote progress in those areas. We take seriously the confidence and trust that our sponsors have placed in us. We plan to extend our communications efforts to include more institutions, but we will uphold the highest standards of quality in identifying important research topics and in delivering the most helpful information possible.
The results of this survey have helped us focus our attention on how we can better serve the needs of our sponsors and others. We encourage readers to continue to share their ideas and suggestions with us.
LIBRARIES HAVE TRADITIONALLY developed and maintained collections to meet the information needs of their patrons. They have had to buy, catalog, store, and serve an array of physical objects in various formats: monographs, serials, maps, photographs, phonograph records, and so forth. Now much of this information—text, geographic information, and musical and other performances—is available digitally. How relevant are traditional collection-development and -management strategies in building digital collections? What new challenges do digital collections present?
To respond to questions such as these, the Digital Library Federation (DLF) recently commissioned papers that would identify emerging good or best practices in the three most common forms of digital collection development in research libraries: acquiring, or acquiring access to, third-party sources (usually commercial products); creating digital surrogates from existing holdings; and “collecting” third-party public domain sources on the Web, usually by constructing gateways. The papers, by Tim Jewell, Abby Smith, and Louis Pitschmann, respectively, will be published over the next few months. During a review at the DLF Forum in May, the three authors and forum participants identified digital collection development problems that will continue to trouble libraries if not addressed directly.
Acquiring Electronic Resources
The greatest problem in acquiring proprietary electronic resources is that libraries seldom if ever acquire them outright. Rather, they enter into licensing agreements that grant term-limited access to them. Given the high prices of many of these sources, librarians must spend increasing amounts of time on the economics of acquisition and licensing rather than on content issues. Some libraries have tried to isolate the licensing process to free up more staff time for mission-related work.
A second problem is that it is difficult to track the use of e-resources to determine their value for current patrons. Because libraries do not archive electronic resources, only current users can be considered. One does not consider the future research value of e-journals in the same manner as one considers that of print serials. This fact alone marks a profound shift in collection development strategy, and it is a matter that deserves greater attention.
Selecting Items for Digitization
Selection for digital conversion has been correctly termed “reselection”; it is an investment in existing collections for the purposes of preservation or access or both. Even though experts agree that digitization is not a warranted form of preservation, most funds for digitization come from the library’s preservation budget, which is often derived from funding organizations that traditionally supported preservation reformatting.
Although libraries can provide data on some costs of digitization and on Web site use, the real costs and long-term benefits of digital conversion remain unclear. With respect to the benefits of conversion, all libraries do it for outreach and community service goals. Some choose items from their special collections, citing the intrinsic research value of these materials and the advantages of making them more broadly accessible. Others choose items from their collections that will build institutional identity or staff expertise. Very few projects are shaped primarily by scholarly or curricular needs.
A consensus has emerged that creation of preservation surrogates is an excellent use of digital technology, even though such preservation comes at a high price and requires ongoing, unknown expenditures to maintain.
Selecting collections to digitize for the purpose of increasing access involves even greater unknowns. For example, who uses the collections online and for what purposes? How do we quantify the benefits as well as the costs of digitization? Unless libraries have ready access to third-party digital service bureaus that offer cost-effective scanning, mark-up, and archiving services, it is unlikely that many of them will be able to sustain long-term digitization goals, because the costs of building and maintaining infrastructure tend to exclude small and mid-sized libraries.
Building Subject Gateways
The third strategy for collection development, building subject gateways for Web-based sources, is labor-intensive. Few common practices have emerged in this area. Some skeptics believe subject gateways to be an expensive and wasteful means of providing reference guidance to Internet materials. It requires that a subject specialist identify and evaluate sites, that catalogers create metadata for information on the site, and that technical expertise be employed to create and maintain subject pages.
The problems of maintaining gateways are legion: links die, URLs change, and sites change content, focus, and authority rapidly and without notice. The benefits are often transitory at best. What service does a portal really provide a patron if it is not current, reliable, and easy to navigate? Do library staff members have the time and expertise to get into this? If libraries plan to provide value-added services to so-called free Web sources, they must be willing to invest in building an infrastructure that facilitates use and is superior to browsers and search engines. It is unclear whether not-for-profit information providers will be able to do so in the near term, no matter how great the need for librarians to help their patrons master Web searching and gain easy access to the large, dark Web, where so many sites of academic interest reside.
The Mellon Fellowship Program for Dissertation Research in Original Sources
In our last issue of CLIR Issues, we announced the new Mellon Fellowship Program for Dissertation Research. Complete details and application instructions are now available on our Web site.
Under the Mellon Fellowship Program, CLIR will award up to 10 dissertation fellowships per year for three years. Fellowships will carry stipends of up to $20,000 each to support dissertation research for periods up to 12 months. The fellowships will provide encouragement and opportunities for graduate students in any field in the humanities to do dissertation research using original primary materials.
