CLIR Issues Number 25
DLF Forum Participants Ask: Can Libraries Keep Up with Users?
by Jerry George
CLIR and AAP Form Joint Working Group
by Deanna B. Marcum
NEARLY A YEAR ago, the U.S. Congress appropriated $100 million for the Library of Congress (LC) to develop, in concert with other federal and nonprofit agencies, a national strategy for the preservation of digital materials. Five million dollars were made available immediately to begin planning; the rest will be released in subsequent stages of the project. CLIR was asked to coordinate an initial phase of information synthesis that will serve as a basis for the national plan.
In making this appropriation, Congress directed LC to include content creators, distributors, and users in developing the national plan. To prepare for the discussions among these communities, CLIR commissioned papers that focused on the state of preservation in each of six formats: electronic journals, electronic books, digital television, recorded sound, Web sites, film, and video. These papers convinced CLIR and LC that the interests related to each format are overlapping and interconnected. Consequently, CLIR abandoned its original idea of holding separate meetings with representatives of each of the six communities. Instead, it decided to convene three sessions and to invite a mix of individuals from all the communities to each session. A total of 130 individuals, each of whom had been recommended by a relevant professional association, attended the three sessions, which were held in Washington, D.C., during the first half of November. Participants in each session represented commercial entertainment companies, publishers, the arts, colleges and universities, information technology, libraries, federal agencies, and funding agencies. Each participant received the commissioned papers for review in advance of the sessions.
The major purpose of the meetings, which were facilitated by Peter Schwartz of the Global Business Network and Richard O'Neill of the Highlands Group, was to give participants an opportunity to list the concerns they most wanted LC to include in its plan. While discussions at the three sessions varied considerably, several common interests emerged. They were as follows:
- Technical and architectural infrastructure: What is the role of standards? What are the appropriate numbering and identification protocols? How should we address the obsolescence of storage media, hardware, and software?
- Economic and legal issues: Who will pay? How should rights management and protection be addressed?
- Collection development: What is selected for preservation? How should ephemera and orphaned works be handled?
- Societal and institutional issues: Who does what? What is the role of the Library of Congress relative to other libraries and archives? What are the roles of content creators and owners?
Participants clearly agreed on the need to preserve digital materials. Representatives of the for-profit and nonprofit sectors alike spoke of the moral imperative to preserve cultural materials for subsequent generations. Most encouraging was that all participants believed they had a role to play in preserving these materials.
The liveliest debates were related to the question of what is to be collected. Computer scientists believed that storage is becoming more readily and cheaply available, so they saw no reason not to plan to preserve everything. Information professionals who have been working on the front lines for years were not sanguine about this prospect.
Everyone agreed that the ultimate preservation plan would require a distributed system under which commercial, nonprofit, and government agencies worked in collaboration with the Library of Congress. The challenge is to determine what is required to make such collaboration effective and to articulate what is meant by a "distributed system."
Technical requirements and standards, though significant considerations in developing a national system, are not the chief impediments, according to participants in all three sessions.
All participants cited the need to know more about the economics of archiving. While the commercial sector has some experience with preserving digital materials that have long-term economic value, little is known about the costs of keeping materials that have no immediate economic value but may have scholarly value in the future.
Participants encouraged LC to work with other organizations to develop projects that can educate everyone about the requirements and costs of digital archiving. They also pledged to help with the work ahead.
This project is enormously important to the entire library community. Librarians who are working on archival repositories for their digital materials are invited to contact CLIR if they are interested in becoming involved in the national program.
SPEAKERS AT THE forum of the Digital Library Federation (DLF) in Pittsburgh in November challenged participants to consider that changes in users may affect their futures more than will changes in technology.
Libraries must "move to understand, strategize, and plan for future use of digital materials," said Barbara Taranto of the New York Public Library, "not so much because the technology is changing rapidly but because the audience is evolving more quickly than libraries may be prepared to accommodate." Through the Internet, the library audience is expanding in both size and expectations, she said, requiring "new kinds of librarianship."
The traditional stewardship role of libraries will not be enough, said Bernard Reilly of the Center for Research Libraries: "Information and content must be more than just secure and available: it must be delivered to the desktop and presented together with user tools and ancillary resources. Users expect to obtain more than catalog records," he said; "they expect real-time responsiveness and information on demand."
