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CLIR Annual Report: 1999 – 2000


Digital Libraries

CLIR is committed to fostering the development of digital libraries as a resource for research and learning. Our aim is to help policy makers, funding organizations, and academic leaders understand the social and institutional investments in digital libraries that are needed to organize, maintain, and provide access to a growing body of digital materials for scholarly purposes.

The Digital Library Federation (DLF) is the primary manifestation of CLIR’s interest in digital libraries. Operating under CLIR’s auspices, the DLF is a consortium of 25 leading research libraries that are developing online collections and services. Members work through the DLF to share research and development; identify and promote the application of digital library standards and good practices; and incubate innovative digital library organizations, collections, and services, particularly where these are commonly required but are beyond the ability of any single organization or consortium to produce.

The past year has been one of change and growth for the DLF. In December 1999, the organization appointed a new director, Daniel Greenstein, to succeed Donald Waters. Mr. Greenstein, formerly director of the Arts and Humanities Data Service in the United Kingdom, has expanded the DLF program and developed its communications arm.

The DLF Program

Since its inception in 1995, the DLF has undertaken research-and-development work on some of the technical challenges that libraries confront as they move collections and services online. Its work on structural and administrative metadata (catalog records for digital information objects), on strategies for preserving digital information, and on methods for securing access to online information have had particular impact in library and technical communities. Building on this work, the DLF has broadened its program to include other areas of pressing concern to the digital library. It is currently active in the following six areas.

Developing and applying appropriate architectures, technologies, systems, and tools. Members pool otherwise limited research-and-development capacity to scan the larger technical environment and to define, clarify, and develop prototypes for digital library systems and system components.

This year, the DLF began to explore a wholly new model for accessing scholarly resources—one that will enable users seamlessly to explore the contents of numerous geographically distributed, and often very different, scholarly information resources. In this model, data providers, such as managers of OPACs and finding aids, e-journals, e-print archives, or online data and image repositories, would agree to provide extracts of their metadata in a common, minimal-level format in response to requests from service providers. Service providers, such as libraries, data repositories, and e-print archives, would use the extracted metadata to build user-oriented services, such as catalogs and portals to materials distributed across multiple sites. This model would lead to the development of subject portals opening out onto information in all formats, whether print or digital, database or sound, and dealing with a specific topic or theme. Localized or regional services could also arise; for example, to present a wide range of information in a manner appropriate to users in a particular geographically defined community, such as a university campus.

In pursuing this work, the DLF and the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) have agreed to support the Open Archives initiative, a technical framework that can support harvesting. In the coming year, harvesting services will be developed to test the protocol and allow the organizational, business, legal, and scholarly ramifications of such services to be explored.

Developing sustainable, scaleable, and useful digital collections and services. The digital library transforms traditional collections through the integration of new formats, licensed (as opposed to owned) content, and third-party information over which the library has little or no direct curatorial control. Collection-development strategies and practices do not yet take account of these changing circumstances, and their legal, organizational, and business implications are not well understood. The DLF is therefore active in identifying, evaluating, and, where necessary, developing collection strategies and practices that are appropriate for the digital library, and in assessing the legal, organizational, and business implications of these strategies.

The DLF is also encouraging the development of new kinds of scholarly collections that take full advantage of computer and network technologies. Work this year focused on the Academic Image Cooperative (AIC) prototype, a database of curriculum-based digital images to be used for teaching the history of art. Developed with support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the AIC supplies a framework for a service capable of launching and sustaining a comprehensive scholarly resource that will promote innovation in research, learning, and teaching in the history of art and other arts and humanities disciplines that depend on the use of visual resources as evidence.

Developing support and other services that enable the digital library to respond to its users’ information requirements. 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. Accordingly, libraries need to engage more effectively with their user communities to build better, more useful, and more usable collections and services. They also need to rethink and restructure user-support services to make them appropriate for library services and collections that are delivered online. An obvious starting point is a thorough review of how scholars and students are using existing online collections and services. However, because there are no standard methods for evaluating such use, no body of data exists to support such a review. The DLF has launched an initiative to identify and seek agreement on appropriate evaluative methods and to deploy them in a comprehensive investigation of how students and scholars are using online collections and services.

Gaining experience in preserving digital information. Building on the work of the Commission on Preservation and Access, CLIR and the DLF remain committed to maintaining long-term access to the digital intellectual and scholarly record. The DLF has cooperated with CLIR in developing digital archival repositories for electronic scholarly journals (see page 16).

Identifying standards and practices that enable the digital library to develop and maintain its collections and services cost-effectively. The DLF seeks to identify, document, endorse, and promote the adoption of data-creation standards and best practices for producing digital information that can be managed, exchanged, distributed to end users, and preserved cost-effectively. Two initiatives have borne fruit this year.

First, the DLF and the Research Libraries Group (RLG) copublished the DLF/RLG Guides to Quality in Visual Resource Imaging. The five Web-based guides offer practical advice on planning and carrying out a scanning project. The topics covered include general planning, scanner selection, considerations for imaging systems, digital master quality, and storage of digital masters.

Second, the DLF sponsored a workshop to explore the use of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) and XML in libraries. The workshop led to the creation of recommendations for applying the TEI and best practices for encoding electronic texts developed for different purposes. The recommendations have been endorsed by leading text centers in the United States and Europe and are already in use.

Gaining a better understanding of the digital library’s institutional roles, responsibilities, and potential. CLIR and the DLF share an interest in helping libraries promote themselves within their own institutions and within the communities they serve. DLF and CLIR will identify communities with a stake in the library’s future and develop literature to inform those communities about such issues as the distinctive educational and cultural value of online collections and services, and their real costs, legal ramifications, and organizational requirements.

Communications Infrastructure

Effective communications are vital to the DLF. They ensure that its programs respond to members’ needs and interests, and they enable the DLF to inform its members and the broader library community about the strategies, technologies, organizational mechanisms, and legal and business issues that affect the development and cost-effective maintenance of high-quality digital library services and collections. This year, the DLF has taken the following steps to enhance its communications efforts:

  • Revised, reorganized, and updated the DLF Web site, its primary vehicle for communicating with the broader community.
  • Established several e-mail lists to support communication between the director’s office and staff at DLF member institutions.
  • Prepared to launch a quarterly newsletter in which the director’s office will report to members and members will report about recent developments in their digital libraries.
  • Built two online registries to supply information about members’ digital library initiatives:Documenting the digital library: a database of policies, strategies, working papers, standards and other application guidelines, and technical documentation developed by DLF members to inform or reflect upon their digital library development activities; andDLF digital collections: a database of DLF members’ Web-accessible, public-domain digital collections.

The DLF Forum is also an important part of DLF’s communications infrastructure. Drawing professional staff from each of its member institutions, the forums serve as meeting places, marketplaces, and congresses. This year, the DLF held its first two forums. The first focused on digital library technologies, the second on organizational issues and challenges.

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