CLIR Issues Number 6
Educating Leaders for the Digital Library
—by Deanna B. Marcum
—by Donald J. Waters
The Hybrid Model of Preservation Reformatting
—by Abby Smith
Avoiding Technological Quicksand: Finding a Viable Technical Foundation for Digital Preservation
CLIR Receives IMLS Grant
THROUGHOUT ITS HISTORY, the profession of librarianship has struggled with questions about the appropriate education and training for its members. Each decade brings new approaches to the academic preparation that is sanctioned by the profession, and countless organizations have offered a variety of workshops, continuing education programs, and experiential learning opportunities. But the complaint persists that the current educational offerings are not adequate to the task of preparing the new generation of librarians. CLIR board members and staff have begun to ask, what should constitute education for the information professional in the current environment?
There are at least two kinds of activities that we will pursue to address those concerns: helping those now in the profession gain knowledge and expertise in managing information resources in the mixed environment of digital and traditional resources; and recasting the academic preparation for entering professionals.
CLIR is not a newcomer to these issues. The Council on Library Resources was an aggressive voice for educational reform in the 1980s, and for most of its history, it sponsored various types of professional mentoring and development. The Commission on Preservation and Access also engaged the question of appropriate education for preservation managers early in its history, and, later, Patricia Battin convened two symposia on the need for an educational program to meet the requirements of the digital era.
“The complaint persists that the current educational offerings are not adequate to the task of preparing the new generation of librarians.”
The monograph recently published by CLIR, The Mirage of Continuity, has as its subtext the call to reform education to include all aspects of managing information resources. In several of the essays, the authors decry the compartmentalized education for librarians and information technologists, just as they criticize the separate organizational management structures that are maintained within most college and university systems.
Motivated largely by the planning efforts that preceded the book, CLIR has been developing a Digital Leadership Institute that will bring the most promising leaders from all information management areas of the campus into an educational program for two weeks. After the intensive seminar, projects will be carried out on the home campus that require librarians, information technologists, university press directors, and database creators to work collaboratively. Our hope is that by conducting the Institute for five to ten years, we shall assist in creating a cadre of information managers who have reshaped the organizational molds that are all too familiar today.
The Digital Library Federation, through its digital projects, is also addressing, even if indirectly, the question of appropriate education and training. At the last DLF Steering Committee meeting, Dr. Michael Kurtz, director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, described the Astrophysics Data System he has developed to provide electronic text of the most important astrophysics journals to his professional colleagues. He startled the group by flatly asserting: “Librarians could not have helped us.” Dr. Kurtz represents the digital-era scholar who uses the technology to organize and make available the most important research resources to others in his field. He lacks patience with the careful, methodical processes of librarians. “Only another astrophysicist would know that ‘metallicity’ is synonymous with ‘abundance,'” Kurtz said, alluding to the central role that subject expertise plays in developing retrieval systems that serve users efficiently. In other words, Kurtz is convinced that the structure of an academic discipline must be built into the digital library’s structure for that field. Once librarians begin to process the information into a larger whole, much of the characteristic richness of the scholar-built system is threatened.
Dr. Kurtz’s presentation raises important questions for all librarians. How can we imbue the scholar who has a keen interest in the disciplinary resources with a sense of what is necessary to make that information available to others who may not share the research or academic tradition? In the digital world, will the librarian be able to manage the many different research–based resources that have been built from different traditions and assumptions, make them usable by the uninitiated, and still maintain their integrity?
Libraries, of course, serve many different purposes and constituencies, but making available research resources that will become the foundation for new knowledge has been the raison d’etre for research libraries. Scholars are rapidly becoming familiar with technology and are creating their own systems that more closely fit their way of working. To maintain some semblance of a comprehensive research library, we must become genuine partners with those scholars who are contributing pieces of the digital library. Meanwhile we must reconsider the initial educational experience of those who are joining the profession. As late as the 1950s, the master’s in library science degree was a fifth-year-degree—an additional year of library education following a liberal arts degree—but it was an integral part of the general education. Is it now time to consider blending discipline-based graduate degrees with the information and library science degree? Especially in our research libraries, this kind of specialized academic preparation will be essential.
Most schools of library and information sciences are recasting themselves to be more relevant in the new millennium. Some have been integrated with other professional schools. But it may be more important to consider ways of incorporating the essential portions of the master’s degree in library and information science into the core disciplines. In doing so, we would begin to produce discipline-based librarians and information specialists who are as comfortable with the scholarly communication in their fields as they are with digital libraries.