NOT MANY YEARS ago, you would find them off in some remote nook of the campus library. These experimenters, many of whom had long worked on automating library systems, could be seen huddled over their computers, working through the problems of getting a bit of the library’s collection online. How interesting it was to peruse electronic images of books, photos, and whatnot. Such experiments, however, seemed unconnected to the library’s central work, such as acquisition, cataloging, and assisting patrons with reference questions.
That was then.
Now, the librarians who once experimented with solitary digital-access projects at the library’s periphery are building systems for managing online information at its core. Increasing chunks of library budgets are spent on digitizing collections, acquiring such computer-accessible research materials as e-journals, and maintaining online public-access catalogs. Moreover, librarians are applying electronic-information technologies to the management of their holdings in all formats—books, manuscripts, and other traditional materials as well as digital collections. By relating rather than separating traditional and electronic resources, they are developing more efficient and economical services for the library as a whole.
This was the message from a recent forum organized by the Digital Library Federation (DLF), which operates under the administrative umbrella of CLIR. The DLF’s 26 member-institutions and some allied organizations sent 113 representatives to San Francisco May 4-6 to catch up on the latest developments in this fast-moving field through reports, workshops, and professional interaction. This was the fourth forum since the DLF’s creation in 1995.
“I’m detecting a shift in emphasis to infrastructure rather than experimentation,” DLF Director Daniel Greenstein declared at a midmeeting plenary session. Reviewing a recent survey of DLF members—major university research libraries plus the New York Public Library and the Library of Congress—Greenstein reported the existence of “an enormous core investment” in digital library activity. Such activity, he said, is “becoming pervasive” within libraries, and is “drawing on resources beyond them.” These resources include academic computing centers, information technology departments, and university presses. In developing online collections and services, Greenstein continued, the field’s leaders no longer are proceeding “project by project” but are focusing on building systems to provide a “production capacity for all we may want to do.”
One manifestation of this shift is increased attention to the preservation of information already digitized so that scholars, teachers, and students can be assured of continuing access over the long term. For example, two sessions at the forum gave participants an opportunity to hear about and then discuss a program, funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, in which seven libraries are working on different approaches to the preservation of scholarly journals published electronically.
Among the troublesome questions identified by session leaders were the following. Assuming that libraries can permanently archive e-journals, at what point and under what rules should publishers turn over e-journal content to libraries? What conditions would “trigger” the library’s right to provide access in place of the publisher? And how much access, with what functionality, for whom? How much content would be preserved—advertisements and lists of editors as well as articles? Who would audit or certify the authenticity of electronic copies? And the overriding question: Who pays for all of this? With such questions in mind, the representatives of the participating projects hope to come up with guidance for creating collaborative agreements as well as technological infrastructures.
The growing maturity of digital library work was also reflected in presentations from librarians who are now paying more attention to whether users really need and can conveniently use collections made electronically accessible. For example, reports came from the California Digital Library on usability-testing techniques; from Cornell on a study of how students use a digital-image database; and from the University of Washington on how “Web stats and common sense” can be employed to meet expectations of users “instead of forcing them to meet yours.”
Participants discussed the need for “putting out more PR” about libraries’ online offerings, for helping patrons develop electronic research strategies and search skills, for relating digitized material more closely to instructional requirements, and for developing “personalized library services.” Costs of meeting user needs also came under scrutiny. Participants examined the pros and cons of creating consortia for the acquisition of e-material and considered reducing duplication by creating registries.
Other sessions focused on requirements for metadata, standardization, and better tools for the management of digital resources. “Best practices” have become multiple, participants were told; institutions may now need help in choosing from a range of acceptable options.
The use of partnerships was also discussed. In addition to the collaboration of presses and libraries in the Mellon-funded program for preserving electronic journals, information technology professionals are joining librarians at Cornell to preserve collections of digital data assembled by researchers themselves. Staff members of museums, libraries, and archives in Illinois and Connecticut are collaboratively digitizing material for school curricula. And a task force of librarians, archivists, and scholars is preparing guidance on the preservation needs in the digital era of material in traditional formats such as photos, audiotapes, and books.
Just how far digital developments have come may be indicated the name of the latter group—the Task Force on the Artifact in Library Collections!
For more information on the DLF Forum, go to http://www.diglib.org/forums.htm.
SHELF SPACE IS at a premium in college and research libraries. Many administrators, however, are reluctant to build new space. Digital resources should reduce the need for physical space, they argue. Scholars and classroom teachers, on the other hand, expect to add continually to the books and journals they need for their research and teaching activities, and they want these materials to be readily accessible. With ever-growing collections and serious reluctance to increase physical facilities, what are the options available to librarians?
