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CLIR Issues Number 8

Number 8
March/April 1999


CLIR to Hold Regional Briefings
by Deanna B. Marcum

Why Digitize?
by Abby Smith

The Digital Library Federation Online
by Rebecca Graham

DLF Developing Access Protocols
by Rebecca Graham

What’s New on CLIR’s Web Site

by Brian Leney, Publications Officer


CLIR to Hold Regional Briefings

by Deanna B. Marcum

IN MARCH, APRIL, AND MAY, Stanley Chodorow, Chairman of the CLIR Board, and Deanna Marcum, President, will conduct briefings on CLIR’s programs and future directions in four locations. The dates and locations are:

  • March 16, Columbia University, New York, NY
  • April 5, Emory University, Atlanta, GA
  • April 6, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
  • May 3, University Club, Chicago, IL

CLIR is an independent, catalytic organization that depends on grants from private foundations for its large-scale projects. One of CLIR’s predecessor organizations, the Commission on Preservation and Access, relied on sponsorship fees to cover the operating costs of the organization. With the merger of the Council on Library Resources and the Commission on Preservation and Access to create the Council on Library and Information Resources, we are moving to a modified sponsorship arrangement to include all of CLIR’s programs: Preservation and Access, Digital Libraries, Economics of Information, and Leadership.

The purpose of the briefings is to engage in discussion with those who see CLIR’s agenda as integral to their own activities. As we plan our next cycle of activities, consider the reports that should be commissioned, and establish research and demonstration projects, we want to be sure that we have considered what our colleagues in the field judge to be of highest priority.

The briefings will also provide an opportunity for the community to discuss with us the nature and scope of the upcoming Frye Digital Leadership Institute. With recent funding from the Robert Woodruff Foundation, CLIR is developing an Institute, in collaboration with Emory University, that will provide continuing-education opportunities for individuals who currently hold, or will one day assume, positions that make them responsible for transforming the management of scholarly information in institutions of higher education. We shall be taking an integrated approach to the consideration of managing information resources, and we need to hear from those of you who are creating the future about what will be most important in the next generation of leaders.

There will be time to discuss the accomplishments and projected plans of the Digital Library Federation, the consortial group that is housed within CLIR.

Finally, we view these briefings as a time to learn more about the innovations that are in place or projected on your campuses. Lacking a membership base, we believe that regular face-to-face discussions will help us frame a program agenda that is more helpful to those we aim to serve.

We look forward to seeing many of you at one of the scheduled briefings. Please call Cynthia Bergquist, Executive Assistant, at (202) 939-4755 to make reservations to attend.


Why Digitize?

by Abby Smith

DIGITAL INFORMATION IS transforming the way we learn, the way we communicate, even the way we think. It is also changing the way that libraries and archives work and the very work that they do. If this new technology does, indeed, turn out to be revolutionary, then we cannot anticipate its impact in full, and we should be cautious about letting our hopes for the future of digital technology blind us to its limitations.

Many libraries have digitized parts of their holdings, including large institutions such as the Library of Congress, the National Archives, and major research libraries in the Digital Library Federation, and smaller institutions such as the Huntington and Denver Public libraries. Their experiences reveal patterns that can help us assess when technology is able to meet expectations for improvement of traditional library services, when it cannot, and when it may do so, but not in a cost-effective manner.

Digitization is not Preservation—at Least not Yet

Though digitization is sometimes loosely referred to as preservation, it is clear that, so far, digital resources are at their best when facilitating access to information and weakest when assigned the traditional library responsibility of preservation. Because digitization is a type of reformatting, like microfilming, it is often confused with preservation microfilming and seen as a superior, if as yet more expensive, form of preservation reformatting. Much is gained by digitizing, but permanence and authenticity, at this juncture of technological development, are not among those gains. Therefore, digitization is not a reliable medium for preservation.

The reasons for the weakness of digitization as a preservation treatment are complex, having to do with both the difficulty of ensuring the persistence of digital information over time and the challenges of meeting standards of reliability of provenance and authenticity. The preservation of digital information is compromised by the physical fragility of the magnetic media on which the information is often recorded. More important than the durability of the medium itself is the necessity to keep data fresh and encoded in readable file formats. Ongoing investigations into two possible ways of ensuring data persistence—the migration of data from one software and hardware configuration to a more current one, and the creation of software that emulates obsolete encoding formats—may develop solutions to this problem.

Preservation goals are also challenged by the difficulty of ascertaining the authenticity and integrity of an image, database, or text when it is in digital form. Looked at from the traditional perspective of published or manuscript materials, it is futile even to try to distinguish one copy from another: there is no original with which to compare a suspect file. Nor can one tell whether a digital file has been tampered with, as one can change the bit stream of a file and leave no record of its having been altered. There is much research and development being dedicated to solving the dilemma posed by the stunning fidelity of digital cloning, including methods for marking images and time-stamping them, but as yet there is no solution.

Digitization is Access—Lots of It

Digitization is an excellent medium for access to information. Digital surrogates can make the remote accessible and the hard to see visible. They can bring together research materials that are widely scattered about the globe, allowing viewers to conflate collections and compare items that can be examined side by side solely by virtue of digital representation. Through image processing, one can even transcend the limits of the human eye.

