CLIRinghouse Number 1

Quick insight into information-investment issues for presidents, CAOs, and other
campus leaders from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR)

Number 1, August 2001

Your Investment in Online Learning: Getting Wired or Getting Burned?

Whether human wisdom can keep up with technological innovation is a question in the president’s office as much as in the philosophy curriculum. Digital libraries, distance education, Internet access—there seems no end to new technological opportunities for enriching scholarship and education. Wise investments in “wiring” the campus can provide competitive advantages in attracting top scholars and students, winning grants and research contracts, gaining support from important communities, and raising institutional stature. But opportunities also proliferate for losing control, squandering funds, and creating digital Edsels. How can the top executive find the way to wise choices?

Questions to Ask:

Will Your Digitizing Dollars Go for Mission Support or High-tech Play?

As campus libraries breach their walls by both creating and importing computer-accessible information, as students increasingly search the Web more than the stacks, as professors plug their classrooms into far-flung pedagogical resources, as scholars create interactive Web sites instead of monographs, as university presses publish journals that never exist in print, and as everyone responsible struggles with obsolescing computer-ware and unstable digital media to keep all the fruits of digital investment from disappearing, the entire institution is in flux. Amid all this, the executive who stays on top is asking—

  • Are we digitizing what will have most value

for faculty, students, and communities we serve?

  • Can we sustain (that is, preserve and manage as
    well as create) what we are digitizing?
  • Will digitizing open opportunities to save money
    elsewhere or only leave other needs unfunded?

Options to Consider:

Handle It Hands-on or Hand It Off?

The common options are to say, “All this sounds like a library problem,” “Leave it to the campus IT shop,” or “Ask the faculty.” But faculty members are likely to want to digitize all the books—and keep all originals. That is unaffordable. The IT head may provide information about what technology can do and would cost. But that provides no criteria for what and how much to digitize. The librarians may identify what they would like to digitize. But that may not meet priority needs campus-wide. There is a better way to reach sound decisions.


It Matters Campus-wide: Get Them Together

As digital collections and services move from the experimental periphery to the campus core, alert executives no longer leave the investment decisions to any single department. The ramifications are too large; so are potential costs. Some campus leader must exercise or be given authority to bring together relevant parties to evaluate electronic-information needs and developments—librarians to describe possible services, faculty to determine digitization priorities for scholarship and classroom use, IT professionals to assess technology requirements and costs, press editors to identify intellectual property considerations. Getting such collaboration is not easy, but neither is explaining an electronic white elephant to trustees.

Additional Information:

You Are Not Alone

More useful information will be coming regularly in this bulletin format. Other relevant CLIR publications include the booklet, Scholarship, Instruction, and Libraries at the Turn of the Century;guides such as Selecting Research Collections for Digitization and Managing Cultural Assets from a Business Perspective, reports from the Digital Library Federation, and much more. All are available on or through our Web site at

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