Joint ACLS/CLIR Task Forces Consider Scholarship and Technology
— by James M. Morris
Digitization Prompts New Preservation-and-Access Strategies
— by Abby Smith
Directors of Library Associations and Information Agencies Meet at CLIR
–by Deanna Marcum
Digital Library Federation Shapes its Program
— by Donald Waters
Extracts from Digitizing Historical Pictorial Collections for the Internet
— by Stephen Ostrow
Joint ACLS/CLIR Task Forces Consider Scholarship and Technology
–by James M. Morris
Digital Technology is transforming many aspects of contemporary life, particularly those that affect how we do business and how we are to be entertained. But what are the consequences of the technology’s powerful hold likely to be for the serious endeavor of scholarship, in our time and for decades to come? What changes in the process of scholarship and instruction will result from the use of digital technology, and how can we assure that libraries and archives continue to serve the research needs of scholars and students in the face of the technological transformation?
These are the fundamental questions that underlie an initiative CLIR launched at the end of 1997, in cooperation with the American Council of Learned Societies, and will maintain through much of 1998. CLIR and the ACLS have formed five task forces to consider the changes that will attend the increasing accommodation of research libraries and archives to the technology. (The project is supported by a generous grant from The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation.) The task forces have been organized around types of scholarly materials: visual materials, audio materials, manuscripts, monographs and journals, and area studies materials. They include among their participants scholars, librarians, and—to keep the discussion tethered finally to earth—academic administrators.
The technologically driven changes are likely to occur with an escalating force. In the past, libraries had to collect materials comprehensively if they were to be research institutions. Now, thanks to digitization, they are extending their traditional role as physical repositories of intellectual resources to include a new function as “gateways” to information in the digital environment. They are providing access to electronic surrogates and to research materials housed in remote repositories, and that information, in digital form, can be delivered to computers anywhere.
The ACLS/CLIR task forces will discuss how the powerful additional capacities offered by digitization will alter library services, scholarship, and curricula. The task forces will ask scholars who work with materials in the many formats, and librarians with expertise in the formats, to imagine both the opportunities and the constraints presented by the use of digital surrogates. The administrators will add the perspective of those who must weigh the claims of all campus divisions against the reality of budgets.
What advantages might accrue to scholars thanks to the technology? What must be in place on campuses to assure that scholars can use digital surrogates effectively? Will the new environment serve them adequately? How can scholars and librarians work together more effectively to ensure that scholarship is enhanced, not hampered, by the changes? What human resources are needed to make the new systems effective? What financial arrangements? What additional technologies?
These are representative questions, but they are by no means exhaustive. We expect that the task forces will go much beyond them in their deliberations. CLIR will issue a summary report on the deliberations, for distribution to scholarly societies, academic officers, and libraries, and we may issue intermediate reports as well on the findings of the individual task forces.
The first of the task forces, on audio materials, met at CLIR on December 18, 1997, and the occasion was encouraging for the range and the enthusiasm of the discussion. The discussants made clear the particular difficulties that attend the use and preservation of audio materials. The category itself covers a vast range—for example, musical materials of every kind (commercial and not), radio tapes, and recordings (published and not) of all sorts of public and private gatherings. The first obstacle to having scholars use the materials and uncover their riches is that the existence of so many of them is simply unknown. The need for bibliographic information about what exists in audio formats is paramount, and the information should fall, realistically, somewhere between full catalog copy and mere lists.
The task force was in general agreement that research and scholarship would be advanced significantly by adequate finding-aids to the materials, and it is precisely here that the new technologies can be helpful. They can be used, first, to build a uniform structure of finding-aids and then to serve as the basis for an efficient delivery system (the absence of adequate delivery systems has compromised many past efforts at resource sharing). There will never be enough money to support the digitization of more than a small fraction of these audio materials, but, as with cooperative microfilming projects, it is essential to enter into common databases the records of everything that is digitized, to avoid duplication of effort and to build a proper framework for coordinated digitizing activity.
