The Global Digital Format Registry
by David Seaman
“LEARNING AND LIBRARIES” will be the theme for this year’s Sponsors’ Symposium, to be held April 13 in Washington, D.C. CLIR sponsors will receive two complimentary admissions; nonsponsors will pay a registration fee. Speakers will engage participants in thinking about the implications of changing learning patterns and technologies for the future of the library. Among the trends to be discussed are the following:
- Growth of information resources: As more information is readily available outside the library, often through the Web, students need guidance in assessing the quality of information. In response to this trend, librarians are offering more information-literacy courses.
- Changes in how students learn: Students often prefer collaborative and social learning, a trend described by Scott Bennett in a recent CLIR report entitled Libraries Designed for Learning. In response, many libraries have reconfigured their space to accommodate group work.
- Increase in firsthand learning: Ease of travel and access to electronic information are making it possible for learners to have direct experience with the resources or experiences upon which disciplinary knowledge is based. Libraries are exploring how to reconfigure space and provide information technology tools that make the library a learning laboratory. The growing role of “serious games” in teaching—simulations built on real social, political, cultural, psychological, and scientific data that teach complex concepts relating to natural human and physical contexts—suggests that librarians should be involved in the design of such games. Their participation could help ensure that the highest-quality information resources are used.
- Changing demographics of students: The next decade will see a huge growth in the number of people over the age of 55. Many will be seeking meaningful learning opportunities for their particular interests and needs. Libraries can view Internet-based learning as the ideal venue for the high-quality information tools and resources demanded by users with a lifetime of experience and a distance from structured learning.
All these trends suggest that libraries may need to consider enhancements that will support learning in an increasingly distributed context—learning that happens in different places and at different times, and that uses diverse resources and appeals to a wide range of learners. Designing libraries for a distributed environment and ensuring ready access to their information resources and services are challenges worth thinking about now.
The CLIR Sponsors’ Symposium will begin with a consideration of the opportunities before libraries today to become “designed for learning,” exploring implications for facilities, collections, services, and the library profession itself. Speakers and panelists will then examine developments in learning that have implications for libraries and librarians over the next five to ten years and will identify opportunities for library leaders to position libraries as indispensable centers of learning in this era of change.
An agenda and registration information will soon be available at www.clir.org/.
“HOW DO WE get money for this?” Cultural heritage institutions frequently ask this question as they face the challenge of moving from a grant-funded, one-time project to a long-term program that provides a product or service.
Securing the funds needed to maintain a project, the authors of a new CLIR report suggest, requires long-term organizational planning. Business planning is a key element of organizational planning, and it is critical to the sustainability of any initiative, including digital initiatives. While most cultural heritage organizations engage in some form of organizational planning, few engage in business planning. The need to create and manage digital assets has brought the importance of such planning to the fore.
The report, Business Planning for Cultural Heritage Institutions is intended to help these organizations plan sustainable access to digital cultural assets and to do so by means that link their missions to planning modes and models. Authors Liz Bishoff and Nancy Allen advocate a business-planning approach that helps organizations take a long-term, strategic view of digital asset management.
The authors write from extensive personal experience: Liz Bishoff is executive director of the Colorado Digitization Program and owner of The Bishoff Group, a library management consulting organization. Nancy Allen is dean and director of Penrose Library at the University of Denver.
In planning, there is no single recipe for success; however, most successful efforts will have the same general set of components. The report begins by identifying nine components of organizational planning for governmental and nonprofit organizations. It also discusses nongrant-based revenue sources, such as sponsorships and advertising, partnerships, donors, and foundations.
Issues to Consider in Developing a Business Plan
Business planning must fit the organization’s internal and external environments, and it must be based in both the present and the future. The authors offer the following suggestions to cultural heritage organizations that wish to develop a business plan:
- Assess general business trends and their implications for the service being planned. For example, data show that people in the United States have less time available for museum visits or library/archive use than they once did.