Digital technology can also make available powerful teaching materials for students who would not otherwise have access to them, items that are often rare or too fragile to withstand much physical handling. To create high-quality digital collections, libraries must work collaboratively to build resource bases that are complementary and not duplicative. However, at present there is no central source of information about what has been digitized, and with what care in the process, so that the promise of coordinated digital collection building remains hard to achieve.

Nevertheless, many institutions are taking on ambitious digital conversion projects to find out for themselves what the technology can do for them. They are investing large amounts of money in projects to make their collections more accessible and, too often, believing that they are also accomplishing preservation goals at the same time. The impact of digitizing projects on an institution, its way of operating, its traditional audience, and its core functions, is often hard to anticipate. The challenge of selecting the parts of a large collection that will be scanned is, for some, a novel task that calls into question basic principles of collection development and access policies. Many libraries and archives have collections that are intrinsically valuable by virtue of being comprehensive and containing much information that is essentially unpublished. But they also may contain sensitive materials, those that deal with historical events or popular attitudes that may be offensive to us now and that must be understood in the larger context. And this is precisely what a comprehensive collection provides—context.

How does one deal with sensitive materials in a networked environment? If one makes the difficult decision to edit out materials that are readily served in a reading room, but are too powerful to broadcast on the Internet, what does that do to the integrity of a research collection? Only when digitization is viewed specifically as a form of publishing and not simply as another way to make resources available to researchers, are the thornier issues of selection for conversion put into an editorial context that provides a strong intellectual and ethical basis for imaginative selection of complex materials.

What is Gained and What is Lost?

As Donald Waters of the Digital Library Federation has expressed it, the promise of digital technology is for libraries to extend the reach of research and education, improve the quality of learning, and reshape scholarly communication. This is not an extravagant claim for the technology, but rather a declaration of an ambition shared by many who are developing and managing the technology. And the key to fulfilling that promise lies within the communities of higher education, science, and public policy responsible for applying digital technology to those ends. Digital conversion of library holdings has its stake in this ambition, particularly to the extent that it can broaden access to valuable but scarce resources.

But the cost of conversion and the institutional commitment to keeping those converted materials refreshed and accessible for the long-term is high—precisely how high, we do not know—and libraries must also ensure the longevity of information that is created in digital form and exists in no other form. We need more information about what imaging projects cost, and about who uses those converted materials and how they use them, in order to judge whether the investment is worth it. In the meantime libraries must continue to be responsible custodians of their analog holdings, the print, image and sound recording collections that are their core assets and the legacy of many generations. This task requires continued use of tried-and-true preservation techniques such as microfilming to ensure the longevity of imperiled information.

Converting everything to digital form would be wrong-headed, even if we could do it. The challenge is how to make analog materials more accessible using the powerful tool of digital technology, not only through conversion, but also through digital finding aids and linked databases of search tools. Digital technology can, indeed, prove to be a valuable instrument to enhance learning and extend the reach of information resources to those who seek them, wherever they are, but only if we develop it as an addition to an already well-stocked tool kit, rather than a replacement for all of those tools which generations before us have ingeniously crafted and passed on to us in trust.

This Article is an Excerpt

This article was excerpted from the full version of the report Why Digitize? The complete report is available on CLIR’s Web site. Print copies can be ordered for $15 each from CLIR Publications Orders. Checks payable to CLIR may be mailed to our office and credit card orders may be made by telephone, fax, or e-mail.

The Digital Library Federation Online

by Rebecca Graham

THE DIGITAL LIBRARY FEDERATION (DLF) has updated its Web site to reflect more fully the initiatives that DLF supports and the areas of digital library development in which it is actively involved. One change to the Web site has been a greater focus on DLF resources. This area now contains links to DLF partner institutions and ally organizations. Recent updates to these areas include links to the sites of our newest partner, the University of Texas at Austin, and newest ally, the Coalition for Networked Information.

The DLF publication series, launched in January, features as its inaugural title “Enabling Access in Digital Libraries: A Report on a Workshop on Access Management” written by Caroline Arms with Judith Klavans and Don Waters. This report is now available from the Web site in PDF format and HTML. The Publication area of the Web site will feature abstracts of DLF publications, together with links to available formats suitable for downloading each report.

The Initiatives section features developments and efforts in four broadly defined areas: discipline-based activities; functional developments; digital library architecture; and institutional initiatives. Among the discipline-based activities that the DLF is engaged in are work on social science data archives, the development of an art image exchange, and the creation of a theological digital library. Those wishing to follow the DLF’s activities in functional developments will find information about work on access management, digital archiving, discovery and retrieval (metadata), and digital imaging. DLF developments in, such as the authorization protocol described elsewhere in this issue, are featured in this section as well. The identification and description of DLF member institutional initiatives is an ongoing activity that will capture pertinent, reliable, and up-to-date information through a clearinghouse mechanism that is currently under development.

A special feature of the Initiatives section is the development of a standard format that will serve both to announce workshops as well as report their outcomes. The workshop template consists of a description of the meeting’s organization and agenda, logistical information, participant list, recommended readings, and results.