The cost issues raised during the meeting were less daunting than the copyright issues the discussants touched on, beginning with the fundamental question of what exactly constitutes a text in the new digital environment. They had no ready answer, and indeed put an answer even farther out of reach when they asked as well how we are to cope with “compound documents”—the new objects that can be created effortlessly from the combination of existing objects. The discussion made clear that the environment opens endlessly and that its boundaries will not be touched anytime soon.
For a list of the ACLS/CLIR Task Forces and their members, click here.
Digitization Prompts New Preservation-and-Access Strategies
–by Abby Smith
For librarians and archivists, perhaps the most exciting aspect of the digital technology revolution is the promise of greatly increased access to research and reference materials, both in the reading room and at remote locations. Most research libraries with active digital projects are working with traditional, or analog, materials and converting them to digital formats. For items, and even whole collections, that are rare, fragile, or otherwise difficult to serve to patrons, the possibility of creating digital surrogates can be very compelling.
However, the issues around selection for digital reformatting have few useful parallels with the more familiar selection criteria for preservation reformatting in microform. After all, the fundamental character of preservation in the digital world and how it is to be achieved are matters of dispute among specialists. While most librarians will agree that digital surrogates play a role in preventive preservation by allowing patrons to use fragile or poorly preserved items to which they might not normally have unrestricted access in a reading room, there is no consensus about the role of digital files in preserving the information contained in the original. And that is likely to remain the case as long as standards have not been agreed upon and the technology continues to evolve.
Despite the uncertainty about what preservation in a digital environment actually is, money continues to be allocated to preservation departments and to others in libraries and archives for digital conversion projects. These funds have allowed many in our field to experience firsthand what planning and implementing these projects can actually mean for a library and its collections, for its staff and patrons, and for the technology infrastructure of an institution.
The collective experience of our colleagues is a valuable asset to the library and archival community, and the conditions under which we work make it imperative that we share this asset of experience, knowledge, and hard-earned wisdom. This should enable all of us to deal more effectively with the available technologies, the shifting funding sources, the often confusing issues of rights management in a networked environment, indeed all the factors that affect the implementation of digital projects but over which we have no effective control and too often not even adequate information to make an informed decision. To that end, CLIR will publish a number of papers drawn from practical experience in digital conversion projects and directed at preservation managers and the decision-makers in their institutions so that they might better understand the broad context of preservation-and-access strategies employed by libraries and the role of digital reformatting in those strategies.
The first paper in the series, Digitizing Historical Pictorial Collections for the Internet, by Stephen Ostrow, former chief of the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress, addresses the full range of issues to be confronted when digitizing large, archival collections of historical visual resources. Drawing on more than a decade’s experience in digitizing materials from the 15 million images in the Prints and Photographs Division, Dr. Ostrow explores the nature of primary source research in pictorial collections and considers how these often comprehensive collections have been organized and accessed traditionally in the reading room, and how digital reformatting projects can take advantage of—and be hindered by—the documentary nature of the collections. Appended to Dr. Ostrow’s report, which will be published in February, are checklists developed by the knowledgeable staff of the Library that are essential reading for all who intend to undertake a large-scale conversion project.
Directors of Library Associations and Information Agencies Meet at CLIR
–by Deanna Marcum
On November 18, 1997, as part of its Leadership Program, the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) convened a meeting of twelve executive directors of library associations and related information agencies. The date marked the anniversary of the death of Paul Evan Peters, the first director of the Coalition for Networked Information, and one purpose of the meeting was to pay tribute to Paul’s collaborative spirit and to his continual quest for more cooperation among public, academic, and special libraries in the networked environment. A second purpose was to bring together professional leaders who represent different constituencies so that they might learn more about their common concerns, interests, and initiatives and design possible cooperative projects.