- Decide whether to develop in-house capabilities for needed technologies, such as search engines or image creation and management, or to outsource such work.
- Consider the rate of information creation and how long the information in question should persist. Few institutions have the funds to create digital access for all the items in their collections, and maintaining digital information is an additional cost. For these reasons, a well-thought-out collection development and management policy is crucial.
- Understand the value that various audiences place on different projects or services, and use this understanding as a basis for developing a pricing strategy.
- Use the Web to expand and improve communication about products or services, as well as to distribute them.
- Build on the credibility that cultural heritage organizations have earned. Capitalize on the traditional role of museums, libraries, and archives as stewards of our national memory as a marketing concept.
To better understand whether and how cultural heritage organizations engage in business planning, the authors conducted a telephone survey of 13 institutions that had experience with undertaking digitization projects or programs. Interviewees included single institutions, collaborative efforts, service providers, and consortial initiatives. The following are among the salient findings of the survey:
- Although most recipients said they had a plan for sustaining their work, such plans were typically limited to activities associated with a specific grant or project.
- Only a few respondents reported having a business plan; however, many institutions reported the availability of components such as usability studies and promotion plans, which are typically part of a business plan.
- Multiyear financial planning is unusual.
- Few respondents did much work on defining markets or user segments in the traditional market sense. Few had given much thought to defining a competitive advantage.
- Only a few institutions were selling a product; consequently, pricing considerations were not a regular feature of planning. Institutions have given limited consideration to establishing separate nonprofit entities through which revenue would flow to sustain digital library programs; instead, the programs are remaining within the structure of the parent organization. For example, a museum gift shop typically remains under the auspices of the general museum operation and is not established as a separate entity.
- Two models are emerging in the organizational structure of academic libraries. The first is the establishment of a digital library unit on campus, providing consultation and services. The second is incorporation of digital asset management activities within the library units serving the library’s digital asset management needs.
- Most digital imaging programs are based in single institutions—rather than in collaborative arrangements—and libraries and museums are undertaking digitization initiatives in comparable numbers. However, the Institute for Museum and Library Services has been encouraging collaboration between museums and libraries, and the number of partnerships and collaborative digitization projects has increased dramatically in the past three years.
- Some institutions are beginning to view digital asset management as a core function and are reassigning operating funds to maintain its infrastructure.
In the final section of the report, the authors provide a template that introduces the major business-planning elements—from organizational mission to product evaluation. The report also provides examples of how different cultural heritage institutions have addressed these elements. The template is intended to help institutions prepare their own business plans.
Business Planning for Cultural Heritage Institutions is available on CLIR’s Web site at https://clir.wordpress.clir.org/pubs/abstract/pub124abst.html. Print copies are available for ordering through CLIR’s Web site, for $20 per copy plus shipping and handling.
COMPOSITE PRINTS, A and B rolls, wet-gate printing, edge codes, balance stripes, timing—even experienced collection professionals can lose their way in the language and processes of film preservation. Now, thanks to a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, two new reference tools are available to help archives, libraries, and museums navigate these technical waters. Titles of the publications are The Film Preservation Guide: The Basics for Archives, Libraries, and Museums and IPI Media Storage Quick Reference. In coming weeks, CLIR will mail free copies of both publications to CLIR sponsors.
The Film Preservation Guide, published by the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF), covers archival practices for handling, identifying, copying, making available, and storing motion pictures using methods within reach of research institutions on limited budgets. The 136-page publication traces the path of film through the preservation process, from the first viewing by the subject specialist to the presentation of access copies to the public, and focuses on collection activities that are distinct to film. Whenever possible, technical information is summarized in charts, case studies, or call-out boxes. The guide includes a glossary, an index, and equipment and vendor lists. It is illustrated with photographs prepared by George Eastman House.