Enhancements to the Digital Library Federation Web pages have been made to ensure comprehensive reporting on the status and results of initiatives. The DLF staff believe that the newly established framework will better encompass the full range of complex issues institutions face in developing digital libraries and reflect how DLF members are tackling them. The DLF Web site places a premium on timeliness and accuracy, and this new design will more easily accommodate information about new efforts as well.

New DLF Participants

The Digital Library Federation is pleased to welcome the University of Texas at Austin as a new partner and the Coalition for Networked Information as a new ally.

DLF Developing Access Protocols

by Rebecca Graham

AN INCREASING NUMBER of libraries struggle to provide their users access to electronic resources, because existing mechanisms such as Internet Protocol (IP) designation or username/password assignments are no longer adequate. A special aspect of this problem is the need to provide access to affiliated users from remote locations. In an initial effort to find effective alternatives, two members of the Digital Library Federation (DLF), Columbia University and the California Digital Library (CDL), have formed a working group with JSTOR and OCLC to develop a mechanism based on digital certificates for authorizing users of licensed resources.

The project has its origins in a DLF co-sponsored access management workshop held in April 1998 and subsequent work by the DLF Architecture Committee. The aim is to develop a protocol that will enable an information resource provider to verify that a user bearing a digital certificate has authority from a home institution to use a requested resource. Such a protocol is necessary to enable wider use of certificates, which are supported by all browsers, in web-based information discovery and retrieval.

The following assumptions, developed by the working group during a meeting at CDL in January, inform the protocol development:

  • Home institutions are responsible for establishing the eligibility of their community members
  • Institutions are responsible for ensuring their users’ privacy
  • Licensing agreements will allow resource providers to specify levels of access
  • Should the status of an authorized user change during the period of the agreement, authorization for access can be modified or revoked
  • User authorization generally requires no disclosure of the user’s identity to the resource provider

The protocol being developed defines a standard way of communicating between the resource provider and the user’s home institution, and is based on the digital certificate standard X.509. The working group expects that use of these standards will promote the development of more effective access management systems that can be readily adopted by many different institutions.

By April, the working group will have a prototype system ready to demonstrate the use of the protocol. In subsequent stages of development, the group of participants will expand to include other institutions and resource providers, enabling the prototype to be tested against a complex range of services and users. Through this process, the participants hope to prove the viability of this specific method of certificate-based authorization.

What’s New on CLIR’s Web Site

by Brian Leney, Publications Officer

IF YOU HAVE not been to our Web site recently, it is time to check it out for new content. We continually add new information. A good place to start for a quick summary of recent additions is to browse our What’s New page at

Most of our publications are available on our Web site shortly after they have been published in paper form. The publications index can be found at The CLIR Issues newsletter you are reading appears there as well as our international periodical, Preservation and Access International Newsletter. Our technical reports are listed and the full text is provided for many of them. The Web site contains all back issues of our current periodicals and the reports we have published in the past few years.

Some items will appear on the Web site in pre-print form, to be incorporated at a later date into a full printed report. An example is Digital Imaging and Preservation Microfilm: the Future of the Hybrid Approach for the Preservation of Brittle Books. This new report is a working paper designed to disseminate important information about best practices in the hybrid approach and to stimulate further discussion and research among the preservation, technology, and vendor communities. We welcome feedback and anticipate that the responses the paper receives will shape answers to the outstanding issues. A final report, reflecting the consensus of the preservation community, will be issued in print and on the Web later this year. The working paper is mounted in both MS Word format and as a PDF file, and can be found at

We have mounted the following technical reports that have recently been published as print versions:

  • Avoiding Technological Quicksand: Finding a Viable Technical Foundation for Digital Preservation, by Jeff Rothenberg
  • Scholarship, Instruction, and Libraries at the Turn of the Century—Results from five task forces appointed by the American Council of Learned Societies and the Council on Library and Information Resources
  • Enabling Access in Digital LibrariesÑA Report on a Workshop on Access Management, edited by Caroline Arms with Judith Klavans and Donald Waters
  • Why Digitize? by Abby Smith

Please bookmark our site at if you have not already done so.


The article “News from The European Register of Microform Masters” in CLIR Issues Number 7, contained incorrect URLs for EROMM’s Web site. The correct URLs are (English), (French), (German).


Council on Library and Information Resources

1755 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W. Suite 500
Washington, DC 20036
Fax: (202)939-4765 · E-mail:
The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) grew out of the 1997 merger of the Commission on Preservation and Access and the Council on Library Resources. CLIR identifies the critical issues that affect the welfare and prospects of libraries and archives and the constituencies they serve, convenes individuals and organizations in the best position to engage these issues and respond to them, and encourages institutions to work collaboratively to achieve and manage change.

The four current programs of CLIR are the Commission on Preservation and Access, Digital Libraries, the Economics of Information, and Leadership.


Deanna B. Marcum


Hans Rütimann
International Program Officer


Abby Smith
Editor and Director of Programs



Kathlin Smith
International Program Officer


Donald Waters
Director, Digital Library Federation


Rebecca Graham
Research Associate
Digital Library Federation


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