CLIR Annual Report: 1999 – 2000

Resources for Scholarship

A universal collection universally available: digital technology makes the dream appear achievable. What will it take for libraries collectively to realize that dream? And what will happen to the collections of books, serials, and audio and visual resources that libraries have built over the centuries, many characterized by a high level of redundancy and each bearing a heavy burden of preservation? How can libraries provide the resources their patrons need in a cost-effective manner and live up to the often-unfunded mandate of preserving culturally significant but low-use collections?

CLIR is working to ensure that libraries of the future will be well positioned to provide researchers the resources they need to pursue their lines of inquiry. Digital technology broadens access to research materials that have, in the past, been scarce or expensive to share. It also challenges traditional models of collection development in libraries—methods that have been based on procuring physical artifacts to provide access to information. In the hybrid library, physical items will no longer be the default mode of access for all genres. Many scholars, including humanists, already prefer the convenience of desktop access to print journals rather than making multiple trips to the library. It is important to track the patterns that emerge as scholars have increasing choice among modes of access. Libraries must work closely with researchers to develop robust collections that are easily located and retrieved.

The Artifact in Library Collections

In this hybrid environment of analog and digital, affected by ambiguous copyright directives and changing economic models of access and preservation, librarians face new and often perplexing choices in collection development. At this turning point in the building of library collections, it is critical to engage the scholarly community in discussions about the development and responsible custody of information resources. In October 1999, the Task Force on the Role of the Artifact in Library Collections met to consider how to define the research community’s needs for the artifact, rather than a surrogate, for research and teaching.

Chaired by Stephen Nichols, an eminent medievalist and former library director, this international group of scholars, university and college administrators, librarians, and archivists is evaluating the intrinsic value of different genres and formats of primary and secondary sources in an effort to determine how they can best be preserved and made accessible and how to ensure access to originals when research demands it. The inquiry is focused not only on print collections but also on analog audiovisual and digital materials. The group will circulate a draft among a variety of focus groups in the winter of 2001 and will issue a report of its findings and recommendations the following spring. The work of the Task Force is supported by a grant from The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation.

Collections, Content, and the Web

In October 1999, in partnership with the Chicago Historical Society, CLIR hosted a conference, Collections, Content, and the Web, that investigated issues museums and libraries confront when digitizing their collections of artifacts for dissemination over the Internet. By convening leaders of public and academic libraries, as well as art and historical museums, CLIR provided an opportunity for these institutions to cultivate closer relationships and find common solutions to the problems they face: selecting collections suitable for broad distribution; managing intellectual and privacy rights; identifying virtual audiences and developing tools for their use online; and understanding how collections of artifacts operate in a virtual environment. As a result of the meeting, managers developed a deeper appreciation that, from the online user’s perspective, libraries and museums are more similar than different, and that often a search will begin with a specific subject or object, rather than with the collection of a specific institution, in mind. Libraries and museums share online identities as repositories of culturally significant materials. They are trusted sources of information and, to a large degree, entertainment. CLIR will remain engaged with museums to foster resource development and sharing among cultural communities. A report of the conference findings was published in January 2000. The conference and report were supported by a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services.

Authenticity in the Digital Environment

Researchers look to libraries and archives to find valuable and trustworthy sources—at least sources that they can trust to be what they appear to be. In January 2000, CLIR convened a group of librarians, archivists, computer scientists, historians, documentary editors, publishers, and digital-asset managers to address the question: What is an authentic digital object, and what are the core attributes that, if missing, would render the object something other than what it purports to be? The topics under debate included the notion of fixity in digital documents, continuity of reference linking, the role of trusted third parties in assuring integrity and authenticity, and the promise of technological solutions to address the issue of trust and reliability. A report of the conference, including papers written for the occasion, was published in May 2000.