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Summary of Plenary Meeting of Task Forces June 30, 1998

On June 30, 1998, the day’s discussion was organized around four principal topics on which the participants had been asked to reflect in advance: finding aids, collections management, infrastructure components, and copyright. The principal actions recommended during the consideration of each topic are summarized here, including indications as to which recommendations were assigned the highest priority.

Finding Aids and Bibliographical Resources

There was general agreement that the highest priority should be given to developing finding aids for materials in all formats, and to setting appropriate and accepted standards for the finding aids. The lack of consistency in the data and metadata used to find materials is a real problem. There were divergent views over whether energy (and funding) should be directed toward the retrospective conversion to electronic form of existing finding aids or toward the creation of new finding aids for unprocessed collections.

The problem with unprocessed and undescribed collections is indeed great, but CLIR and ACLS are not in a position to have a direct role in solving it. Instead, these organizations should find ways (1) to promote the importance for research of artifacts in all formats, and (2) to encourage faculty members to build courses and seminars around original materials and collections that need description. Together, faculty members and students would begin to describe materials for which there are as yet no finding aids.

The notion that scholars will not use materials or documents if they cannot be found on the Web was introduced, questioned, and largely dismissed. Serious scholars will always leave their chairs to find the materials they need. Students, however, may not be disposed to look beyond what appears to them on a screen.

Other actions which the task forces recommended for CLIR or other agents to undertake are to advocate the national acceptance of EAD for marking up finding aids; develop software that would make it easier to create EAD documents; promote a complete national and, ideally, international inventory of finding aids; and advocate the development of federated mechanisms to find the finding aids, which would encompass the international dimension of searching and navigating.

Collections Management

There should be a national discussion about the custody of culture, the development of collections, and the formulation of policies that assign responsibility for both unique resources and common resources. Escalating costs and shrinking financial resources are causing collections to become more alike, as libraries seek to satisfy the demands of the many rather than promote and preserve the special collections they may house, which are less known and less used. If libraries de-accession their infrequently used materials, we run the risk of not being certain there is at least one copy of a particular item or title remaining in the U.S. How do we make sure that the unique copy does not disappear? How do we develop a framework for debating the need to develop distinctive collections, against the current trend of homogenized collections that merely mirror one another?

We must confront the escalating cost of journals in the sciences, medicine, and technology, which has taken money away from collection development in the humanities and social sciences and reduced the funds available for buying materials from abroad.

Yet again, and even more forcefully than in the past, we must encourage cooperation among libraries. What can be learned from cooperative models that have worked in the past, such as the Farmington Plan? Cooperation will be essential as university libraries are forced to make tough decisions about what they must cut and where they should focus their collection development efforts. They should make their decisions only after good and timely communication with faculty members. Indeed, there is a need for new structures to bring together scholars, librarians, and technical experts to ensure that scholars share the burden of selection in managing collection development at institutions. For example, faculty members and librarians should work together when new curricula are introduced at institutions. This needs to be done institution by institution, but CLIR should have a role in promoting the idea and in organizing certain model and demonstration events. Librarians need to inform faculty members in detail about the constraints under which libraries are working and engage them in the process of making decisions about collection development. Faculty members at institutions with small academic libraries, who find the materials they need on the Web or in large research libraries, may be ignoring their local libraries, and their indifference may be yet another factor contributing to the disconnection that is perceived to exist between faculty members and librarians.

We should not forget, under the enchantment of technological advances, that a splendid cataloging system is already in place. The technology has replaced neither reference libraries nor reference librarians, and browsing the shelves is still an important research technique.

We must make good use of organizations such as the Center for Research Libraries and the Research Libraries Group that have been created to extend collections and reduce costs.

We must explore how libraries can connect with cottage-industry archiving models to fulfill their archiving obligation.

Infrastructure Components

There is a need for structured R&D investment by universities in electronic resources and in the effective presentation and manipulation of information on the computer screen. But where can R&D money be found within the academic community to experiment with components of the electronic environment and to describe models for incorporating digital information into the information infrastructure of campuses? Online library catalogs have been incorporated into campus networks, but digital library projects have not.

