CLIRinghouse Number 10

Quick insight into information-investment issues for presidents, CAOs, and other campus leaders from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Number 10, June 2002

The Issue for Presidents and CAOs:

What to Expect from Digital Library Development

University presidents personally promoted the development of some of today’s most respected digital libraries, and several arose out of campus-wide strategic planning for enhancing a university’s ability to compete for grants and contracts, good students, and distinguished faculty. These are among findings of a new study that will give academic executives of institutions of all sizes insight into digital library development.The Digital Library: A Biography, is the tentative title of the study, planned for July publication by the Digital Library Federation (DLF) and the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). Drawing on a survey of DLF-member institutions, the study describes how differences in leadership, organization, and relationships with academic departments and information technology staffs have influenced the varying character of digital libraries, and identifies stages in their development.

The Start-Up Digital Library:

Experimenters in the “Skunk-Works”

The DLF survey indicates that university digital libraries in their start-up phase have had these characteristics:

  • They focused more on technical experimentation than on user expectations.
  • They experimented with online access to library services that are traditional, developing computer-accessible catalogs, for example, and digital versions of reference materials.
  • They developed outside of regular library units in relatively autonomous “skunk-works” (research labs), without the involvement of other library staff.
  • Their funding came less from library budgets than from external grants, which provided stature while reducing institutional financial risks.
  • They felt competitive with the digital library programs of other universities, and this inhibited collaboration and standards development.
  • They hoped to develop electronic resources without disturbing traditional library attitudes, organization, functions, and staffing.

The Mature Digital Library:

Building it so They Will (and Can) Come

The survey indicates that as digital libraries mature they take on these characteristics:

  • They focus more on user needs, working with and marketing themselves to faculty members and students instead of assuming that “if we build it, they will come.”
  • They work more on core technologies, policies, and professional skill development than on individual, experimental projects.
  • They support “e-scholarship”—new kinds of publications and other scholarly products made accessible online rather than through print—as well as digitized library materials.
  • They are better integrated with traditional libraries.
  • They become proportionally more reliant upon core as opposed to “soft” or external funding.

This is where many digital libraries are now.

The Future Digital Library:

Collaboration Within and Beyond the Campus

The authors of the study, Daniel Greenstein and Suzanne Thorin, believe that as digital libraries continue to develop they will have the following characteristics:

  • Networked collections and services will be as central to libraries as stacks and catalogs have been.
  • Numerous lines in core budgets will provide digital library funding.
  • Experimentation will remain ongoing.
  • Libraries will set collection, preservation, and access priorities looking at all information formats together.
  • Libraries will become more dependent on each other.
  • Libraries will work on presenting electronic information so that it best serves needs of student and faculty users, and will establish media and technology centers where librarians, faculty, and technologists can collaborate to meet research and teaching needs.

Additional Information:

The study will be made available on CLIR’s Web site and in print form in July. Access information will be posted at
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