The participants were asked to reflect upon both the opportunities they saw for the profession and the threats to it. As opportunities, they cited the ability to offer access to global information resources, the prospect of providing new services to entirely new categories of patrons, and the clear mandate to bring a new type of leadership to libraries. Among the threats they identified were the following: ambiguities about the governance of libraries and the changing definitions of “public,” questions about professional and institutional identity, a concern about whether the library will continue to be a physical place of community importance, and an apprehension about the high, and mounting, illiteracy rate, especially in urban areas.
Interestingly enough, technological change was characterized as both an opportunity and a threat. With the capacity to make more materials accessible to new audiences, technology is viewed as a powerful tool for the common good. But it can also distort the library’s services. It brings new partners into all library projects, and the new relationships (many with the commercial sector) carry their own challenges.
After raising many topics on which they might cooperate (the not-unexpected list: equitable access to information, preservation, public policy, and copyright and intellectual property), the participants concluded with a lively discussion of one potentially far-reaching project—the library’s assumption of a more forceful role in identifying “good” resources that are available on the Web. Historically, librarians have been at their best when they have functioned as professionals who identify and select the best materials on a particular subject and then guide readers to them. Today, when there is strong criticism of the undifferentiated assortment of materials available through the World Wide Web, should librarians not assert their proper role in the electronic environment?
In a related discussion, the group considered whether the professional leadership should launch a campaign, first, to identify the resources to which every citizen of the United States should have access, and then to digitize, through collective action, those resources. Merely raising the question caused apprehension in the room. Those who opposed the idea were simply not comfortable with the notion that librarians should determine what constitutes good or valid material or decide what materials should be available in digital form. They talked instead of building an infrastructure that allows individuals to make their own choices in these matters.
Of course, individuals should have access to as many resources as possible. And there is no disagreement with the need to build an infrastructure that assures connectivity for all citizens. But if librarians are to have a meaningful role in the digital environment, should it not be to help readers find their way through the confusion? Can we not begin to specify just what the digital library should assure for every citizen, even as we work toward building a structure that will also assure ample individual choice by allowing more and more materials to be included in digital collections?
The idea may be too simplistic, and perhaps it could not be implemented without political battles, but it does go to the heart of a very important matter: What claim do librarians wish to make to professional expertise in the digital world? If they want to avoid choices, and if every individual who thinks he or she has something to say becomes a publisher, and if access to such material is available from any computer, anywhere, just what will the librarian contribute?
Fudan University Completes Microfilming of Sino-Japanese War Monographs
–by Kathlin Smith
Fudan University in Shanghai has completed microfilming more than 4,000 titles of monographs published between 1932 and 1945. The CLIR-sponsored project, which began in 1995 and was supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities and The Henry Luce Foundation, brings a significant new body of work in literature, history, philosophy, law, economics, popular culture, and society within easy reach of U.S. scholars.
Fudan has provided the U.S. a duplicating master and a service copy of each film made. The Center for Research Libraries (CRL) will keep the duplicating masters in archival storage and will lend the service copies. The first films should be available from CRL by mid-year.
Thanks to a second NEH grant, the titles are now being cataloged, and it is expected that the first records will appear in the OCLC database in early spring. The bibliographic records will also be included in CRL’s online public-access catalog, which can be found on its website at http://www.crl.uchicago.edu.
The project is directed by Diane Perushek, assistant university librarian for collection management at Northwestern University.
Digital Library Federation Shapes its Program
–by Donald Waters
The Program of the Digital Library Federation (DLF) has picked up its pace in recent months. One major project—The Making of America, Part 2—is underway, and several others are taking shape as I complete a series of site visits to institutions participating in the Federation.
The Making of America, Part 2
During the fall of 1996, the Advisory Committee of the DLF endorsed a proposal to build on the original work of two participants, the libraries of the University of Michigan and Cornell University. With the support of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the two libraries had generated a collection of digital books and serials devoted to the theme of “the making of America.” With DLF support, the project is entering a second stage, for which substantial additional funds have been requested from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Five DLF institutions are participating in The Making of America, Part 2. The University of California at Berkeley has taken the lead in the project, joined by Cornell, Stanford University, Pennsylvania State University, and the New York Public Library. Their work is focused on special-collections materials related to the theme of transportation during the Gilded Age. The libraries want to organize and develop community practices, first, for creating and encoding the digitized versions of primary sources and, subsequently, for enabling readers to link seamlessly to these digitized surrogates directly from the finding-aid descriptions of them.