Improving storage is the single most important step that institutions can take to protect their film collections. Many repositories house films as part of multimedia special collections, record groups, or personal papers, and they find it difficult to develop a storage plan that takes into account the full range of such materials. For these institutions, Image Permanence Institute (IPI) has prepared the Media Storage Quick Reference. The MSQR distills information on critical preservation issues for photographic and motion picture films, photographic prints, ink-jet prints, photographic glass plates, CDs, DVDs, and magnetic audio, video, and computer tape. It includes charts that enable users to evaluate how ambient temperature affects each type of material, both when it is stored with similar media and when it is stored with other types of media. The MSQR is designed as a booklet with look-up wheel. Its format is similar to that of IPI’s guides for color photographic material and acetate film.
The two publications are the result of a collaborative NFPF project that brought together technical experts and collection professionals from across the country. In 2002, NFPF staff began talking with the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation at George Eastman House and the Image Permanence Institute about creating reference tools to help the many American research institutions starting film-preservation programs. Discussions expanded to include members of the Association of Moving Image Archivists’ Regional Audio Visual Archives Group and the Council on Library and Information Resources. All agreed on the importance of “demystifying” film preservation for professionals trained in archival studies, librarianship, or museum studies but unschooled in film preservation.
With these users in mind, the group hosted needs assessment workshops at Duke University and the Minnesota History Center of the Minnesota Historical Society. At these sessions, collection professionals new to film preservation talked with technical specialists about what they desired to see in the two publications. Users asked for tools to inform decision making and for troubleshooting advice, as well as for step-by-step explications and for case studies and “real-world” examples. “Keep it simple!” was the mantra of these discussions. After being critiqued by students of the Selznick School, the drafts went through another round of revisions. As a further check and balance, The Film Preservation Guide was sent for comment to the workshop attendees as well as to outside reviewers. The published guides represent the contribution of scores of people and institutions.
Additional copies of The Film Preservation Guide and the IPI Media Storage Quick Reference can be acquired from the NFPF or IPI or downloaded from their Web sites (www.filmpreservation.org and www.rit.edu/ipi). NFPF, which is the grant-giving charity affiliated with the Library of Congress’s National Film Preservation Board, hopes that the two new guides will empower the growing number of collection professionals interested in starting film preservation efforts at their institutions.
AS DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY transforms the information landscape, libraries must chart their course in an increasingly fluid, complex environment. How is this environment redefining leadership in the information professions? What are the personal qualities that produce effective information leaders? Three leaders in librarianship address these questions in a new CLIR publication entitled Reflecting on Leadership. The authors—Karin Wittenborg of the University of Virginia, Chris Ferguson of Pacific Lutheran University, and Michael Keller of Stanford University—write personally and candidly about what they believe leadership is, how they developed an understanding of their own leadership styles, and how they apply that self-understanding to their daily responsibilities.
Reflecting on Leadership is available on CLIR’s Web site at https://clir.wordpress.clir.org/pubs/abstract/pub123abst.html. The print version may be ordered through CLIR’s Web site at $15 per copy, plus shipping and handling.
AS THE QUANTITY of visual materials in digital libraries—whether astronomical imagery, documentary photographs, art images, or manuscripts—grows, the question of how best to enable image retrieval becomes more important. The debate over approach has focused on two main access paradigms: content-based vs. metadata-based retrieval. Content-based searching allows the user to describe visual characteristics of a desired image, such as color, shape, or features; retrieval is based on similarity. Metadata-based retrieval, by contrast, is based on specific descriptive information attached to the image.
Digital librarians currently have difficulty assessing existing systems of image access, evaluating proposed changes in these systems, and comparing metadata-based and content-based image retrieval. Some have proposed benchmarking as a solution to this problem.
An image retrieval benchmark database could provide a controlled context within which various approaches could be tested. Benchmarking might also provide a focus for image retrieval research and help bridge the divide between researchers who use metadata approaches and those who explore content-based image retrieval. If so, such a database could spur advances in research, as comparative results predicated on the same set of assumptions make it possible to evaluate the effectiveness of particular strategies and thereby add value to studies supported by many funding agencies.