Some libraries have already begun to measure the use and usability of their online collections. Denise Troll of Carnegie Mellon University reported on a survey that she has conducted as a Distinguished Fellow of the DLF and CLIR. The survey results, she said, "indicate that the internal organization of libraries, and the skills, preferences, and assumptions of librarians can be the biggest impediments to conducting successful assessments and implementing the findings."
Questions arose about whether campus libraries will remain viable as electronic resources and user demands for them increase. Donald Waters of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, whose grants made possible several of the activities discussed at the forum, reported that a recent survey of university faculty members found that many expect their dependence on traditional libraries to decrease or even end.
Some scholars who themselves are creating digital resources experience frustration when campus librarians insist that the scholars' projects conform to certain standards. These standards are imposed because, in the words of one participant, libraries "can't support all the pieces of software that they [independent creators] fixate on." Suggestions arose about how libraries might expand their infrastructure models to accommodate more of what scholars produce while also guiding them to help meet needs of the libraries.
Chuck Thomas of the University of Minnesota Libraries argued that libraries must work with others on campus who are creating digital resources because their own digital collections "grow too slowly to provide rich, diverse content rapidly." He noted that "distributed collections" outside the library are inconsistent, uncertain of "persistence," and "hard to discover." By aggregating such collections, a library can give campus patrons easier access to a wider range of resources while simultaneously reestablishing itself "as the first place people turn to." Thomas is developing IMAGES (Image Metadata Aggregation for Enhanced Searching), a project that provides "a delivery platform for all digital imaging projects" and a "metadata aggregator for the entire campus."
Some libraries are broadening their roles by serving as electronic publishers for others on campus. Project Euclid, a partnership based at Cornell University's library, is digitizing and electronically disseminating several independent journals in mathematics and statistics that struggle financially to survive but are pressured by subscribers to provide online versions. Such library publication services leave editorial decisions and author relations to their clients but nonetheless go beyond tradition to produce and distribute scholarly publications.
A broader kind of service, described by Nancy Allen of the University of Denver's Penrose Library, is the Colorado Digitization Project, a partnership that is creating a "cross-domain collection" of digitized primary source material from 48 archives, museums, historical societies, and libraries of different kinds throughout the state. Like academic publishers, these organizations "know that the future is digital," Ms. Allen explained, and they see in digitization the opportunity to "provide learning in new ways" and "grow new communities of users."
Several speakers pointed out that these kinds of developments require meeting challenges that are more political than technological. Project Euclid aggregates journals but enables their creators to remain independent entities with control over file formats and subscription access. Each partner in the Colorado Digitization Project retains its individual identity and control of its content, and the project tries to accommodate the quite different ways in which institutions such as libraries and museums keep records of their collections and provide access to them. The project has needed "an infrastructure for broad participation" and "crosswalks for metadata, not mandates," said Ms. Allen, who advised that such projects begin not with implementing new technology but with getting everybody concerned around the table for planning.
The huge digital library being built with support from the National Science Foundation for science, math, engineering, and technical education is a prime example of the importance of successful negotiation among participating organizations. "Interoperability is about agreements," said William Arms of Cornell in describing this project: "Getting a unified way of working is the most difficult part." To ease individual libraries' acceptance of agreements for contributing to the National Science Digital Library (NSDL), it will accept metadata in eight formats, Arms said, and see to what degree it can build good access services on that "metadata strategy."
Similarly, negotiated arrangements with publishers are of major importance if libraries are to "archive" digital versions of commercially published scholarly journals. Recognizing that e-journals may be abandoned when they lose commercial viability, seven research libraries are experimenting with different approaches to e-journal preservation in a program sponsored by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Project representatives described their efforts to work out agreements with publishers to identify circumstances that will "trigger" a preserving library's right to provide "universal free access" to a journal previously available only to a publisher's paying subscribers. Resolving this issue is as necessary as working out the technological means for receiving, preserving, and providing long-term access to e-journal content.
In the forum's concluding session, the Mellon Foundation's Donald Waters said that presidents, provosts, and deans, fearful that Web use will isolate scholars and "erode evidence-based research" to the "detriment of higher education," are asking libraries to work closely with the scholarly community. "Emphasize services that scholars demand," he counseled, by "connecting scholarly resources with ongoing teaching and research."
