CLIR Issues Number 34
Digital Library Forum Hears Hopes for Collection Sharing
by Jerry George
Barriers or Stepping Stones? Impediments to Digital Archiving and Preservation Programs
by Colin Webb, Director of Preservation Services, National Library of Australia
Redefining Preservation for the Twenty-first Century
by Abby Smith
CLIR PRESIDENT Deanna B. Marcum has been appointed associate librarian for library services at the Library of Congress (LC), effective August 11. She has served as president of CLIR since 1995.
The announcement was made simultaneously by Librarian of Congress James Billington and CLIR Board Chairman Stanley Chodorow. In announcing her appointment to the Board and CLIR sponsors, Mr. Chodorow acknowledged the range of Ms. Marcum's achievements at CLIR, noting that "She has brought CLIR to the forefront in research and action on topics of greatest importance to the future of libraries and the management of information."
Mr. Billington said: "Her experience uniquely equips her to integrate the emerging digital universe into the traditional artifactual library. Her innovative leadership in building national and international coalitions and in developing strategies for change in the new technological environment will serve the Library of Congress well as we build a national digital library for the 21st century."
In accepting the position, Ms. Marcum said: "This is a transformational period for all libraries, including the Library of Congress, as we adapt to the influences of digital technology. I am honored that the Library has placed its trust in me to assume this leadership role, and I am thrilled with the opportunity to help the Library at what promises to be a defining historical moment."
As associate librarian for library services, Ms. Marcum will oversee a broad range of LC's work, including acquisitions, cataloging, preservation, public service collections, area studies collections, national services, and operations.
During her tenure at CLIR, Ms. Marcum has helped launch the Digital Library Federation, which CLIR administers; the Frye Leadership Institute; the Librarian-Publisher Working Group, and the nascent Scholarly Communication Institute, among other programs.
The Board will appoint an interim president of CLIR and begin a search for a new president immediately.
"DODL IS BACK on the table."
So announced David Seaman, director of the Digital Library Federation (DLF), at the DLF's 2003 Spring Forum. Held May 14Ð16, 2003, in New York City, it was the largest DLF Forum ever, attracting 80 registrants from the Federation's 30 partner institutions and 4 allied institutions.
DODL (pronounced "doddle") stands for "distributed open digital library." The creation of such an entity would make the digital resources of major research libraries electronically accessible in a shared, unified collection for use by scholars and teachers. The DLF's 1995 charter called for building such a collective library, Seaman said, and after years of work by DLF initiatives to foster elements of digital resource development, representatives of DLF institutions recently resurrected this overarching goal.
"Imagine," explained Seaman, "that you are teaching the writings of the Founding Fathers, or some aspect of the Civil War, or nineteenth-century American fiction. Or imagine that you are a librarian crafting a collection in support of seminars on such subjects. You quickly discover, via the Internet, many relevant books, images, and manuscripts scattered across dozens of institutions. But 20 digital objects in 20 different locations cannot easily be searched together, enriched with information and design elements of value for a local project, dropped into desktop software that may allow annotation by the user, subjected to linguistic or statistical analysis that the original Web site does not support, delivered in a format (Palmª Pilot, E-book) that the producer did not think useful, or used in myriad other ways." The DODL is intended to overcome such limits by providing a single access point for material in multiple collections and enabling users to "combine those scattered objects into something new, improved, and shaped for your local needs." A DODL, said Seaman, can "radically improve library services and achieve new efficiencies in digital library production and collection building."
A DODL Initiative Committee expects to report in the summer of 2003 on development plans. Nothing except DODL's goal is currently settled; even its name is subject to change. The obstacles will be less technical than conceptual, organizational, and emotional. And, although much remains to be worked out, one thing is certain: contributors will get back more than they provide in terms of materials of use to their patrons.
The Copyright Hurdle
One member of the audience asked whether access restrictions on material under copyright would render the DODL just "a library of old knowledge." The seriousness of that question became evident in another presentation at the forum. Professor James Boyle of the Duke University Law School, speaking on "Public and Private Initiatives in Copyright Reform," declared that copyright laws restrict access to almost all of twentieth-century culture.
Copyright prevents huge quantities of material from being reproduced, even though the authors are dead and the works are out of print and generate no commercial return to publishers. Legislation upheld by the courts has made copyright automatic and has extended copyright protection through the life of an author plus 70 years. Only a small fraction of copyrighted material needs such protection, Boyle said. Such an inefficient and unjustifiable system, he maintains, produces "invisible losses"—the loss to the economy of "locking up" so much material, the loss to cultural creativity from "failed sharing," and the loss to teaching of material that professors fear transmitting because of vaguely worded standards defining fair use.
Remedial action must involve both public and private initiatives, Boyle argued. Legislation could restore the once-prevalent system in which one had to apply for copyright to obtain it. New laws could also reduce the time that copyright would apply. But because the trend is the other way, an organization called Creative Commons instead generates licenses by which authors—those whose works pay off more in recognition and the advancement of knowledge than in financial gain—can authorize specified kinds of uses of their copyrighted products. In addition, Boyle said, libraries could seek an arrangement allowing them to digitize copyrighted material by paying a specified flat fee to anyone complaining of harm to a commercial interest. He urged librarians to prevent fair-use atrophy by vigorously asserting fair-use rights in the digital realm. He called on librarians to "organize for change" and to seek creative ways to "work around" the current copyright system.
Supporting Scholarly Publishing
Libraries have become involved in publishing by providing support for electronic journals and providing access to repositories of other scholarly materials produced electronically by university faculties. Among 24 other sessions held at the Forum, a panel on "Supporting Scholarly Publishing" dealt with electronic publication-management systems, including provisions for peer review. It concluded with a proposal for collaboration within the DLF to create more open and accessible publication-management systems in connection with e-scholarship repositories.
Two "firsts" for DLF Forums occurred at the spring 2003 meeting. The program included the first panel of vendor representatives, who explained systems for "federated searching" across digital databases. And the audience included the first four winners of DLF Forum Fellowships for librarians new to the profession.
The next forum will be held November 17-19, 2003, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
"If I knew then what I know now, I would never have started . . . and never reached where I am today."
Many voices are calling for the preservation of digital information, but few programs are in place to maintain long-term accessibility. What barriers are preventing the establishment of these greatly needed programs?
Many of the barriers are obvious. Certain assumptions are powerful disincentives for taking action. For example:
- This digital stuff will look after itself; our job is to create it.
- Preservation is someone else's business.
- The problems are too great to ever resolve.
Many of the causes of preservation problems for digital information are complex and largely uncontrollable. Preserving books and other cultural objects looks straightforward in comparison. Digital preservation programs are not for the fainthearted or those who demand immediate certainty.
Preservation programs can, however, be put in place. Much valuable digital material has survived, even though managed by less-than-perfect programs, especially where there has been a business-critical need to do so. One good example is the mass of bibliographic metadata maintained by libraries through repeated changes in library management systems.
The National Library of Australia (NLA), one of several institutions that have set up digital archiving programs, would probably report that an organization having the will and need to establish a preservation program would encounter surprisingly few barriers in doing so. However, a number of impediments may delay the creation of a fully effective program.
The paragraphs that follow describe some of the stumbling blocks that the NLA has met in developing its preservation program. In some cases, the library has been able to make them into a stepping-stone to the next level of development; in other cases, the stumbling blocks seem to have become impassable barriers.
Inability to determine where to start
Preserving digital information presents myriad interrelated issues. Even when one is able to disentangle the issues, it is still difficult to know what action to take first.
In searching for some first steps, the NLA decided to act as if preservation would be possible and to identify what it would choose to preserve if it had the means to do so. This approach was not necessarily better than any other, but it did allow action to start in a familiar territory and it provided some real digital objects with which to work.
The NLA has found that the same stumbling block—where to begin—has arisen at every stage of its efforts to develop a preservation program. The experience of "pushing through it," often by thinking and talking about the point the Library wants to reach and what it will look like, has made this challenge more manageable. (Ironically, later steps almost invariably involve recognizing that the current end point cannot be achieved in the foreseeable future and defining an interim end point.)
Lack of sufficient expertise
Some organizations, including the NLA, are blessed with high-quality information technology expertise as well as long-standing programs in preservation, collection development, and collection control for nondigital materials. Other organizations have less expertise and experience.
However, even the best-equipped organizations rarely have a clear road map for dealing with all the challenges of digital preservation. Most have had to learn on the way, investing heavily in work to build what they hope will be a set of well-established procedures. Many remain uncertain as to how they will maintain access across repeated and unpredictable technology changes.
At a basic level, preservation planners hope that guidelines such as those recently prepared for UNESCO's digital heritage preservation strategy1 will help a wider range of organizations take responsible action toward viable preservation programs.
An absence of easily obtainable and trusted tools
Most preservation programs will have to manage millions of items, when managing a single item may be difficult enough. Tools for automated collecting, analyzing, recording, storing, and providing access are necessary, even for a program that wants to manage modest collections. Some useful tools are available; others are being developed. In the absence of off-the-shelf products, preservation programs have had to invest in developing or commissioning tools. Capacity building has been slow because limited human expertise has been spread across many competing priorities. It is not surprising that most progress has come from the relatively few organizations and individuals who have been willing and able to invest the time, energy, and expertise to develop and refine tools. There is a great need for sharing such tools and for further work to streamline other preservation processes as they become clearer.
Unrealistic expectations about costs
Managing digital collections for ongoing access remains expensive. Even as unit costs drop, the amount of data to be managed grows spectacularly. Typically, funding does not take into account the real costs of doing this business.
Inadequate funding is an obvious barrier; many organizations that struggle to perform even basic functions find the cost of buying and refreshing dedicated computer equipment prohibitive. Less obvious funding barriers exist at other levels. For example, organizations with great technological capacity may find it difficult to fund the human resources needed to shape a complex collection and to manage the decisions involved in preservation. The NLA finds itself severely constrained in the scope of its collecting and in the research it can undertake to prepare for changes in technology; it is also constrained by the costs of recording adequate preservation metadata.
It is unclear whether resource-related barriers will be dealt with by self-sustaining business models, communities' greater willingness to pay for the preservation of their digital assets, increased efficiencies in how such collections are managed, or a combination of all of these. It is to be hoped that these, like many other hurdles, look like barriers only from the approach side.
THE 2003 A. R. Zipf Fellowship in Information Management has been awarded to Terry Harrison, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Computer Science at Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia. Mr. Harrison is the seventh recipient of the Zipf Fellowship, which was established in 1997 to recognize a graduate student who shows exceptional promise for leadership and technical achievement in information management.
Mr. Harrison's research interests lie in developing strategies and tools to keep information safe and accessible over time. He is especially interested in building intelligence into digital objects that hold data so that they are less reliant on proprietary systems.
"It is with great pleasure that I accept the A. R. Zipf Fellowship for 2003," said Mr. Harrison. "Mr. Zipf played a distinguished role in developing the field of information retrieval, and I am grateful for the opportunity to pursue my research at Old Dominion University, furthering the field of study in which he was a true pioneer."
Mr. Harrison earned his B.S. degree in mass communications from James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia. While pursuing his Ph.D., he is also finishing an M.S. degree in computer science at Old Dominion University.
New in Print
- Developing Print Repositories: Models for Shared Preservation and Access, by Bernard F. Reilly, Jr., with research and analysis by Barbara DesRosiers. Available at www.clir.org/pubs/abstract/pub117abst.html.
The authors, both with the Center for Research Libraries, investigate existing models of print repositories with an eye to how they might inform the development of shared collection facilities. "Seeing such repositories as tools or sites for new forms of cooperation, the authors challenge us to think about how these cooperative storage arrangements might do much more than solve problems caused by a shortage of real estate on campus," writes Abby Smith, in her foreword to this volume.
- A Survey of Digital Cultural Heritage Initiatives and Their Sustainability Concerns, by Diane M. Zorich. Available at www.clir.org/pubs/abstract/pub118abst.html.
In September 2002, CLIR commissioned museum consultant Diane Zorich to conduct a survey of North American-based digital cultural heritage initiatives. The purpose of the survey was to identify the scope, financing, organizational structure, and sustainability of these initiatives. The author also surveyed a few public and private funding organizations that support projects with a digital cultural heritage component. The survey was a first step in developing recommendations for a coordinated strategy to sustain and strengthen digital cultural heritage initiatives and their by-products. The survey findings and recommendations are included in this report.
- Care and Handling for the Preservation of CDs and DVDs: A Guide for Librarians and Archivists, by Fred Byers.
The author, who works in the Convergent Information Systems Division of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, has written a concise and easy-to-understand guide to the care and handling of optical discs. Topics covered include CD and DVD structure and life expectancy, preventing premature degradation, preventing information loss, and conditions that affect optical discs.
- Emerging Visions for Access in the 21st Century Library. Proceedings of the DAI Institute for Information Science, April 21-22, 2003.
Seven authors examine new models of providing access to scholarly, cultural, and civic information in this collection of papers. The work was originally presented at the Second Documentation Abstracts, Inc. (DAI) Institute for Information Science, cohosted by CLIR and the California Digital Library.
AS WE MOVE into the twenty-first century, libraries, archives, and other collecting institutions that have been primary stewards of information resources for education and research are facing unprecedented challenges to collect, describe, and serve materials. A challenge of equal, if not greater, concern is to preserve the expanding scope of increasingly fragile resources—from audiovisual to digital—to which users demand quick, convenient access. The environment in which libraries and archives operate is changing rapidly: it is characterized by dramatically more information resources, new distribution mechanisms, expanding copyright monopolies, increasingly fragile recording media, and ever-greater technology dependencies, all in a context of changing user expectations. It is not surprising that a recent survey report by Anne Kenney and Deirdre Stam1 shows that preservation programs are not keeping up. Indeed, they appear to be losing ground.
Earlier this year, to address the changing landscape for preservation and assess various strategies for meeting the challenges of the future, CLIR commissioned a series of position papers to define the key factors shaping the information environment and how those factors will affect the stewardship of the cultural and intellectual resources vital to education and research.
The four papers address a variety of forces that affect libraries' abilities to ensure long-term access. The first paper, written by Daniel Greenstein of the California Digital Library, concerns changing patterns of use and the implications for stewardship. The second paper, written by Anne Kenney of Cornell University, deals with the changing forms of information resources, how they are created and distributed, and the pressures they put on library infrastructures. In the third paper, Bill Ivey of Vanderbilt University discusses the challenges of setting priorities for preservation action, especially in light of ownership and copyright regimes that are increasingly hostile to preservation. The fourth paper, by Brian Lavoie of OCLC, addresses the challenges of paying for preservation, an activity whose beneficiaries are usually in the distant future and so defies the usual incentives for investment, such as near-term return. CLIR will publish all four essays this fall.
In May 2003, as a follow-up to this effort, CLIR convened a group of scholars, library directors, university administrators, publishers, collectors, and representatives from the legal and preservation communities to discuss the papers and debate various strategies for improving stewardship.
CLIR's goal in undertaking this broad examination of the preservation challenges facing us today was not to develop new technologies and approaches for practitioners. The Kenney-Stam report clearly indicates that much progress has been made in developing suitable preservation treatments, though much remains to be done and much remains underfunded. At the same time, the report points to a looming crisis; namely, that libraries have defined preservation narrowly (i.e., as a technical specialty) and that it is seldom seen as a strategic and cost-effective investment in institutional assets. The report underscores the urgent need to create a common awareness of the threats to long-term access to cultural and intellectual resources on the part of senior library and campus managers, including faculty, and to ensure support of innovative approaches to preservation that balance present and future needs. The report also reveals that most preservation strategies in place today were designed to address the problems of either rare books or redundant print collections, that is, fixing information by stabilizing the media on which it is recorded or transferring that information to an archival medium such as acid-free paper or silver halide film. These approaches depend on intensive intervention in those materials that are of identifiable value, such as rare books, and on global preventive care for large-scale redundant collections, with aggressive rescue treatments, such as reformatting, when paper proves unstable.
As the authors of the position papers point out, these strategies are unlikely to be effective in a digital environment. There are no fixed archival media available in the digital realm. There are also great uncertainties about how to identify resources of long-term value amid the torrent of new information resources that are flooding the information landscape. Selection becomes problematic. Adding to the problem is that copyright monopolies have been extended for decades over materials that are not destined to endure physically for the life of the copyright; libraries and archives are not clearly enabled to preserve such materials. Old films and out-of-print LPs exemplify the rights problems that confront preservationists.
Preservation is severely circumscribed by social and legal issues that are not amenable to the technical solutions now successfully employed on campuses, from controlled environments to safe-handling techniques. We also need safe copyright regimes and robust business models that provide incentives to invest in the future of cultural and intellectual resources. Participants at the May meeting agreed that the social, legal, and economic challenges laid out by the authors present a degree of threat to the long-term access to information resources that appears to be unprecedented and demands new strategies. Creation of such strategies will hinge on the ability of libraries to work more closely with creators, publishers, and distributors of audiovisual and digital resources to achieve common solutions to shared information-management problems.
The perspectives provided by these papers help frame the nontechnical issues that threaten the useful life of information in our libraries. The papers also identify the needs of those vital information resources that do not come into our libraries, be they Web-based databases or vintage photographs in city archives. For both library-based collections and those vaster collections that lie outside our purview, it is vital to secure the attention of key institutional managers, their supporters, and the general public to establish a common understanding of the challenges we face in preserving resources for research, teaching, and cultural enrichment, and to propose directions in which we can collectively and individually move forward.
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