Part III: Review of Funders of Digital Cultural Heritage Initiatives

To examine the issue of sustainability from a DCHI funder’s perspective, representatives from the following five private and public funding organizations were interviewed:

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
The Getty Grant Program
The Institute of Museum and Library Services
The National Endowment for the Humanities
The National Historic Publications and Records Commission

Representatives from these agencies were asked about three major topics: (1) what they are funding in the area of digital cultural heritage and why; (2) the level of monetary support they are making available to these initiatives; and (3) how they evaluate the sustainability of these projects.

Reasons for Funding DCHIs

The motivations for funding DCHIs are varied. The Mellon Foundation, for example, does not view itself as a funder of DCHIs; rather, it sees digital cultural heritage activities as a by-product of its mission to support scholarship and the development of scholarly resources. Mellon denies many requests for digitization of cultural materials because they do not address this larger purpose. If a proposed project does include digitization, it must demonstrate that the digitization is fueled by specific research projects whose goals cannot be achieved without the development of digital resources.

A different perspective exists at the IMLS. As the only federal agency with statutory authority to support digitization, the IMLS views this authority as a mandate to support digital cultural heritage initiatives undertaken by museums and libraries. The NEH Division of Preservation and Access 26 also strongly supports these initiatives in the broader arena of humanities computing. It is particularly interested in funding projects that will increase the capacity of the nation’s cultural institutions to digitize their collections and maintain access to these holdings over time.

Funding Support

Support for DCHIs comes from traditional monetary awards and from nontraditional means (for example, sponsorship or participation in collaborative programs). It is impossible to determine how many dollars funders allocate to digital initiatives, because foundations and agencies track their support by their own program categories and not by broader categories such as digitization per se. For example, the IMLS supports digitization through many of its individual program categories and under its State Grants Programs. 27 For 2001, the IMLS estimates that about $6 million went to support digitization through its National Leadership Grant Program ($1.5 million in Library and Museum Collaborations, $1.5 million in Museums Online, and $3 million in Library Preservation of Digitization). Estimates for its other programs could not be easily determined.

Support also is given in other ways, such as sponsoring or participating in a collaborative program, developing “best-practices” guidelines, or hosting a specific project. For example, the Mellon Foundation has provided funds to create and “incubate” two organizations that are responsible for scholarly resources in digital form: JSTOR and ARTstor. JSTOR is now an independent entity that is supported largely by contributions from participating libraries, although it continues to receive grants from the Mellon Foundation and others for special activities such as the digitization of select journals. ARTstor currently is part of the Mellon Foundation (it is scheduled to launch as an independent initiative in 2003) and is developing content through Mellon Foundation grants made to university libraries and museums that are digitizing materials to be included in the ARTstor collections. The foundation initially hosted these two initiatives because it felt they were of sufficient breadth and depth to benefit from the foundation’s unique resources, and because the foundation believed that, in establishing these organizations, it could play an important role in mediating the diverse interests of the scholarly community, academic institutions, publishers, and museums, libraries, and other repositories.

Apart from grant awards, the IMLS’s latest efforts to support digital initiatives are its annual Web-Wise Conference on Libraries and Museums in the Digital World (its 2003 conference theme was “Sustaining Digital Resources”) and its support of workshops that identify opportunities for research on the creation, management, preservation, and use of digital content.

Another example of an innovative, nontraditional means of support was NEH’s Division of Preservation and Access partnership (in 1999-2000) with the National Science Foundation’s Digital Library Initiative Phase 2 (DLI-2) program to fund complex humanities-based computing projects. During the two-year period of this collaboration, the NEH contributed more than $2 million to the 11 awardees in this program. (The NSF contribution totaled $14 million.)

The Impact of the Economy on Funding Sources

In the survey of DCHIs, organizations that rely on foundation grants commented that the market decline has decreased the value of foundation endowments and thus the amount of monies available for funding. The Mellon Foundation had to reduce its 2001 grant-making budget from $210 million to $180 million because of a drop in the value of its endowment. In 2002, the grant-making budget was $185 million. The foundation has been discussing future funding strategies, which are aimed at “deepening, rather than broadening” current grant-making activities.

The grant-making budgets of the public funding agencies are influenced by economic and political forces that affect the federal budget rather than by endowment income, which is subject to market volatility. For fiscal year 2003, the public agencies are being funded at approximately the same (for IMLS, slightly higher) levels than for fiscal year 2002.

Evaluating and Encouraging Sustainability

The foundations and agencies have implemented many different strategies for evaluating and encouraging sustainability of the projects they support. The Mellon Foundation assesses project sustainability, in part, by asking grant applicants to demonstrate demand for their project. In the foundation’s experience, projects that fail to sustain themselves do so because there is little or no demand for the products they generate. The foundation often uses the market studies it has commissioned in the past to assess demand for a particular project, or requires the development of a business plan with a careful assessment of demand as part of the planning phase for a project. The foundation’s staff also relies on scholarly opinion to verify the significance of a project within a field, and often requires that a prominent scholar lead the project or be significantly involved in its development.