As DLF participants developed the plan for The Making of America, Part 2, they realized that such seamless links require the creation and management of a complex set of “metadata.” They distinguished among several categories of metadata. Descriptive metadata are the kinds of information encoded in bibliographic records and detailed finding-aids that serve to identify the contents of the special collections. Structural and administrative metadata provide the information needed to organize and manage the collections in digital form. Thus, structural metadata might include information about page sequencing or other divisions that enables a reader to navigate a work effectively in a digital environment, while administrative metadata would provide information about manner of creation, provenance, and ownership so that a digital library could manage effectively the rights in the intellectual property of works. These distinctions among metadata are important to the proposal currently before the National Endowment for the Humanities.
With funding from CLIR and DLF, Berkeley and its partners in The Making of America, Part 2 are currently at work on the first phase of the project, to stimulate the development of practices for encoding structural and administrative metadata. There are four tasks to be accomplished in this phase:
- The participants will identify the classes of objects that they will digitize.
- Berkeley staff will draft a white paper of system requirements. The paper will describe the expected “behaviors” that each class of digital object selected for inclusion in the digital collection needs to exhibit, the metadata needed to support these behaviors, and the best practices for digitizing the objects and creating the requisite metadata.
- The white paper will be reviewed within the DLF and revised to take account of comments. It will then be made available for publication or dissemination in appropriate forms as a basis for discussion in the wider community.
- Technical experts among the project participants will analyze the white paper and design the means of encoding the behaviors, the metadata, and the objects for implementation in subsequent phases of the project.
The institutions have set an ambitious timetable for achieving these goals. Tasks 1 and 2 are to be completed by the end of February 1998; Task 3, by April 1; and Task 4, by the end of May. Whether or not NEH funding is eventually forthcoming, the completion of these four tasks within The Making of America, Part 2 will usefully enlarge our general understanding of the metadata requirements for digital libraries. In anticipation of a decision by the NEH in spring 1998, the participating institutions are already engaged in work that advances the project: they are creating bibliographic records and encoded archival descriptions for the materials to be digitized, they are training staff, and they are designing workflows for the digitizing work.
I have undertaken a series of site visits to the institutions participating in the DLF, and from what has been learned thus far during those visits we are beginning to draw a broad program of work for the Federation. The explicit purpose of the visits has been to identify and understand certain critical aspects of the participants’ digital library programs: What digital library projects are underway? How do DLF participants justify their development of digital libraries in terms of wider institutional goals? What solutions and practices have the libraries developed for organizing, providing access to, and preserving digital materials? What hurdles stand in the way of continued development?
The focus on the mission and goals of digital library development is especially important. To date, many projects have arisen in response not to institutional needs but to intense personal interests among library staff members, who worry that they will be left behind professionally and that their institutions will suffer competitively if they do not engage in digital library work. The projects resulting from such motivation are useful for the professional development of members of the library staff, but they are typically small and underfunded, and they lack the institutional backing that is essential if the work is to endure over time.
The preliminary results of my visits suggest that, for digital library projects to be successful, they must directly serve larger institutional goals. Current projects that can be counted a success seek to achieve one or more of four broad purposes: (1) to organize and manage new forms of knowledge that are available only in digital form; (2) to manage intellectual property institutionally in ways that could serve to break cycles of scholarly communication that have become ruinously expensive; (3) to improve the quality and lower the costs of traditional forms of research and learning; and (4) to support institutional efforts to extend research and educational services to the general public, to special categories of constituents, such as corporate partners or alumni, or to students in distance-education programs.
