Quick insight into information-investment
issues for presidents, CAOs, and other
campus leaders from the Council on Library and Information Resources
Number 8, April 2002
The Issue for Presidents and CAOs:
How to Ensure Quality When Investing in Digital
Small colleges and large universities alike are increasingly
digitizing collections of books and other library materials
for use in distance education, classroom teaching, and research
by faculty and students. In planning such educational investments,
how does one ensure the quality of the product, or even know,
in the digital world, what "quality" is? Happily,
new guidance for achieving quality is now available of a kind
that will help campus administrators and librarians get much
more out of their digitized-resource dollars.
Principles defining quality for digitized collections have
been issued by the Digital Library Forum, a group of librarians
and other experts convened by the federal Institute of Museum
and Library Services (IMLS). And the private, nonprofit Digital
Library Federation of 28, mostly academic research libraries
has endorsed the principles. They provide not just technical
specifications for digital images but what the forum calls "A
Framework of Guidance for Building Good Digital Collections." What
do these principles say to decision makers?
Guidance for Decision Making:
Quality Digitized Collections Maximize Investment
The framework's authors contend that future digitized collections
must do more than simply demonstrate some technological capability
or appear momentarily useful to some particular user group.
Sitting in a discrete Web site until they succumb to technological
obsolescence, media decay, copyright challenge, or neglect
by users who cannot easily find them or doubt their reliability
will not be enough. Now the value of digitized collections
will depend also on their "interoperability, reusability,
persistence, verification, documentation," and "mechanisms
for respecting copyright and intellectual property law."
In essence, the new principles call for maximizing returns
on digital investments by making digitized collections legally
and dependably useful in multiple ways for extended periods
of time. The principles provide that digitized collections
in the future can and should have these among other elements:
- They will serve the missions of their institutions.
- They will be "reusable in new and innovative contexts."
- They will be described in national union catalogs (such
as the well-known OCLC and RLIN databases) so that scholars
and students can readily find them.
- They will call users' attention to copyright and other
restrictions to avoid legal problems, but also they will
identify rights and permissions available to users.
- They will be preserved and managed so that they remain
useful to their college's faculty and students for a long
- They will be made usable on computer systems to which intended
users actually have access.
- They will incorporate ways of measuring and evaluating
- They will fit technologically into ("interoperate" with)
broader collections so that they can be accessed through
a variety of search engines and portal services far beyond
a single campus.
These are all reasons for cost-conscious executives to support
efforts by their campus librarians to adhere to the IMLS principles
in developing new digital collections, and to develop further
current standards and best practices identified as part of
the framework that contains the principles. Collections that
build on these principles will be enormously more useful than
collections that do not.
The principles described above are elaborated by the IMLS
Digital Library Forum in "A Framework of Guidance for
Building Good Digital Collections," available at http://www.imls.gov/pubs/forumframework.htm.
The framework itself identifies numerous other sources of useful
information including these overviews: