Creating Digital Library Services: Key Challenges
by Daniel Greenstein
Collections of the Future
by Abby Smith
- Mellon Awards Funds to CLIR
- CLIR Awards Grant for Translation of EAD into Spanish
- In Memoriam: A. R. Zipf, 1917-2000
- CLIR Publishes Collections, Content, and the Web
CLIR Launches Sponsors’ Symposium
by Deanna B. Marcum
THE DIGITAL LIBRARY Federation (DLF) is currently reviewing its program and developing plans for the future. Although not yet complete, the review—based on extensive discussion with the members and intensive research into their digital library policies, strategies, and Web-accessible services—has identified several themes likely to inform digital library developments within the DLF and more broadly across the community. The themes summarized below may be of some interest to libraries and other cultural organizations seeking to take fuller advantage of digital and networked technologies.
The digital library is emerging as an organization that extends the breadth and scale of scholarly and cultural evidence and supports innovative research and life-long learning. To do this, it mediates between diverse and distributed information resources on the one hand and a changing range of user communities on the other. In this capacity, it establishes “a digital library service environment”—that is, a networked and Web-accessible information space in which users can discover, locate, acquire access to, and, increasingly, use information. Although access paths will vary depending upon the resource in question, the digital library service environment makes no distinctions among formats. Books, journals, paper-based archives, video, film, and sound recordings are as visible in the digital environment as are online catalogs, finding aids, abstract and indexing services, e-journal and e-print services, digitized collections, geographic information systems, Internet resources, and other “electronic” holdings.
In constructing a digital library service environment, the library becomes responsible for configuring access to a world of information of which it owns or manages only a part. Accordingly, the digital library is known less for the extent and nature of the collections it owns than for the networked information space it defines through a range of online services. In the commercial world, aggregators compete on the basis of the value-added services that they layer on top of overlapping electronic collections. Similarly, digital libraries establish their distinctive identities, serve their user communities, emphasize their owned collections, and promote their unique institutional objectives by the way in which they disclose, provide access to, and support the use of their increasingly virtual collections. The ramifications of this emerging role for the digital library are far-reaching and reveal at least three key challenges.
- Architectural and technical challenges. In developing a digital library service environment, the library seeks to enable meaningful navigation through and exploitation of distributed and heterogeneous information resources that are stored and managed in different formats. Users require this level of integration. Interested in gaining access to relevant information quickly and efficiently, regardless of format and location, they are not (nor should they be) contented with networked environments that require queries to be launched repeatedly at different collections and indices. Ironically, our card catalogs were vastly more suited to users’ needs than the Web-based environments in which we now find thousands of separable and idiosyncratic online services and collections. Business incentives also compel an approach that integrates services. At present, new information resources are generally added to digital library service environments through ad hoc efforts to develop appropriate resource discovery, authentication, resource delivery, user support, or other services. When scaled across the already large and rapidly growing range of high-quality candidates for inclusion in the digital library service environment, the costs of this approach are prohibitive and unsustainable. To respond effectively to these challenges, libraries must seek a degree of consistency in the information content they are integrating into their digital library service environments, and in the extent to which the systems architectures that govern development, maintenance, and support of those environments can be generalized and extended. In this respect, they are driven to articulate, seek consensus around, and promote their preferences where content characteristics and systems requirements are concerned, recognizing that the preferences are likely to change over time as technologies develop.
- Collection development challenges. In a networked space, libraries continue to extend the breadth and scale of the scholarly and cultural evidence they make accessible to their users. Paper-based and analog materials remain important even as libraries become increasingly accustomed to their digital manifestations, such as electronic journals and reference databases. Yet we do not fully understand how to exploit the educational and cultural potential of other information sources. Libraries have focused much attention on digitizing selected special collections, and interesting collections have resulted. They tend, however, to be narrow in scope, shallow in depth, passive in appearance, and unsustainable financially and technically. The data that are produced in the conduct of business, government, research, and teaching have potentially vast educational and scholarly value. Yet, we have only just begun to consider how such data can be included to effect in our evolving digital library service environments, despite the fact that the data are unlikely to cost much to subscribe to or purchase. We need to think creatively about collection development strategies appropriate to the evolving digital library service environment.
- Challenges of user engagement. In a digital library, how information is made, assembled into collections, and presented online affects whether, to what extent, and how it can be used. This is, perhaps, a truism, but it marks an incremental step for the library into an arena traditionally occupied by the publisher. The statement is not intended to reopen a tired and unhelpful debate about whether the future holds a place for either the library or the publisher. Rather, it demonstrates how our understanding of a digital object’s life cycle implies a need to engage differently or, perhaps, just more deeply with our users as we plot the development of our online collections and services. Where the university library is concerned, there are at least two additional reasons to place user relations on a revitalized—perhaps slightly different—footing. Scholarly communities that surround the university library are producers of digital content, including research data, dissertations, e-prints, and computer-assisted teaching materials. That content has enormous educational value, but only if it is assembled into professionally managed collections, maintained over the longer term, and made accessible to other end users. Scholarly communities are aware of the tools they require to manipulate information to effect within their own disciplines and are mobilizing, sometimes on a large scale, to supply those tools where they are unavailable from the commercial sector. Ask an archaeologist or a geographer about GIS, a musicologist about the manipulation of sound data, or an astronomer about the management of large-scale data collections. Just as scholarly communities are poised as net suppliers of digital content, they may also be in a position to supply tools to a digital library service environment that can enhance that environment’s functionality. In short, it is not sufficient for the digital library to maintain exquisite collections. At least in an online environment, the maintenance of such collections is itself an act of publication—one that will have far-reaching ramifications for the nature of future research, learning, and cultural engagement.
Digital preservation is also on the list of needed services, but fuller articulation awaits digital libraries coming to terms with organizational, legal, and financial implications of their new and evolving roles.
AS MOST LIBRARIANS know, the much-discussed fear that digital information will replace books is misguided. New technologies seldom obviate old ones completely. But the false expectation that books could be replaced by the Web masks the real, if seldom stated, uncertainty about what role artifacts and physical objects will play in the library of the future—not just the research and public libraries, but also the personal libraries that we all collect over the course of our lives. Will people really carry e-books with them to the beach in the summer of 2020? If they do, what will the shelves of our local libraries hold? Will research library acquisition specialists ever unpack another carton, or will they deal exclusively with digitally transmitted items? Is it possible that we will no longer speak of items, but only of content?
Contemplating a future without artifacts, whether that scenario is realistic or not, is instructive for what it tells us about how much we have relied upon the physical characteristics of books, records, movies, photographs, and so forth to create a sense of trust in recorded information. Artifacts in library collections are valued for a variety of reasons, from the aesthetic pleasure they impart to the gratification of association with famous or beloved people. The beauty of a first edition of The Songs of Innocence cannot be replicated, anymore than the Bible that Abraham Lincoln touched during his swearing-in ceremony in 1861 is interchangeable with others from the same press run. In a more mundane way, though, we value artifacts because they are the “originals,” the first, most complete, and therefore most authentic version of what we are using. Although the words “artifact” and “original” mean different things, people often confound the two because the media of paper, film, and analog tape provide evidence about the reliability of the information recorded on it.
According to an old adage, one cannot judge (the content of) a book by its cover, but the physical facts of a book do reveal a great deal about that book as an object and, inevitably, about the contents of the book as well. For centuries, people have relied on the artifactual evidence inherent in a book or photograph to assess the authenticity of the information it contains. The external evidence provided by the object carries much information about the manufacture of the book itself, although not of the creation of the text necessarily. An object has its own life in the world, and tends to accrete information about where it has been and what has happened to it that provides often reliable evidence about its provenance. Because a photograph or book can indeed be accounted for as an object in a collection, not just as content that changes form or format with every instantiation, its provenance can be traced more easily than an immaterial digital file.