Off-site storage, reformatting, and cooperative acquisitions are a few of the choices. A new model of cooperative collection development is advanced in a recent project of the Five Colleges Consortium (Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst). The project is described in the report, A Collaborative Approach to Collection Storage: The Five-College Library Depository, written by Willis E. Bridegam, director of the Amherst College Library, and published by the Council on Library and Information Resources in June.
Each member of the Five Colleges Consortium had a common problem: a severe shortage of storage space. Most were considering off-site storage as a solution. These institutions could have simply combined forces to purchase or rent common space to alleviate their space pressures, and the report provides a useful analysis of these options and costs. But members of the Five Colleges, Inc., went a step further: they agreed to deaccession duplicate copies and adopt joint ownership of the remaining collections.
The model is compelling. If consortial institutions agree that one copy of duplicate materials can be kept in an off-site repository for the benefit of all, then each can forgo some storage costs. The model, however, does carry with it some important preconditions. For example, the repository must be a trusted and strategically allied institution. In addition, such a repository can exist only when policies about long-term retention are in place and there is a sustainable economic model.
The Five Colleges case study will be instructive to library directors and academic administrators who are thinking about how to make investments in collections and how to ensure their long-term availability. Are there ways for institutions to collaborate on collection development so that all save money, while ensuring that artifactual collections will be available for those who need to work with primary resources? Is it possible for one institution to depend upon another—without reservation—to protect resources that are important to both? By agreeing that one library will be responsible for commonly needed materials, the others avoid the costs of materials that would otherwise be duplicate purchases. Can such libraries then use their savings to do innovative things that benefit all libraries in the consortium?
At a time when nearly all academic libraries are confronting difficult decisions about what materials should be retained in the central library, which can be reformatted and served electronically, and which should be moved to off-site storage, this report will provide many useful insights.
TWO MAJOR AREAS of interest and concern emerged from the recently completed public review of The Evidence in Hand: the Report of the Task Force on the Artifact in Library Collections. Both have to do with defining responsibilities for the preservation of scholarly resources and effective strategies for meeting those responsibilities within two professional cultures—the culture of humanities scholars and that of librarians.
The Task Force concluded that the establishment of cooperative storage and preservation facilities, such as regional repositories for original materials that are especially vulnerable or rarely used, is a sensible and achievable objective. The scholars, to a significant degree, accepted the notion of remote storage for preservation purposes if accompanied by timely delivery of items they requested; those who accepted this idea tended to believe that it was insignificant where the items are kept and who owns them.
Many librarians, however, reacted cautiously to the Task Force’s emphasis on the value of such strategies. They referred to past attempts at cooperative collection development as evidence that collaboration is doomed to failure.
While both librarians and scholars found the idea of working together on preservation and access issues attractive, they also agreed that mechanisms for doing so are unclear. Nonetheless, in the end, reviewers endorsed the Task Force recommendation to define requirements for both regional or local shared repositories—for “artifact on demand”—and a repository of record at the national level.
If the librarians were troubled by talk of relying on collaboration to get the job done, the humanities scholars were wary of any call for achieving a consensus on what should be preserved and by whom. Their views stood in sharp contrast to those of the scientists, who were, by and large, ready to say what a core set of historically important resources might look like. Scientists are used to judging the value of professional literature by citations and other means. In many scientific fields, the need for historical resources is scant, and scientists’ preference for access is digital delivery, not retrieval of volumes from the stacks. Their concerns were about the quality, reliability, and longevity of digital files.
The humanists countered that both digital delivery and access to artifacts are important. From their perspective, source materials are to be interrogated dialectically, and any agreement about the value of one source against another is probably a dangerous thing. The role of scholars is not to reach a consensus but to engage ideas and their sources in an ongoing dialogue. While scholars expressed great concern about what materials might be lost if neglected for long periods in scholarly discourse, they found the notion of engaging in collection development and preservation decision making as impractical. Indeed, many scholars were unaware of the leading role that other scholars have played in collection building and even in operating libraries. Their expansive view of artifactual value makes the matter of collaboration for cost savings or avoidance more pressing.
Common objections to the notions of collaboration and consensus were greatly modified during the spirited discussions about digital surrogates and originals. The use-based definition of “artifactual value” advanced in the Task Force report proved a good framework for thinking about how digital objects are valuable to researchers and for pointing to what must be done now to support their use over time. In the digital realm, both librarians and scholars have had enough experience to know that a number of highly desirable tools and resources are feasible only if there is a collaborative effort to build common infrastructure, share metadata, and use nonproprietary software.
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The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) grew out of the 1997 merger of the Commission on Preservation and Access and the Council on Library Resources. CLIR identifies the critical issues that affect the welfare and prospects of libraries and archives and the constituencies they serve, convenes individuals and organizations in the best position to engage these issues and respond to them, and encourages institutions to work collaboratively to achieve and manage change.