AS LIBRARIES BUILD digital collections, they face the challenge of ensuring the persistence of materials that are stored on fragile media and recorded using hardware and software that rapidly become obsolete. Digital preservation refers to the various methods of keeping digital materials alive into the future. In this specific sense, digital preservation is a critical component of digital libraries, although the means of accomplishing it still need considerable development.
The phrase “digital preservation,” however, also conveys other meanings. For example, it refers to digitization—or conversion to digital form —as a means of preserving materials that exist in other formats. Still other references to preservation, such as a “preservation quality” image, have crept into common usage in discussions of digitization, often in the absence of detailed explanation and with the assumption that the audience understands and accepts the intended meaning. On close inspection, these alternative meanings of digital preservation raise a number of problems and deserve to be treated cautiously.
Reformatting as Digital Preservation
The strongest claim that digitization constitutes digital preservation is usually made in reference to preservation reformatting. “Let’s build our digital collections,” a version of the argument goes, “by converting endangered print collections to digital form rather than microfilming them.” What are the merits of this argument?
When materials printed on acidic paper become embrittled, they are often preserved by reformatting the content onto a more stable, long-lasting medium, typically microfilm. Although microfilm is an exceptionally durable medium, it is notoriously troublesome for readers to use. Given the promise of digital technology, with its many easy-to-use features, the library community has carefully examined whether digitization could substitute for microfilming as a preservation reformatting technique.
After considerable experimentation, there is little evidence that conversion to digital form is an adequate preservation substitute for microfilming. Rapidly changing technologies have made it difficult for experimenters to keep the digitized versions alive so that readers can reap the presumed benefits of improved access, much less depend on those versions as a durable means of preserving the content contained in embrittled originals. Research thus has shifted to a so-called hybrid approach that relies on environmental controls, deacidification, and microfilming as techniques for the long-term preservation of embrittled originals, and is developing reliable and economical means of using digital technology as an option for improving access to those materials.
Protecting the Original as Digital Preservation
Another claim that digitization constitutes “digital preservation” often arises when selecting special collections of unique and treasured items in libraries, museums, and archives for digitization. Digital conversion is commonly justified by arguing that the creation of a digital surrogate for use will preserve the original from the wear and tear of repeated access. It is not at all clear, however, that creating digital surrogates reduces the demand for an original work.
Some publishers, for example, fearing loss of revenue from printed materials by releasing digital versions of them online, have found in practice exactly the opposite effect. By providing a digital surrogate for all or part of a published work, some have actually enhanced demand for printed versions. Libraries, museums, and archives engaged in digitization will undoubtedly experience similar results and be surprised to discover that digitization produces a rising demand for the original artifact rather than a decline.
Even if a digital surrogate does preserve a rare item from use, justifying the digitizing process in terms of this presumed benefit makes sense only if the original is already suffering from the stresses of use. However, with the notable exception of organizations such as the Archivo General de Indias in Seville, which carefully select for digitization their most heavily used documents, institutions typically do not select treasures for digitization because they are in high demand. Rather, by digitizing, they seek to make their valuables better known and more widely accessible, not, strictly speaking, better preserved.
The relevant considerations when selecting materials for digitization thus are not primarily about preserving the original, but about access: How accessible is the original? What is the demand for its use? How will digitization affect access and use? Unfortunately, efforts to justify digitization do not always begin with sober analyses of user demand.
The “Preservation Quality” Image
There is a growing realization, however, that such questions do need to be asked. In the field of visual-resource imaging, for example, Stephen Ostrow and others have distinguished a variety of user needs for access to digitized surrogates of photographs, paintings, and other art objects. They have suggested corresponding distinctions in the qualities of reproduction that one can use to match the investment in digitization to the assessment of user needs. How faithful to the original in terms of color, tone, resolution and other qualities does the reproduction have to be? Low- quality, thumbnail surrogates enable users to key rapidly on one object among a variety of others in an array. Other, better-quality surrogates serve various kinds of reference purposes, and the very highest-quality surrogates—often called “preservation quality” images—may serve users’ needs for close study in the absence of the original.