Without an object to bear mute witness to its fate—creation, use, alteration—we must create alternative sources for such information about digital data. Such things as metadata that act as a label for a document as well as a catalog record; digital signatures and time stamps that are created and attached to documents to give authority and pedigree to a digital file; or the storage of program and document codes that could be called upon to recreate a lost, damaged, or illegible file may in time provide the kinds of external evidence that objects do in the analog world. Much of this evidence will have to be created intentionally and at the time of creation in order for digital data to be as readily accessible as print or film. A great deal of information can be retrieved from a physical object even if all ancillary information about that item is unavailable. One can still pull a book off a shelf and understand much about what it is, even without access to the catalog information and even if the label on the spine has fallen off. If a digital object is separated from its metadata, how accessible will it be, and how can we determine how reliable or authentic it is?
More people outside the library and archival communities are becoming aware of the complexity of creating, retrieving, and maintaining digital data in reliable forms over time. While once they bemoaned the high costs of caring for artifactual collections, they are now growing worried that the resources that digital collections demand will spiral out of reach in a few short years. There is no return to the pre-digital era, however. The intelligence and hard work that have gone into the theory and practice of acquisition, cataloging, and preservation of artifacts must be focused as well on creating and maintaining the intellectual integrity of digital information. The print regime we all know and trust is the result of generations of collaboration and competition among book publishers, book sellers, authors, readers, libraries, and lawyers. A digital environment characterized by trust and reliability will likewise be the creation of many communities working together in new ways.
Digital Light and Sound
RESEARCH AND PUBLIC libraries in the United States are largely the product of the print world. Library education and practices have been aimed at the management and service of print collections, and this has remained the case into the twenty-first century despite the explosive growth of recorded image and sound publishing. Libraries have been very responsive to the technological innovations of printing that produced cheap paper and books in the past 150 years, but, with certain notable exceptions, they have been unresponsive to the technological revolutions in still and moving image and sound recordings.
Most libraries that missed the major paradigm shift in information creation and dissemination—the shift from text-based to sound- and image-based information—did so because the artifacts of this era are difficult to acquire, care for, and properly serve. Films, videotapes, photographs, posters, acetate disks, 78s, and LPs all present libraries with the prospect of serious capital expenditures for equipment and processing that will soon be outdated. In the face of this seemingly bottomless pit of expense, libraries have been reluctant to collect these materials, despite their undisputed value for research of the twentieth century. Digital technology will change the status of these collections within libraries, however.
The old technology of print will continue to find a place in our lives. But early indications are that digital recording and transmission will indeed supercede the technologies of recorded image and sound that wrought the audiovisual revolution of the nineteenth century. As the music, film, and broadcasting businesses are learning with some regret, digital media are readily replacing these traditional analog media. One newspaper recently reported that in Hollywood people no longer speak of “product,” but of “content.” In the not-too-distant future, libraries will be able to meet the audiovisual needs of their patrons by acquiring digital content rather than physical objects. The challenges of acquiring, serving, and storing these files will be the same as for textual and numeric data. Today, no digital library need be text-only except by choice. The good news is that, with sound and image collections going digital, libraries and archives that make the transition to digital can, at last, catch up with the nineteenth century.
Mellon Awards Funds to CLIR
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded two grants to CLIR. The first, for $2.6 million, will support CLIR’s general program work over the next three years. The second, also a three-year grant, for $250,000, will be used to enable librarians and technology staff from liberal arts colleges to attend the Frye Leadership Institute at Emory University.
The general program grant will allow CLIR to continue its work in bringing together disparate groups to identify, analyze, and address critical problems that face libraries, archives, museums, and related organizations. The grant to support liberal arts colleges’ staff participation in the Frye Leadership Institute was made with the recognition that colleges often find it more difficult to support special training than do universities. Yet colleges, like universities, have an urgent need for individuals who are prepared to meet the new challenges of managing scholarly information in a rapidly changing technological environment.
CLIR Awards Grant for Translation of EAD into Spanish
CLIR has awarded funds to the University of California at Berkeley for the translation of encoded archival description (EAD) standards into Spanish. An emerging standard in the United States, EAD is also being considered for use by archivists abroad. UC-Berkeley will work with the Fundacion Historica Tavera, in Madrid, to undertake the project. The Foundation will oversee the translation and is also contributing resources to the project.
