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In September 2002, the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) commissioned a survey of North American-based digital cultural heritage initiatives (DCHIs). The purpose of the survey was to identify the scope, financing, organizational structure, and sustainability of DCHIs. To gain a funder’s perspective on these initiatives, the survey also included a few public and private funding organizations that support projects with a digital cultural heritage component.

The survey was a preliminary step in a larger effort aimed at developing recommendations for a coordinated strategy to sustain and strengthen digital cultural heritage initiatives and their by-products. The effort began in July 2002, when Dr. Charles Henry (Rice University) and Dr. Stanley Katz (Princeton University) developed an internal working paper, entitled “American Cultural Heritage Initiatives: A National Review,” that examined factors that compromise the sustainability of DCHIs. CLIR established a steering committee to explore these issues further, broadened the inquiry to North American institutions, and commissioned this survey to inform the steering committee (and the community) as they explored appropriate strategies to support and strengthen digital cultural heritage initiatives.

Participants and Process

The Selection Process

For the purposes of this survey, a “digital cultural heritage initiative” was interpreted very broadly as an organization or a program that

  • develops or implements a project that yields a digital product-such as an image database, a music rights management database, scholarly e-book, or digital research tool-to be used by one or more of the sectors in the cultural or educational community. Examples of organizations in this category include JSTOR, the Women Writers Project (WWP) at Brown University, and the History E-Book project sponsored by the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS).
  • addresses issues integral to the promotion and use of digital cultural heritage, such as intellectual property, standards, best practices, or policies in the digital arena. Examples of organizations in this category are the National Initiative for a Networked Cultural Heritage (NINCH), the Visual Resources Association (VRA), and the Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

Thirty-three organization or projects and five funding agencies or foundations were included in the survey (see Appendix A for a list of participating organizations). The organizations and agencies were chosen through an iterative process by the CLIR Steering Committee and the survey consultant, who identified groups representing a cross-section of the cultural community: performing arts organizations; scholarly and library associations; museum, archive, and visual resources organizations; publishing groups; standards initiatives; and humanities centers and projects. Organizations and projects also were selected on the basis of their reputation and the active role they play in their respective sectors. In the interests of time, and to simplify the process, the Steering Committee decided to limit the survey to North American organizations.

Several organizations on the original list of survey participants were excluded for one of the following reasons:

  • further investigation revealed that their mission and activities did not include digital initiatives
  • the organizations were international in governance and funding and thus were beyond the North American parameters defined for this project
  • the organizations chose not to respond to an invitation to participate

The five funding organizations included in the survey represent a mix of government agencies and private foundations. They were selected because of their reputation, visibility, and track record as key funders of DCHIs.

The final list of DCHIs and funding organizations is by no means comprehensive, but it does offer representation from a variety of cultural sectors that can yield useful insights and inform future studies of sustainability issues and concerns.

The Survey Process

The Steering Committee initially contacted survey participants by e-mail, outlining the project and its purpose, introducing the survey consultant, and asking for their participation. This contact was followed shortly thereafter by an e-mail from the survey consultant requesting a scheduled phone interview.

Because the nature of information required from the DCHIs and funding agencies differed, a separate survey was developed for each group. The survey of DCHIs gathered information in the following areas:

  • mission
  • type of organization (e.g., membership, for-profit, not-for-profit, consortium)
  • digital products or services offered
  • needs assessments, market analyses, or user studies conducted
  • relationships with other organizations
  • financial support and business plan
  • problems with achieving and maintaining sustainability

The survey of funding organizations gathered information about the following:

  • mission
  • funding categories for DCHIs
  • DCHI projects funded over the last year
  • reasons for funding DCHIs
  • assessment of DCHIs’ sustainability issues

Both surveys were brief and attempted to strike a balance between the information needed and the short time available (seven weeks) to collect, synthesize, and analyze that information. The survey consultant developed all the survey questions on the basis of discussions with Steering Committee members and a review of early project documents that identified goals and objectives. The consultant randomly tested survey questions using information derived from a few organizational Web sites; however, this review was not scientific or comprehensive. As the interviews got under way, it became apparent that more flexibility was required: organizations with track records (“mature” organizations) needed to be asked questions with a slightly different cast than did newly formed projects. The consultant adjusted the survey questions accordingly, creating a series of “prompting questions” to generate discussion by various types of organizations. (See Appendix B for the DCHI survey and Appendix C for the funding organization survey.)

Information was collected in two ways: (1) by reviews of organizational Web sites; and (2) by telephone interviews between the consultant and a senior executive or administrator of the participating group. This two-part process was necessary because information concerning the more sensitive survey questions (those involving finances and sustainability) is not usually provided in a public forum such as a Web site. To maximize everyone’s time, the phone interviews were devoted solely to questions not addressed on an organization’s Web site. As a result, the average phone interview was only 25 minutes long. The Web site reviews took up to an hour or more.

All participants were assured of the confidential nature of their discussions at two points in the process: in the e-mail sent by the Steering Committee and at the initiation of the phone interview. In addition, participants were given an opportunity to approve, change, or omit cited comments or nonpublic information about their organization that appeared in an earlier proprietary version of this report submitted to CLIR in November 2002.


Survey planning and development took place in early September 2002, and survey information was gathered (through interviews and Web site reviews) between September 23 and November 5, 2002. Results originally were presented to CLIR in late November 2002.

In the interval between data gathering and the writing of this published report (May 2003), programmatic and organizational changes have taken place at many of the DCHIs that participated in the survey. Readers should be aware that the information reported here represents a snapshot of conditions and circumstances in the fall of 2002.


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