We must develop an infrastructure that makes it easy for scholars and students to find materials. CLIR could encourage the exploration of ways for universities to license or otherwise acquire and distribute electronic resources.

We must help scholars to become comfortable with the technology and to understand its capacities and its limitations. We must pay particular attention to how people interact with and learn from the technology because better understanding in this area will help us to develop better access strategies and perhaps build an electronic resource for information about instructional technology. And as we decide how the human and technological components of the scholarly information infrastructure will fit together, we must be certain that we are providing for them over the long term.

We should begin to define an ideal new system of scholarly communication and take steps to encourage its widespread acceptance. Such steps might include urging universities to take dissertations in electronic form, and encouraging learned societies to give prizes for articles that exist only in an electronic format.

We should embrace the opportunity the technology offers to develop new structures for the creation and dissemination of knowledge and take back from the commercial sector some of the important functions of publication. The goal should be to devise mechanisms that allow high-impact, low-cost publications.

We must create a mechanism through which learned societies can engage in discussion of the preservation issues surrounding digitization and begin to participate in the process of choosing resources to be digitized. Unlike decisions with respect to print materials, decisions about the preservation of digital materials must be taken at the time the materials are created. Scholarly societies must be made to understand the importance of their contributing to these decisions. We must convene funders to explain to them the importance of issues affecting processes of scholarly communication.

Copyright of Intellectual Property

There should be an honest and full discussion of copyright and intellectual property issues with faculty members, who, inadvertently and otherwise, do not always respect copyright restrictions. The issues are complicated, in part because faculty members are both rights holders and users. Time, costs, and the frustrations involved in securing rights are the common factors that contribute to faculty members’ circumvention of copyright. There are differences in copyright issues for general collections and those for special and museum collections.

The educational effort about copyright might begin with professional societies. Faculty members should be informed about ways to better manage the intellectual property they create, and publishers who are parasitic on the academic community in their exploitation of this intellectual property should be identified and criticized openly.

There should be a resource for libraries and other academic organizations to consult when they work with commercial ventures so that they can learn from the experience of others, for example, regarding the licensing of their primary materials to the commercial sector. What have contracts included in the past? Are there common models?

Because digitizing is expensive, libraries may well contemplate recouping some of the costs of having digitized materials to which they hold copyright. The idea of charging for the information they provide is in conflict with the libraries’ traditional sense of themselves as sources of free access to information. But charges may be inevitable. How much can libraries charge without being perceived as unfair? And how can users be educated to the necessity of the charges?


F.1. Finding aids

F.1 (a) Advocate acceptance of the EAD standard for form and content of finding aids for collections of all genres and formats.

F.1 (b) Prepare finding aids for collections of all genres and formats and publish them on the Web; promote the expansion and maintenance of a single site for EAD metadata on the Web, the RLG Archival Resources Index.

F.1 (c) Convert existing finding aids to digital form and publish on the Web.

F.1 (d) Promote and advertise the development of software that facilitates the creation of EAD-compliant finding aids and discovery and retrieval software, making use of them convenient for scholars and students.

F.2 Primary resources for teaching and research

Promote the use of source materials in teaching and research. Collections not presently organized and described might provide useful material and challenges for seminars, even at the undergraduate level.

F.3 Role of libraries, archives, and museums

Conduct a national campaign to inform the academic community and the general public of the cultural role of libraries, archives, and museums, even in the age of digital information.

F.4 STM journal pricing

Disseminate in digest form the consequences of the STM journal pricing crisis on the humanities and social sciences in the academy.

F.5 Copyright

F.5 (a) Disseminate in digest form the consequences of the new copyright and intellectual property laws, treaties, and regulations.

F.5 (b) Promote conscious and careful management of authors’ copyrights among communities of faculty authors. Point out the advantages and possibilities of content licensing by authors rather than giving up copyrights to publishers.

F.6 Collaboration

Promote cost-effective collaboration among libraries and museums to ensure depth and redundancy in content of the logical national collections.

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