The IMLS evaluates all grant applications through a peer review process. Relevant evaluation factors for sustainability include the applicant’s institutional support, as demonstrated through cost sharing, and the institution’s infrastructure to support digital resources. Applicants for digitization funds are required to submit a form entitled “Specifications for Projects Involving Digitization,” which includes information on plans for preservation and maintenance of the digital files after the expiration of the grant period. To further encourage sustainable practices, the IMLS supported the creation of a document entitled “A Framework for Guidance on Developing Good Digital Collections,”28 which is provided as a resource to help applicants plan and implement digital projects.

The NEH is trying to foster sustainable projects by urging applicants to follow best practices and by requiring that all grantees formally commit to ensuring access over time to digital resources created with the endowment’s funds. To help applicants, the Division of Preservation and Access developed a narrative section in its guidelines29 that outlines the issues applicants should consider when they undertake a digital project. The Division’s specialist reviewers and panels use this section as a general benchmark for a proposal’s evaluation.

While the NHPRC supports research on the long-term preservation of electronic records, it funds very few projects involving digitization because it feels long-term sustainability is still a moving target and the subject of further research. It does require grantees in its Documentary Editions program to “design their project for the electronic environment,” but does not specify what that design should be.

Special Sustainability Initiatives at Public Funding Agencies

Several of the public funding agencies are undertaking projects or collaborations that address sustainability issues in a community-wide context. The IMLS is currently funding several National Leadership Grant projects to investigate issues such as preservation and sustainability of digital resources. One of these projects, at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, will gather data from more than 100 IMLS-funded digital projects as part of its work to create a collection-level registry and item-level metadata repository.30 This project will provide information on the continuation and sustainability prospects of projects funded by IMLS since it began awarding digitization grants in 1998.

The NHPRC is actively observing the landscape of digital preservation efforts, and is supporting research and development projects that look at, among other things, markup standards as a way to make archival documents more sustainable in a digital environment. One particular NHPRC-supported project, entitled “Model Editions,”31 marked up various documentary print editions in different formats, and NHPRC is now considering how to follow up on this work. One of the original objectives of the Model Editions project was a digital library that included the published volumes of NHPRC-supported editions.

The NEH’s Division of Preservation and Access believes preservation is “access over time,” and to that end hopes to further preservation efforts through collaborations with other federal grant agencies. The Division believes that such efforts fuel synergies that can move research forward in a way that individual agencies cannot. The Division cites its two-year collaboration with the NSF’s DLI-2 project as an example of how the NEH was able to bring humanities projects to the attention of information scientists. Intrigued by the complexity of research issues, the NSF joined with the NEH to fund (at very high levels) several projects that explored “big issues” in the field of humanities computing. The Division feels that collaborative efforts may be the most effective way federal agencies can create a research and development platform that significantly contributes toward making digital resources more sustainable.


26 Digitization is largely supported through three program categories in the NEH’s Division of Preservation and Access: Preserving and Creating Access to Humanities Collections; Reference Materials; and Research and Development Projects.
27 IMLS funds most digitization projects through three categories within its National Leadership Grant Program: Library and Museum Collaborations; Museums Online; and Library Preservation or Digitization. Funds provided through its State Grants programs are controlled and distributed by the State Library Administrative Agencies.
28 The Institute of Museum and Library Services. A Framework of Guidance for Building Good Digital Collections. November 16, 2001. Available at
29 The National Endowment for the Humanities. Grants to Preserve and Create Access to Collections: Section entitled “For Projects to Digitize Collections.” Available at
30 The IMLS also awarded grants to the following projects addressing sustainability issues:
University of Florida, Center for Library Automation, Gainesville, FL

2002 National Leadership Grants for Libraries-Preservation or Digitization

In this three-year project, the Florida Center for Library Automation (FCLA) will develop a “Central Digital Archiving Facility” for the libraries of Florida’s public college and university system. It will identify costs of all aspects of archiving for cost recovery purposes and serve as a model for the development of other central archiving facilities nationwide.

California Digital Library, Oakland

2002 National Leadership Grants for Libraries-Library-Museum Collaboration

In this two-year research project, the California Digital Library, in partnership with Bancroft Library, the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, and the Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology, as well as the Grunwald Center and the graduate school of education and information studies, department of information studies at the University of California Los Angeles, will develop and complete a formal user evaluation of the Museums and Online Archive of California testbed. It will also develop evaluation tools that can be used by other digital libraries and make general recommendations for the improvement of digital libraries based on the results.

California Digital Library, Oakland
2002 National Leadership Grants for Libraries-Research and Demonstration

In this two-year research project, the California Digital Library, in partnership with University of California Berkeley Library, will create a model preservation repository for multi-institutional digital materials following the Open Archival Information System (OAIS) reference model. The project will also explore and report on issues related to repository operation and policies.
31 See The Model Edition Partnership at