CPA Annual Report: 1997 – 1998

CPA Annual Report: 1997 – 1998

The ACLS/CLIR Task Forces

With the American Council of Learned Societies, CLIR convened five task forces to examine some of the fundamental changes that technology is bringing to research and scholarship. The task forces were organized around types of material: area studies materials, audio materials, manuscripts, monographs and journals, and visual materials. Membership of each task force included scholars, librarians, and university administrators. Each group was asked to answer the following questions:

  • How will digital technology affect scholarship and instruction?
  • How can we make certain that libraries and archives continue to serve the research needs of scholars and students in the face of the technological transformation?

The audio materials task force members agreed that research and scholarship would be advanced by creating finding aids to help locate materials and by providing information about those aids in common databases. In fact, several of the groups said finding aids are fundamentally important. The visual materials task force agreed that finding aids should have their origins in descriptions of particular collections, and the technology would be used to gain access to them on local, interinstitutional, and even international scales. But a linked system of distributed finding aids does not yet exist, and additional research is needed. The Digital Library Federation has funded a project at the University of Michigan and Harvard University to do practical research on linking distributed finding aids.

Members of the area studies group worried that the introduction of digital technology might consume funds that libraries otherwise would use to acquire foreign print materials. On the other hand, they agreed that the technology might help institutions develop shared collections and to build resources that are essential to the survival of area studies.

Members of the manuscripts group were most concerned about preserving primary materials and keeping them accessible. They were enthusiastic about using the technology not to digitize primary materials, but to promote access to them.

The monographs and journals group saw an urgent need to use technology in support of scholarship. It advocated new approaches to scholarly publication that are competitive, efficient, and respected. For example, the Association of American Universities is working to separate the process of scholarly certification from the process of scholarly publication. That would allow the work to be peer reviewed, endorsed, and archived without appearing in print. Transferring research results from print-based to electronic formats will profoundly affect the economics of providing information on campuses.

After continuing the conversation through electronic listservs, the task forces convened in a plenary session to discuss four principal topics:

Finding Aids and Bibliographical Resources

Developing and setting standards for finding aids should be the top priority, but there was no consensus on whether funding should be directed to the conversion of existing finding aids or toward the creation of new ones for unprocessed collections. CLIR should encourage faculty members to build courses and seminars around original materials in all formats, and around collections that need description. Students and faculty members then would have the opportunity to describe materials for which there are no finding aids. CLIR should advocate national acceptance of Encoded Archival Description (EAD) for marking up finding aids.

The Growth and Management of Collections

There should be a national discussion about the custody of culture, the development of library collections, and the formulation of policies that assign responsibility for both unique resources and common resources. Tough, even painful, decisions must be made about which collections libraries will maintain. We must ensure the preservation of unique materials and develop ways to make distinctive collections more widely accessible without building homogenized collections that just mirror one another. Cooperation is essential among libraries in deciding where collections will be stored. To assure cooperation, a new structure should be created to join scholars, librarians, and technical experts in the difficult process of selecting materials and managing collection development.

The Components of Infrastructure

Universities need to invest in a comprehensive system of electronic resources and in training scholars to be comfortable with the technology. A new system of scholarly communication needs to be defined and accepted that will allow scholars to reclaim from the commercial sector some important functions of publication. Learned societies should establish a forum to discuss preservation issues for digitized resources, especially how to make decisions about preserving digitized information before it is lost.

Copyright and Intellectual Property Issues

Faculty members should engage in open and in-depth discussions, perhaps under the auspices of scholarly societies, on copyright and intellectual property issues. The discussions should take into account the difference in copyright needs for general collections and for special and museum collections, and how better to manage intellectual property.

CLIR will issue a final report on the conclusions summarized above.