Agreeing that users are changing as rapidly as are technologies, he closed with a request for consideration of the possibility that "new librarians" will be required who have informatics training in knowledge management and structures, particularly for the humanities and social sciences. If librarians can adjust and focus on advancing scholarship, he suggested, they can "achieve results previously unimaginable."
THE ROLE OF library users in developing collections and in influencing preservation decisions has long been discussed, and at times even contested, among librarians and scholars. Libraries originated in times when scholars were their own librarians, and librarians inevitably scholars, but since World War II that has been the exception, not the rule. Now we hear calls for libraries and faculty members to work together in planning for preservation, for remote storage, and for the creation of digital surrogates to serve both preservation and access. How would such collaboration work?
Research and academic libraries select items for preservation on the basis of the needs of their users—students and researchers alike. Libraries also try to balance the needs and preferences of present users with those of the future. The question for the twenty-first century librarian is to what extent libraries can and should involve teachers and researchers in the crucial decisions made daily about what to preserve, when, and how.
The work of CLIR's Task Force on the Artifact in Library Collections, whose findings and recommendations were recently published in The Evidence in Hand, confirmed both the importance of involving faculty in preservation strategies and the inherent difficulties in doing so. Several models for collaboration were identified in the report. A subsequent CLIR report, Scholarly Work in the Humanities and the Evolving Information Environment,1 further emphasizes the need to involve faculty in preservation decisions.
These reports reveal that scholars support two crucial strategies for scalable, cost-effective preservation, both of which are already well-known and widely deployed. The first strategy is the use of preventive measures, such as maintaining optimal storage conditions in closed stacks, stabilizing paper-based materials through item-level repairs and mass deacidification, and reformatting analog media onto preservation-quality media. The second is the use of surrogates to improve access to and reduce physical handling of at-risk collections (there is a strong preference for digital surrogates).
Library collections—primarily comprising research materials—are not museum objects: they are meant to be used, not merely admired from a distance behind glass. While scholars agree that some loss of artifactual and informational value is inevitable for library collections, they believe it is feasible to minimize risks to the collections. The current emphasis on building optimal storage facilities to house collections (especially rare, rarely used, and at-risk items such as magnetic media and film-based materials) is widely supported by librarians and scholars alike.
For paper-based items that are available in digital form, such as certain journals and monographs, the task force recommended that the print versions could be moved into closed stacks if the local users did not express a need to have recourse to them in open stacks. Every academic library exists within a specific community, and it must be sensitive to that community's needs. Anecdotal evidence suggests that faculty views on secondary storage vary greatly among campuses. Studies are under way at the University of California and elsewhere to gather data about user response to the withdrawal of JSTOR journals and other sources that exist in digital form.
Another area of conflict on some campuses is the policy on access to rare materials. Librarians should give access to fragile items under controlled, but not draconian, circumstances, the scholars seem to be saying. It is hard to inculcate the proper respect for and understanding of rare books if users are routinely denied access to such materials and referred to microfilm. By introducing students to primary sources, by welcoming them into their special-collections reading rooms and teaching them appropriate care and handling techniques, and by imparting research skills to mine the unique features of the artifact, librarians can create a generation of library users who not only are skilled in the use of primary resources but also value their preservation.
In the digital library environment, partnerships between faculty and librarians to create surrogates, especially digital surrogates, are important. These partnerships have met with varying degrees of success on different campuses. Both the task force members and the scholars documented in the Brockman study were eager to use digital surrogates, but few did so, largely because they were not aware of a sufficient number of digital sources in their field to make a difference. Use of secondary-source databases such as JSTOR, by contrast, is widespread.
Creators of digital projects that are designed to develop corpora of works, be they not-for-profit efforts, such as the Making of America, or commercial efforts, such as Early English Books Online, would be well advised to "test drive" their projects among librarians and, perhaps more important, with members of the academic communities who will adopt them and spread their use.
Brockman and coauthors report that humanists today continue to discover resources in the same ways they have for generations: through footnotes and word of mouth. Enlisting the help of senior scholars is especially important. "Libraries that can cooperate on projects being done by established figures in the academic fields are likely to be more effective than those that do not. In addition, promoting full-text resources will require more than simply announcing their availability," notes the report.