The texts to be translated include the Encoded Archival Descripton Tag Library, Version 1.0, and Encoded Archival Description Application Guidelines, Version 1.0, both published by the Society of American Archivists; and The Encoded Archival Description Retrospective Conversion Guidelines: A Supplement to the EAD Tag Library and EAD Guidelines, published by UC-Berkeley. Translations are expected to be finished by fall 2000.
In Memoriam: A. R. Zipf, 1917–2000
Alfred R. Zipf, a pioneer in early computer technology and Bank of America executive vice president, died January 1, 2000, in Oroville, California. Since 1997, CLIR has administered a fellowship in information management that friends and family of Mr. Zipf established in his name.
Mr. Zipf had a forty-year career with the Bank of America. Considered the “father of electronic banking,” Mr. Zipf in the early 1950s directed the development and installation of the first large-scale, general purpose computing system to be used by the banking industry. He also led the bank’s team in work with the Stanford Research Institute to develop Magnetic Ink Character Recognition (MICR), which became a standard for nationwide check handling.
Mr. Zipf was a graduate of the Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program and majored in engineering at UCLA.
The A. R. Zipf Fellowship Program was established to recognize a graduate student who shows exceptional promise for leadership and technical achievement in information management. In May 1999, CLIR awarded the third A. R. Zipf Fellowship to Debra Ruffner Weiss, a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
CLIR Publishes Collections, Content, and the Web
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, at which library and museum leaders addressed the policy issues and technical and intellectual challenges of developing high-quality digital collections for distribution on the Web. (See CLIR Issues 12 [Nov.-Dec 1999].)
The report, based on the conference papers and discussions, represents the various perspectives of public and academic libraries, and of art and historical museums. It highlights the often-surprising intersections of values and concerns and the equally unexpected divergences of interest or experience. An appendix to the report summarizes a survey of institutional Web sites that was conducted to gather preliminary data about museum and library Web site design and use. The report is available in print from CLIR and will soon be online at CLIR’s Web site.
WHEN WE INVITED institutions to sponsor the work of the Council on Library and Information Resources last June, we promised an annual symposium on an important topic exclusively for the sponsors. We are pleased to announce the first symposium on May 5, 2000, in Washington, D.C.
CLIR describes itself as a forum for change, and the Sponsors’ Symposium will focus on how libraries, archives, and other information organizations must transform themselves to provide new services to meet the needs of their users in the future.
For the past several months, CLIR’s Board and program staff have been considering the library of the future. The changes that libraries face as a consequence of continuing technological innovation are profound. Digital libraries are enabling broader access to resources, directly linking more people to more information, regardless of institutional affiliation. The technology has also produced changes in the system of scholarly communication, disrupting the economic models that we know and understand. What form will the library of the future take in response to these changes?
Libraries and other cultural institutions as we know them today are fairly new inventions. They were created at the end of the nineteenth century in response to quite specific social needs. Technology has significantly altered the environment in which educational and cultural institutions now operate. The social problems we must now address have more to do with coping with the deluge of information than with providing basic levels of equitable access. How must cultural and educational institutions reshape themselves to be effective societal tools?
To begin the discussion of institution-building for the future, the Sponsors’ Symposium will feature two panels of speakers. In the morning, panelists will address projects that CLIR has funded to shed light on new library services, such as the Academic Image Cooperative, a study of usage statistics for electronic journals, and an examination of the role of the artifact in library collections. Rather than reporting on the projects themselves, presenters will focus on the projects as indicators of new ways to conceptualize library services. In the afternoon session, three representatives of major foundations will present their views of changes that are needed in scholarly publishing and in information organizations. The complete program agenda will be mailed to sponsors in coming weeks.
The second objective of the Sponsors’ Symposium is to provide an opportunity for CLIR sponsors to suggest other issues that need to be addressed. We view the symposium as a good time for organizations that share an interest in CLIR’s agenda to reflect on the future.
