CLIR Publishes Collections, Content, and the Web

NEWS RELEASE

For Immediate Release January 31, 2000

Contact: Abby Smith 202-939-4758

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) has published Collections, Content, and the Web, which explores how the World Wide Web is affecting collections-based institutions. The report is based on a conference organized by CLIR and the Chicago Historical Society in October 1999, with financial support from the Institute for Museum and Library Services.

Although libraries and museums share few professional organizations or other structures that regularly bring them together for substantive purposes, they share a fundamental purpose: to collect physical things to make recorded knowledge and aesthetic experience accessible to their patrons. But when art and research objects go from real to virtual, how does the relationship between an object and its viewer or user change? Who uses museum and library Web sites, and what do they seek?

These questions drew 30 leaders of museums and libraries to the two-day conference, which was designed to focus on issues of collections, audience, and technology. Four papers, distributed before and presented during the conference, addressed these topics and served as a basis for discussion and recommendations. The report includes the papers and summaries of the discussions they provoked. It also summarizes a survey of institutional Web sites that was conducted to gather preliminary data about museum and library Web site design and use.

Libraries and museums come to the Web with very different experiences of information technology. Libraries have long used automation for managing the description, cataloging, and inventory control of collections. On the other hand, museums in the last several decades have made great strides in making their collections more accessible to a large public and have developed intellectual, aesthetic, and educational portals for onsite visitors to their institutions.

The differences that became apparent between the operating assumptions of library and museum leaders were in some cases quite predictable. Perspectives on intellectual property, for example, diverged because of the traditional functions that libraries have served in the administration of fair use in the print world and the particular interest that museums have had in protecting the rights of artists whom they display. Museums dealt forthrightly with issues of selection and presentation because they have a mandate to interpret. Librarians sometimes approached the matter of selection as if it were synonymous with censorship, because they traditionally place a high value on making information accessible without mediation. But in some cases the differences between types of museums (art or historical) and types of libraries (academic or public) were even more striking. In summarizing the discussions, the report aims to represent distinctly these four points of view—public and academic libraries, art and historical museums—to highlight the often-surprising intersections of values and concerns and the equally unexpected divergences of interest or experience.

The report concludes that the fundamental challenge now is to determine what steps will ensure that the Web can be greater than the sum of its parts, that is, that the museum and library presence on the Web amounts to more than a cluster of individual Web sites. No one believes that the Web will replace libraries and museums, but many can see a time when the Web blurs and eventually erodes, in the user’s mind, the current distinctions between libraries and museums. We are rapidly moving into an environment in which preconceptions formed by traditional institutional associations and proprietary control are being challenged and dissolved.

Collections, Content, and the Web is available from the Council on Library and Information Resources for $20 prepaid, including postage and handling. Checks should be made payable to CLIR and mailed to CLIR Publication Orders, 1755 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Suite 500, Washington, D.C., 20036-2124. Credit card orders may be placed by calling CLIR at 202-939-4750, sending a fax to 202-939-4765, or sending email to info@clir.org. A complete list of publications appears on CLIR’s Web site.

The Council on Library and Information Resources works in partnership with libraries, archives, and other information providers to advocate collaborative approaches to preserving the nation’s intellectual heritage and strengthening the many components of its information system. It works to support institutions as they integrate audiovisual and digital resources and services into their well-established print-based environments.