Do “preservation quality” digital images actually serve a preservation function? The availability of any reference surrogate, whether of low or high quality, may substitute for consultation of the original and so preserve the original from use. But it may also generate a need to consult the original where previously there was no such need. The ability of a digitized image to achieve fidelity to an original thus implies nothing about the preservation of the original, which may or may not be in danger of deteriorating. Nor does “preservation quality” refer to the preservation of the digital surrogate, which must struggle to survive in a rapidly changing and fragile digital environment.
“Libraries, museums, and archives. . .will be surprised to discover that digitization produces a rising demand for the original artifact rather than a decline.”
Instead, the notion of a “preservation quality” image seems to be no more than a simple metaphor. It refers to the process of preservation reformatting, in which an embrittled original is at a very high risk of loss and the standards of microfilm capture are equally high to minimize the loss of any content should the original perish. “Preservation quality” digitized images thus are like the microfilm images generated in a preservation reformatting process in that they both exhibit very high and measurable levels of fidelity to an original. Although digitization is a conversion process like preservation microfilming, it is substantially different in its implications. Preservation reformatting of brittle books is an extreme solution to a crisis in which preservation and access issues converge in a special way. Such reformatting is a preservation action that is necessary simply to provide continuing access to the broad sweep of the cultural record printed on brittle paper. By contrast, there is no evidence that digitization addresses any serious preservation issues. Instead, it is aimed primarily at improving access to converted materials in a variety of dimensions, including the ability of users to discover, retrieve, study, analyze, interpret, and manipulate these materials. It is to these matters of access that decision makers need to muster their resources in managing digital conversion projects. Where substantial preservation resources are desperately needed is in trying to ensure the persistence of the growing proportion of the cultural record that is born and struggles to survive in the digital environment.
Avoiding Technological Quicksand:
Finding a Viable Technical Foundation for Digital Preservation
JEFF ROTHENBERG, computer scientist of the RAND Corporation, was commissioned by CLIR to examine the alternative models for digital preservation and write a report on his findings. In October, Rothenberg submitted his essay, Avoiding Technological Quicksand.
In reviewing the nature of the problem, Rothenberg says:
The vision of creating digital libraries—not to mention the preservation of human heritage—currently rests on technological quicksand. There is as yet no viable long-term strategy to ensure that digital information will be readable in the future.
His report explores the technical depth of the problem, analyzes the inadequacies of several strategies that have been proposed, and elaborates on what he believes to be the most likely answer to the problem of digital preservation–the “emulation solution.” The report examines the inadequacies of migration strategies, just as it highlights the strengths and limitations of emulation.
Rothenberg’s conclusion is that emulation promises to be most effective as a preservation strategy, but it has yet to be tested in operating environments. He calls for further research to prove the concept.
CLIR will publish and distribute the paper in December.
—by Abby Smith
CLIR HAS COMMISSIONED a report on digital imaging and preservation microfilming that will outline a hybrid approach to these reformatting techniques for preservation of and access to brittle print materials. Written by Stephen Chapman of Harvard University, Paul Conway of Yale University, and Anne Kenney of Cornell University, the position paper will summarize what has been learned about hybrid conversion in projects conducted at Yale and Cornell. It will recommend next steps for making this approach scalable in research libraries around the country.
For several years, the Commission on Preservation and Access and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) funded staff at Yale and Cornell Universities to research the conversion of preservation microfilm to digital images and of scanned images of brittle monographs and serials to computer output microfilm. However, the work must be further developed and refined before best practices can be articulated or methods recommended for moving those techniques from research and testing into production at other libraries. Data gathered from the Cornell and Yale projects will serve as the foundation of the paper.
As we have learned from Preserving Digital Information: Final Report of the Task Force on Archiving Digital Information, digital imaging may be ideal for access, but it does not match preservation microfilm for longevity. Nevertheless, preservation specialists have long hoped that reformatting programs such as those supported by NEH could incorporate digital technologies when appropriate. Working with NEH and the Research Libraries Group (RLG), CLIR has begun this project to set out what we currently know about the hybrid conversion approach, articulate a research agenda for those areas that need further work, such as what are essential metadata for digital books and serials that should be created at time of scanning, and make recommendations for how to pursue that agenda.
The paper will clearly state certain assumptions about the present status of preservation and access, such as the view that preservation goals are not met without creating an analog copy. It will also raise questions that cannot be answered without the thoughtful deliberation of those who share responsibilities for preservation technologies, such as preservation administrators, vendors, and technologists. Therefore, CLIR will disseminate this paper widely both in print and on the CLIR Web site. CLIR will seek the opinions of those who are in the best position to assess the paper, and then convene those who can begin to answer the outstanding questions that remain before the hybrid conversion approach can be widely and routinely adopted by libraries.