To explore the feasibility of creating an image retrieval benchmarking service, CLIR commissioned Jennifer Trant, of Archives & Museum Informatics, to write a report based on discussions at several meetings that have focused on identifying the problems of assessing image retrieval. Trant’s report, Image Retrieval Benchmark Database Service: A Needs Assessment and Preliminary Development Plan, is available on CLIR’s Web site, at www.clir.org/pubs/reports/trant04.html.
While enumerating the various technical challenges to creating an image retrieval benchmarking service, the author emphasizes that the most significant challenge may be maintaining the service, which can be costly to build and “requires that a community of researchers make a long-term commitment to its use.” She adds, “Without a community vested in the development of the database—and publishing research based on it—the collection remains a chimerical solution to advancing the state of research and improving the retrieval of visual materials in the digital library.”
CLIR encourages comments on the report.
ACADEMIC INSTITUTIONS ARE beginning to create digital institutional repositories into which the intellectual capital of a college or university can be preserved for reuse—gathering up not just the articles and books of the completed scholarly endeavor but also the data sets, presentations, and course-related materials that faculty generate. As this process moves forward, it becomes obvious that these institutions also need to save information about the many computer formats in which this mass of material expressed itself.
In fall 2002, a small group of Digital Library Federation (DLF) members—spearheaded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)—began the work of designing a central, shared registry of digital formats that all participating institutions may one day contribute to and use.
Libraries, which take naturally to such collaborative work, knew immediately that the need was bounded neither to DLF members nor to U.S. institutions. DLF therefore reached out to others in the field. By the time the first face-to-face meeting was held in early 2003, the Format Registry Team had secured interest and representation from Biblioth?que nationale de France, Harvard University, the Joint Information Systems Committee of the Higher and Further Education Councils in the United Kingdom, JSTOR, the Library of Congress, MIT, the National Archives and Records Administration, the National Archives of Canada, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, New York University, the Online Computer Library Center, the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford University, the British Library, the California Digital Library, the Internet Architecture Board, the Internet Engineering Task Force, the Research Libraries Group, and the Public Records Office in the United Kingdom.
Over the course of two long meetings and a flurry of e-mails, we have made remarkable progress toward the design of a global digital format registry. We have developed examples of how such a registry would be used to test the emerging design (i.e., “use cases”); decided what constitutes a “format” and what is merely a derivative form of a format; and articulated a series of services that can be built on top of an authoritative central registry. For example, the registry could be used to verify that what one takes into a repository is in fact the format that the human depositor says it is (better to know this at the point of ingest than to discover much later that a set of files described as TIFF images is actually something quite different). Or, the service could tell the user that the format that has just been loaded is unknown to it and therefore needs to be registered (an act that benefits all users of the service).
In August 2003, we presented our emerging design at the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions conference in Berlin. Attendees strongly supported such a service and offered some valuable feedback on how it must work—and in how many places it must be housed—to be trusted and used on a global scale.
Much work remains to be done to build this service out, to establish a business model to sustain it, to develop a prototype and test it in the real world, and to create the mechanisms to populate and use it. Nonetheless, the work that has been done in the very lively planning stages suggests that we are well on our way to filling a critical gap in our international digital preservation architecture.
More information is available at http://hul.harvard.edu/gdfr/.
THE BRITISH LIBRARY (BL) has joined the Digital Library Federation (DLF) as its first strategic partner from outside the United States.
Under Chief Executive Officer Lynne Brindley, the British Library has embarked on a significant expansion of its digital library program—one that will benefit not only citizens of the United Kingdom but readers and researchers everywhere. The BL’s decision to join the DLF signals the library’s determination to exploit the possibilities for research and study, as well as for communication and collaboration, in the field of digital information resources. It also signifies the library’s confidence in the synergetic benefits to be gained through joining forces with the DLF, a group of similarly activated and determined institutions.
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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.