6. Conclusion: Why Join Forces?

Many of the recommendations set forth in this paper will require collaboration among cultural institutions. Whether or not current conversion efforts fully adhere to digital reformatting requirements, they are enormously resource intensive, and the library community needs to develop a plan to leverage the outcomes of ongoing digitization efforts. Meanwhile, as new partnerships are formed and technical and procedural guidelines for existing collaborative efforts are revised, it is important to continue to negotiate to raise the image- and metadata-quality bars.

Teamwork is a prevalent concept in the library community, but experience has shown that effective collaboration is hard to achieve. Ross Atkinson has pointed out that this is partially because the system usually “works” somewhat effectively, regardless of the success of collaborative efforts, and “writing and speaking about cooperation are viewed as forms of leadership, while the act of cooperating is not.”120

One of the key requisites for collaboration is identifying a leader to coordinate agenda setting and implementation in addition to overseeing the assessment of outcomes. Currently, there is not a single US agency or an institution with the mandate of providing coordination and leadership in the digital preservation domain. In the United Kingdom, JISC develops partnerships to enable UK education and research communities to engage in national and global collaborations to overcome the challenges of delivering world-class information and communication technology solutions and services. In the United States, several cultural and educational organizations and private foundations try to encourage partnerships through their initiatives and funding programs. However, there continues to be need for one or more institutions to assume the leadership role to facilitate alliance building among cultural institutions. The success of any collaborative effort requires the involvement of all stakeholders.

While cooperative initiatives have not come easily to libraries, there are some successful examples. For instance, preservation microfilming was a rewarding collaborative effort for several decades. One of the operating principles of this venture was adhering to uniform guidelines, and the effort was built on trust and mutual interest. Libraries will join forces in pursuit of a common agenda only when the benefits of collaboration outweigh the costs and when they see collaboration as a win-win situation. Reading some of the recommendations in this paper, one may rightfully ask, “What makes the LSDI agenda appealing enough to overcome the barriers to collaboration, and what are the incentives to work together?”

Stewardship Responsibilities. Cultural institutions have an obligation to protect the future of our scholarly heritage as a public good. Some library staff and scholars ask whether we should entrust our cultural heritage to partners with commercial interests simply for the sake of speed and expediency. This is a valid question. The library community needs to demonstrate its ability to fulfill its stewardship role, which should not preclude taking advantage of financial opportunities offered by commercial partners.

Enduring Access. The 800-pound gorilla in the LSDI preservation agenda is the future of Web access to digitized books. Many worry that digital content may no longer be available in the future through present-day search engine portals, which evolve rapidly in terms of both content and retrieval technologies. In a 2004 CLIR publication, Abby Smith stated that, “the fundamental purpose of preservation will be to ensure access to information to some user at some point in the future.”121 LSDI libraries may be in a position to take care of bit preservation at an institutional level and to use the digital copies for backups. However, providing enduring access by enabling online discovery and retrieval of materials (within limitations of copyright laws) for future generations is an enormous challenge—one that may not be met unless faced collectively. Efforts at the individual library level will not adequately address the enduring-access challenge unless there is a plan for providing aggregated or federated access to digital content. Today’s users prefer searching and retrieving information in integrated search frameworks; they use digitized books only if they can be conveniently accessed in their preferred search environments and support their searching and reading preferences. Therefore, hosting public domain digitized books solely through individual library portals is likely to be insufficient.

Cost-Effectiveness. Although most digitization costs are borne by the commercial partners, the participating libraries are contributing substantial effort in preparing and managing content. The value of years of investment in purchasing and managing book collections is often underestimated. The LSDI flurry caught the library community at a time when many institutions were beginning to plan or develop digital preservation programs. Although the library community has some familiarity with digital preservation strategies, the quantity of data output from LSDIs dwarfs experiences to date. Not all libraries have the resources to assume a long-term archiving role for such large quantities of content. Shared-storage management is an example of such a cost-effective strategy. Cooperative arrangements can be achieved at many levels—through collaborations among libraries, through individual libraries working at their own home institutions with other related service providers, or both.

Future of Research Libraries. It is critical that the research libraries assess incentives for and impediments to collaboration from a broader perspective by taking into consideration emerging trends in research libraries. Libraries clearly need to modify their roles and programs to meet the needs of 21st-century users. The symbolic role of the library as the “heart of the university” is being challenged, and it is likely that different measures will be used to assess the role of libraries within an academic community.122 The ARL is exploring how to modify the current practice of assessing research libraries on the basis of traditional quantitative measures such as collection size. One of the indicators of success among cultural institutions should be their willingness to contribute to joint agendas.

Joining forces among cultural institutions—ideally including corporate partners and content creators—will leverage resources, strengthen causes, control risks, and expand alternative strategies. Admittedly, there are institutional differences in opinion, funding models, digital library infrastructures, and strategic goals; consequently, not every action agenda lends itself for fruitful partnership. It is essential that cooperative efforts do not slow the community’s efforts, but rather complement ongoing institutional programs.

It is time to have an open dialogue on a collaborative preservation agenda to determine which domains require independent or complementary programs with robust communication and to explore which tasks lend themselves to collaboration in the best interests of participating libraries, the library community in general, and current and future users.


FOOTNOTES

120 Ibid.

121 Abby Smith. 2004. Mapping the Preservation Landscape. Pp. 9-16 in Access in the Future Tense. Washington, D.C.: Council on Library and Information Resources. Available at https://www.clir.org/PUBS/reports/pub126/contents.html.

122 For example, see the findings of the following investigation on how the attitudes of university presidents and provosts towards their academic libraries have changed: Beverly P. Lynch, Catherine Murray-Rust, Susan E. Parker, et al. 2007. “Attitudes of Presidents and Provosts on the University Library.” College & Research Libraries 68(3) [May]: 213-227.