Among the questions that will arise are: What should be done to create new microfilm that would facilitate scanning later? How should one decide whether to scan or film first? What are the circumstances that recommend the hybrid approach, particularly if a library intends to film low-use brittle materials? Perhaps most challenging of all will be addressing the issues of cost, because little comparison has been done between comparable reformatting programs. As is well-known from many digital imaging projects, costs for scanning can vary widely, depending on the nature of the materials, the mode of production, and the desired digital derivative.
The report will be available on the CLIR Web site (www.clir.org) and in print in December.
THE COLLEGE LIBRARIES COMMITTEE, originally established to advise the Commission on Preservation and Access, is working with CLIR to study the innovative ways that college libraries are using information technology to improve teaching and learning. With funding from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, CLIR has begun a series of case studies on nine college campuses. Case study teams will seek to identify information technology projects that have broadened the role and strengthened the leadership of the library on campus. CLIR will publish these case studies on its Web site in early 1999 to stimulate innovation on other campuses. The visits began in October and will be completed in December.
The objectives of the case studies are: to describe nine instances in which colleges and mid-sized universities have used technology effectively to improve library services; to document the processes that libraries have used to make changes and to describe the necessary conditions for success; to offer detailed examinations of the leadership that has made change possible; to help other librarians see that making change is a deliberate process that can be employed by a great variety of institutions; to inform college administrations of the roles librarians can and ought to play on a campus; and to provide information quickly so that others can use it as they make their own plans.
The nine institutions, selected through a competitive process, are: California Institute of Technology; Carnegie Mellon University; Indiana University/Purdue University at Indianapolis; Lafayette College; Point Park College; Stevens Institute of Technology; West Virginia Wesleyan College; and Wellesley College.
The case studies will serve as the basis for an invitational conference, to be held March 25-27, 1999. There CLIR will convene a thoughtful group of college and mid-sized university administrators, foundation representatives who are known to be deeply interested in change in higher education, and library directors, together with representatives from the case study institutions. Participants will identify and discuss those factors that foster organizational change. The results of the deliberations will appear in a report.
CLIR Receives IMLS Grant
CLIR RECEIVED A 1998 National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Under the aegis of the Model Programs of Cooperation for Libraries and Museums, CLIR will partner with the Chicago Historical Society (CHS) to convene a conference of library and museum leaders on the subject of content development in the digital environment.
Both museums and libraries, especially those with special collections, face many difficult decisions when contemplating digital dissemination as a means of broadening access to primary resources. Because those collections have been available heretofore in the controlled setting of a reading room or museum gallery, matters of fair use and access to sensitive materials were routinely handled onsite and guided by well-established practices. Dissemination of collections through the Internet helps create new audiences for those materials, but does so in a radically different environment.
In collaboration with CHS, a collections-based research center with an archival mission to collect, preserve, and make accessible information, as well as a museum mandate to interpret its collections to the public, CLIR hopes at this conference to elucidate some of the stubborn policy issues that arise during digital conversion programs and to define the expectations that users often bring to digital collections. The conference, to be held in October, 1999, will result in recommended policy guidelines that will be widely distributed in the library and museum communities.
Nils Hasselmo Joins CLIR Board
THE BOARD OF CLIR welcomed Nils Hasselmo, president of the Association of American Universities, as its newest member on July 1. Dr. Hasselmo, recently appointed to his position at AAU, serves on the CLIR Board by virtue of his office. Dr. Hasselmo is a noted scholar of Scandinavian linguistics and literature who was president of the University of Minnesota from 1989-97. Before that, he served as senior vice-president for Academic Affairs and provost at the University of Arizona (1983-88), and in several positions at the University of Minnesota, including vice-president for Administration and Planning (1980-83), chairman of the Scandinavian Languages and Literature Department, and the direcotr of the Center for Northwest European Language and Area Studies (1970-73). He has been a fellow of Harvard University, the recipient of several honorary degrees, and recently served as chair of the Council of Ten (the Big Ten presidents).
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The four current programs of CLIR are the Commission on Preservation and Access, Digital Libraries, the Economics of Information, and Leadership.