DURING THE TRANSITION from print to digital, libraries are providing access to both the print and electronic versions of many journal titles. Because redundancy is expensive, libraries are especially eager to know how many uses are made of each format. It is far easier to track the use of electronic journals than the use of print, and librarians are asking publishers to provide usage statistics on their electronic titles so that libraries can make better decisions about whether to continue making those journals available.
Publishers are reluctant to provide usage statistics for several reasons. They view their function as finding high-quality articles and disseminating them to the scholarly community after rigorous peer review and editorial processes. Traditionally, they have not been in the business of providing statistics on use. Although with the advent of electronic journals, usage statistics are automatically collected on the publishers’ servers, the publishers maintain that raw data require intensive manipulation to be helpful to the library administrator. Turning raw data into useful management information costs money. Of even greater concern to publishers, however, is that librarians are asking for data to make decisions about whether to cancel subscriptions.
To look at this question objectively, CLIR has commissioned Judy Luther of Informed Strategies to conduct a study of the issues surrounding statistics on electronic journal usage. She will interview both librarians and publishers to understand better what each party considers highly desirable and what each is willing to accept.
Ms. Luther will investigate the kinds of statistics some of the library consortia have defined as desirable and will then analyze those requirements from the publishers’ perspective.
The project will yield a report that analyzes the issues from multiple perspectives. If possible, Ms. Luther will formulate draft guidelines for applying electronic journal usage statistics.
The project was launched on February 8 with a small meeting of librarians and publishers who offered advice on the development of the study. Interviews will be conducted during the spring, and the report will be disseminated in the summer of 2000.
Frye Institute Participants Named
To date, the following individuals have been selected for participation in the Frye Leadership Institute.
Bruce Aarsvold, Gustavus Adolphus College
DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY IS erasing some of the distinctions between custodians of information and custodians of artifacts. Museum curators, librarians, archivists, and information technology specialists face many common concerns in the digital environment. According to Anne Gilliland-Swetland, assistant professor in UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, this broad base of professionals can be viewed as a new “metacommunity.” Members of this metacommunity face an unprecedented opportunity to address common problems by bringing together the distinct perspectives of its members to develop a new paradigm for the creation, management, and dissemination of digital information.
In a report just issued by CLIR, Ms. Gilliland-Swetland discusses the lessons that the archival profession carries for the growing community of professionals responsible for designing, managing, disseminating, and preserving digital information resources. The report is entitled Enduring Paradigm, New Opportunities: The Value of the Archival Perspective in the Digital Environment.
For years, archivists have grappled with many of the issues that are now gaining broad attention. The author notes, for example, that since the 1960s, the archival community has worked closely with creators of records and record-keeping systems to develop means to identify and preserve digital records that have no paper counterpart. Emerging dialog about how to define and ensure authenticity in digital objects can also benefit from the archivist’s perspective. Archival institutions serve an important legal function in society, and concern for retaining the evidential value of records has placed the archival community at the forefront of research and development in digital authentication.
There are other aspects of the archival profession that bring valuable perspective to the creation, management, and dissemination of digital information. The author notes that because archives focus on records, archivists are keenly aware of how societal, institutional, and individual memory is constructed and the implications of how that memory is represented and transmitted over time. This is especially important as more of the world’s collections are reformatted and represented online, where information is subject to not only to corruption or outright loss, but also to loss of context. The archival community has been active in exploiting the roles of context and hierarchy in information retrieval.
Whereas libraries primarily manage existing information—traditionally in published form, but this is changing—archives are also intimately engaged in shaping the historical record and its ultimate disposition.
The author reviews several recent and ongoing projects in which the archival community has provided leadership in setting the agenda or integrating the archival perspective. The projects have addressed the integrity of information, metadata, knowledge management, risk management, and knowledge preservation. Many of the projects discussed have in common a concern for evidence in information creation, storage, retrieval, and preservation; cross-community collaboration; strategies that use both technological processes and management procedures; development of best practices and standards; and evaluation.
We hope that this report will encourage similar examination of the perspectives and requirements for digital information and information systems of other communities of information professionals. Understanding points of commonality and divergence will be the first step in developing more effective technological, procedural, policy, and educational approaches to common problems.
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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.