CLIR Annual Report: 2001 – 2002

Digital Libraries

The digital revolution is transforming scholarship itself, along with the institutions that support that scholarship. Whereas digital development began as experimentation on the campus periphery, higher education institutions now increasingly incorporate it into their central services.

Because promoting the development, preservation, and use of scholarly information in digital form is a major part of CLIR’s program, CLIR has housed the DLF since that organization’s founding in 1995. The DLF coordinates its members’ digital library research and development, identifies standards and best practices, and provides capital for creating tools and services that digital libraries need but cannot individually afford.

Evaluating Progress

The DLF conducted a major self-evaluation to assess the results of its first five years and determine whether it should continue operations. A DLF review panel, convened in July 2001, commissioned several studies of the federation’s activities, including a survey of DLF board members and others who were in a position to judge the DLF’s impact. In September 2001, the panel presented its report to the DLF Steering Committee. The committee accepted the review panel’s finding that the DLF “has had a significant, positive impact on digital library development.” On the basis of this finding, the committee voted to support the DLF’s work for another five years.

Exchanging Ideas

As in years past, the DLF held spring and fall forums to give its members opportunities to learn about the latest digital library developments and compare notes on progress and problems. In November 2001, in Pittsburgh, forum participants focused on efforts to understand how people are using the digital collections and services now available and on what users will want in the future. At the spring 2002 forum, held in Chicago in May, participants concentrated on efforts to achieve “interoperability”that is, on how to enable users to find and use collections and services managed by different institutions with different technical systems. These two concernsestablishing interoperability and understanding user needswere also reflected in the following initiatives, which are among many that the federation advanced during the year.

Understanding Information Users

How is the digital revolution affecting scholars, teachers, and students in colleges and universities? Where and how do they now seek and use information for research and course work? How do they perceive the campus library? What patterns of use are emerging?

To help answer these questions, the DLF commissioned a major survey from Outsell, Inc., a research firm serving the online information industry. In late 2001 and early 2002, Outsell conducted telephone interviews with 3,234 students and faculty members at nearly 400 colleges and universities. In fall 2002, CLIR will publish the results in print and on its Web site. To facilitate further analysis, CLIR will deposit the raw data with the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR).

Making Searching Easier

Any student or scholar trying to find digital information beyond a single institution must search across a complex set of independently developed computer systems. How can these systems be integrated? It will require, among other things, a means of access managementi.e., a way of controlling access to resources intended only for authorized users. In the past year, DLF members helped evaluate a possible way to meet that need in the form of a new protocol called Shibboleth, which supports access management across institutions. Simultaneously, the DLF continued its work with the Open Archives Initiative, which is testing a protocol for metadata “harvesting” to support in-depth searches of cataloging records for digitized material in multiple institutions.

Reducing Duplicative Effort

The growth of digital libraries has brought with it a need for information sharing to avoid redundancy. For example, digital library developers need to know whether a particular book or journal has already been digitized by another institution at a satisfactory level of quality, whether that book or journal is available to other institutions, and whether anyone is taking responsibility for its long-term preservation. Over the past year, the DLF convened a series of meetings to consider the development of a shared registry of digital reproductions and archival masters to record and provide such information. By year’s end, project developers had devised functional specifications for the registry. They are working with OCLC, which may serve as a host for the registry.

Changing Leadership

In June 2002, the DLF announced the appointment of David Seaman, formerly director of the Electronic Text Center of the University of Virginia Library, as the DLF’s new director. He succeeds Daniel Greenstein, who resigned to become university librarian and executive director of the California Digital Library.