Among the eight institutions I have visited to date, there is considerable variation in the content and focus of the digital library programs. However, the variation provides opportunities for division of labor and specialization in an emerging set of DLF programs that will generally advance the development of digital library infrastructure and practice and enable digital libraries to support strongly the goals of the institutions and communities of which they are a part. I expect to complete my visits to the full complement of participants by early March.
Digitizing Historical Pictorial Collections for the Internet
by Stephen Ostrow
The context established by doing research in a reading room provides a comfort zone for both the institution and the researcher in that it establishes parameters that govern expectations and assumptions. None of the conditions that establish this context pertain to gaining access to digital images on the Internet. No assumptions can be made about the probable audience; anyone can gain access to the images at any time for any purpose. The physical setting becomes everyone’s computer at the office or at home, and the inter-institutional reach of the Internet obfuscates any consistent institutional identity. The sequential manner in which most digital images are viewed deprives the researcher of the flexibility that can be attained by grouping originals on a table and can result in individual images’ being separated out and downloaded without the researcher’s ever gaining a sense of the whole collection. Researchers can and do adjust to these differences from the reading room experience when viewing pictorial materials on the Internet. In many instances, the enormous advantage of being able to conduct research from remote locations more than outweighs the losses inherent in being far removed from a reading room.
As visual collections become more vulnerable to damage, and as their monetary value and susceptibility to theft increase, the current trend toward more restrictive access to the originals will accelerate. The use of digital images as research surrogates will grow accordingly, with access to the originals restricted to those circumstances where it is absolutely necessary. The Library of Congress’s Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographic collection is a case in point. As part of an initiative that includes copying the deteriorating nitrate and diacetate negatives, all of the images in the collection are being digitized. In keeping with this policy, when the research surrogates of these images become available, they will in all probability be served in lieu of the originals, unless viewing the original is absolutely necessary to the research.
CLIR to Support RLG DigiNews
CLIR IS PROVIDING support to RLG DigiNews, the electronic newsletter about digital preservation-and-access issues, which the Research Libraries Group publishes in collaboration with the Department of Preservation and Conservation at Cornell University Library. CLIR’s support will make possible two additional issues of the Web-based periodical in 1998. The magazine, until now a quarterly, will appear bimonthly, with the first new issue available online in February.
RLG DigiNews focuses on topics of particular interest and value to managers of digital initiatives with a preservation component or rationale. It describes projects that promise to improve awareness of evolving practices in image conversion and digital archiving, and it calls attention to publications (in any form) that will help staff members reach a better understanding of digital issues.
Each issue comprises one or more feature articles, an up-to-date technical review of practices, a list of relevant Web sites, answers to frequently asked questions, and other features that address in a timely fashion the concerns preservation managers and their staff face in developing and implementing digital projects.
RLG DigiNews can be found at www.rlg.org/preserv/diginews.
CLIR Publishes Report on Preservation in Vietnam
AS CUSTODIANS OF history, Vietnam’s libraries and archives have faced many challenges. Centuries of political upheaval have led to the destruction and dislocation of much of the country’s recorded history. The surviving collections are constantly threatened by unrelenting heat, humidity, and other environmental factors.
There is a growing interest in Vietnam on U.S. campuses and in the business world. With this interest comes an urgency to reexamine factors affecting the long-term preservation of materials that will serve scholars, the business community, and members of the overseas Vietnamese population, who are increasingly curious about their heritage.
In a forthcoming CLIR report, Preservation and Archives in Vietnam, Judith Henchy provides an overview of the largely unexplored corpus of Vietnamese textual resources in research institutions there and elsewhere, and considers the associated problems of bibliographic control and preservation.
|This is the first number of CLIR Issues, which will be published six times a year and will reflect on developments within the four major programs of the Council on Library and Information Resources.
The Commission on Preservation and Access Newsletter published its final number in November/December 1997. News items of the kind previously included in the Newsletter will now be found on the CLIR Web site at www.clir.org.
|Council on Library and Information Resources|
1755 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W. Suite 500
The four current programs of CLIR are the Commission on Preservation and Access, Digital Libraries, the Economics of Information, and Leadership.