Beyond some basic primary source corpora, the scholars did not agree on the utility of digitizing primary source materials if their texts were not fully searchable or if they constituted only a part of a larger collection. They strongly urged the creation of digital finding aids to collections, but they did not mean encoded archival description (EAD)-encoded aids. Instead, they called for visual resources indexed through thumbnails, coupled with intelligent displays that aid browsing. Texts were more likely to be discovered and used if discovered through links to traditional online catalogs than through EAD-encoded finding aids. The Brockman study found that, "the scholars perceived online searching as a transaction radically distinct from the interactive approach to research through footnotes and reading, in which context is evident."
The needs of scholars are not timeless, and some libraries have already discovered that collections created in response to faculty demands can fall into disuse when scholars move to new projects. This suggests that librarians should give more thought to creating digital means for faculty to discover nondigital resources. Librarians are ideally positioned to look to the future use of the resources. They should be prepared to maintain surrogates for a reasonable period of time, but not necessarily forever.
BEGINNING IN 2002, CLIR will administer the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's International Access to Learning Award. The annual award, first given in 2000, grants up to one million dollars to a library or comparable organization outside the United States that has been innovative in providing free public access to information.
An international advisory committee of librarians and information technology experts will review applications and select the finalist. The award will be presented at the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) meeting in Glasgow in August 2002. CLIR will publish a case study of the award recipient's work.
In 2001, the Gates award was shared by two institutions: Argentina's Biblioteca del Congreso and Guatemala's Probigua. The Biblioteca del Congreso is one of the few libraries in Argentina that provides services to the public free of charge. It is open around the clock and houses a computer learning center.
The Probigua has established libraries and technology centers in rural communities. These centers include computer training labs that teach new skills to underserved populations.
The first award was given in 2000 to the Helsinki City Library in Finland. The library was among the first public libraries in the world to offer Internet access to the public. It used the Access to Learning Award to establish the Information Gas Station, a portable unit that provides information immediately by phone, fax, or text messages.
CLIR welcomes the new program, whose goal is consonant with CLIR's own to expand access to information as a public good. In addition, the program will complement CLIR's international work in training library staff and developing Web-based tutorials.
Eligibility requirements and application guidelines will be available on CLIR's Web site in early January.
IN DECEMBER 2001, CLIR and the Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers (AAP) joined forces to support a working group of publishers and librarians who will address issues of common concern. The decision to form the group was based on the recognition that digital technology is profoundly affecting both libraries and publishers, and that both must make changes in their operations to take full advantage of this technology and to improve their services.
The mission statement of the working group acknowledges that scholarly and professional publishers and librarians share many goals, and that both groups also face many of the same problems. There is a desire to make progress in these areas of common interest, even while acknowledging that there remain notable differences between the groups.
Members of the working group include professional and scholarly publishers and representatives of the key academic, research, public, and corporate library associations. AAP and CLIR each named to the group five members from the publishing and library communities, respectively. Members representing professional and scholarly publishers are Anthony Durniak, executive of publications, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE); Pieter Bolman, director of STM relations, Elsevier Science; Ted Nardin, group vice president, Professional Book Group, McGraw-Hill; Brian Crawford, vice president and publishing director, Life and Medical Sciences, John Wiley & Sons; and William Strachan, director, Columbia University Press.
Members representing libraries and library associations are Neil McElroy, director of libraries and academic information resources, Lafayette College; Roberta Shaffer, executive director, Special Libraries Association; David Ferriero, vice provost for library affairs and university librarian, Duke University; William Walker, Andrew W. Mellon Director of the Research Libraries, New York Public Library; and Richard Lucier, librarian of the college, Dartmouth.
Barbara Meredith, vice president of the Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division, and Deanna Marcum of CLIR will cochair the group through the start-up period.
The first meeting of the working group will take place in New York City on January 31, 2002; subsequent meetings will be held in Washington and New York.
A central function of the working group is to serve as a forum for exchanging views and information, but it is likely to establish joint projects as well. The group will set its own agenda, which is expected to focus on the following issues:
- digital archiving of scholarly works in electronic form
- usage statistics
- organizational barriers in publishing companies and libraries that inhibit the development of electronic scholarly communication
Issues of copyright and intellectual property will probably be set aside for the foreseeable future.
CLIR Issues will report periodically on developments with the joint working group.
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