Council on Library and Information Resources

CLIRinghouse Number 6

CLIRinghouse Number 6
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Quick insight into information-investment issues for presidents, CAOs, and other
campus leaders from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR)

Number 6, February 2002

The Issue for Presidents and CAOs:

Can Academic Users Find Scholarly Resources Online?

A study at UCLA of college freshmen nationally reports that four out of five click on the Internet when looking for resources for homework. That worries educators who question the merit of a lot of Web-accessible information. The problem, however, may lie less in what students find than in what they don't. Conventional search engines fail to turn up all the online catalogs and digital collections that universities make available for use by students and scholars both. Many scholarly resources elude simple key-word searches or have formats that pose computer processing or presentation problems.

Search limits concern administrators because resource visibility is the key to return on their institutions' investments in digital collections and Web-access technology. What can be done to reveal more readily, for academic users at institutions large and small, the "hidden Web" of digitized collections, library catalogs, and other research resources? And what can be done to facilitate use of such electronically aggregated information to create new resources for scholarly inquiry and effective teaching?

Possibilities Under Development:

Reaching Deeper With Specialized Services

In search of answers, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is financing seven experimental projects. Some will develop tools for electronically collecting, indexing, and presenting information from catalog records and other digital data; and some will create portal or gateway services that can search many collections for information relevant to the particular interests of enquiring scholars, teachers, and students.

For example, ten institutions in the Southeastern Library Network (SOLINET)Auburn, Emory, Vanderbilt, the Kentucky Virtual Library, Louisiana State, and the universities of Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Tennesseeare collaboratively creating a portal service for research and teaching about the history of the American South. Other projects in the Mellon program will experiment with portals on the Cold War, political figures, religious organizations, and topics in American studies.

The Challenge:

Services Cannot Harvest What Schools Do Not Provide

Success will depend on the willingness of universities and colleges to enable search services to draw information from their libraries' electronic catalogs, finding aids, digital collections, and other databases. How far the new services reach to identify material useful to scholars and students will be limited only by how many institutions participate. Participation is not difficult or expensive. It requires building a server that can mediate between the idiosyncrasies of individual library databases and the requirements of specialized portal services. Libraries unable to build such servers may provide electronic versions of catalogs and other databases to portal managers for use with their servers. Mellon projects are exploring ways to enable libraries of varying capacities to participate in portal-service development.

With encouragement from the Digital Library Federation (DLF), several academic libraries and the Library of Congress already are providing catalog records and other information describing more than a million items in more than 50 collections. And the DLF has issued a call for more participating institutions.

The importance of this for presidents and provosts lies in recognizing the implications of portal service experimentation for future research, teaching, and publishing. Electronic aggregations of bibliographic data, digitized texts, and digital images from libraries throughout the nationaggregations that can be searched, recombined, and organized to respond to individual needs for specific kinds of resourcesoffer opportunities for the creation of new course materials, new learning experiences, new kinds of publications, and new avenues of research not feasible before, limited only by faculty creativity and administrative encouragement.

Additional Information:

Academic administrators will find additional insight in the following:

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