In late fall 1997, Stanley Katz, then president of the ACLS, and Deanna B. Marcum, president of CLIR, surveyed the state of affairs in scholarship, college and university teaching, and research librarianship. They concluded that sufficient experience had been amassed in the use of digital methods and sources by scholars, students, and librarians to try to derive some forecasts for future developments and directions in research librarianship. The conclusion that forecasts could be made was also based on observation of the myriad of projects and programs, initiatives, and inventions made possible by the broad and rapid distribution of digital tools and techniques over the World Wide Web. What the two presidents observed eighteen months ago was that neither a synthesis nor an overview of digital developments has yet emerged in the fields of higher education and research. They found few credible attempts to assess on a national scale what directions might be taken to ensure that librarians and scholars continue to work in the kind of synchrony which had evolved so effectively until the advent of the digital era.

In November 1997, the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation generously agreed to support a joint ACLS-CLIR effort “to consider changes in the process of scholarship and instruction that will result from the use of digital technology and to assure that libraries continue to serve the research needs of scholars.” Presidents Katz and Marcum asked 36 scholars and librarians to convene in five task forces, each devoted to one of five types of scholarly resources: visual materials; manuscript materials; audio materials; monographs and journals; area studies materials. Rather than seeking to select truly representative members for each task force, the presidents appointed knowledgeable and active practitioners, involved in the tumultuous changes wrought in these early years of the digital era and associated with one or more of the five types of scholarly resources being examined. The task forces met separately, commented via e-mail on matters arising in their meetings, and then gathered as a plenary task force for a day in June 1998 to consider threats to, and opportunities in, amassing, providing access to, and preserving collections for current and future generations of scholars, students, and citizens. The plenary session was structured as an exchange of views on four strategically interesting topics that had arisen in the preliminary discussions.

Strategic Issues

The four topics for organizing the discussion were: the use of finding aids and bibliographical resources; the growth and management of collections; infrastructure components; and copyright and intellectual property issues. Discussions in the materials task forces and in the plenary session revealed a fifth issue: the need for investment in communication and understanding, both within institutions, and among institutions throughout the realms of higher education and research. Remembering that the members of the task forces ranged in their spheres of influence from the deans, provosts, and chiefs of major research libraries who are responsible for conducting orchestras of scholarly and support efforts, to scholars, teachers, and subject specialist librarians who are the practitioners of a particular specialty, it is perhaps not surprising that views varied dramatically on what was occurring and what should be occurring. Ample time had to be invested in each meeting to allow for a full exchange of views, even among this carefully selected group of knowledgeable and active practitioners, in order to properly address the four main strategic issues.

Strategic recommendations emerging from the discussions reflected the theme of greater sharing and coordination. As the digital era unfolds, the lack of a critical mass of shared information may hinder community-wide involvement in philosophical and policy matters of real substance. Similarly, research and teaching institutions might be well advised to ensure that means are found to create within their communities, a broader awareness of advances in core functions made possible by digital techniques, so that progress in one discipline might suggest new possibilities for progress in another. Another suggestion to individual institutions and to individual scholars within them is to seek a more effective balance in the distribution of resources and responsibilities across the great divide of centralized and decentralized functions. Important advances can be made when creative solutions are linked with cost-effectiveness. Furthermore, in the present dynamic environment, institutional success may well depend upon skillful balancing of dependability in operational support systems and experimentation to improve performance.

Cultural Custodianship

One theme recurred in all the discussions: despite dire predictions of the demise of libraries and of sweeping changes in the roles of librarians, the fundamental roles and responsibilities of librarians and libraries in higher education and research remained and would persist. Moreover, for scholars who are clients of libraries and librarians, these roles and responsibilities have been expanded by new communications media and by new techniques based on information technology. One task force member identified the fundamental roles and responsibilities of research librarians as: selection and acquisition of relevant material; provision of intellectual access to such material; interpretation of information resources; distribution of information resources; and preservation of information and of information-bearing artifacts.

The trend towards collections which resemble one another to the detriment of the amassing of collections of unique material, manuscripts, archives, and rare books, was recognized as a threat to the continued success and growth of scholarship and teaching in North America. The rapidly escalating cost of purchasing journals in science, technology, and medicine is driving spending away from investments in collections in the humanities and social sciences in general and away from collections of unique materials in particular. A classic response to this problem has been cooperative or collaborative collection development across many research libraries, some ongoing and some which have recently been created. It was recognized that considerable areas of overlap among holdings are required for library collections to be of service for basic research and basic teaching. However, there was worry that this overlap was becoming so broad as to threaten the continued health of research programs.

Regardless of specific concerns, it was the shared opinion of all task force members that an effective national discussion leading to agreement on institutional assignments for in-depth collection building is needed. Furthermore, it is expected that a national collaborative collections development program would be cost effective; that is, it would produce measurable value which is many factors greater than its measurable costs. A national discussion on this need would include scholars and other readers and would cover special collections and archives in many different settings, including those in the member organizations of the Independent Research Library Association.

Parenthetically, it was noted that cooperation and collaboration within individual institutions was necessary as new programs of teaching and research proliferate. Holistic budgeting that includes resources for library collections and services to new programs would help deans and provosts see all the costs and tradeoffs before embarking on initiatives which might otherwise appear to be attractive. Holistic or full program budgeting might also help prevent the division of all-too-finite library collection budgets into slices so thin as to be useless.

Access to Collections

The North American system of bibliographic utilities is regarded as a strong base on which to continue to build for even better access. This system is based on shared development of, and consistent adherence to, standards of content and format of bibliographic records, and on free access to the vast majority of institutional catalogs and other finding aids. The ACLS-CLIR task forces agreed it is a priority to develop finding aids for materials in all formats and in all media. Renewed diligence is also needed to ensure consistency in the content and format of finding aids, even as both the range of media and the volume of data multiply, through rapid developments in the Web environment.

Given the possibility of global access to information about collections, about items, and about source materials for instruction and study, the task force members asserted that there should be new emphasis on, and encouragement for the actual use of, original materials in the arenas of critical thinking-the classrooms and seminars, the offices and labs of our research communities.

New targets for further work were identified, including national acceptance of a standard for encoded archival description, the development of mechanisms for creating and using such descriptions in a networked environment, and the development of federated mechanisms to allow discovery and retrieval of such descriptions from the global network.

Copyright and Intellectual Property

Fundamental to the respect of copyrights is knowledge of the rights of creators of content as well as those of readers and users. From the ACLS-CLIR discussions, it was apparent that while many research institutions have duly notified their scholars and students of institutional policies regarding the use of copyrighted material, such notification was not sufficient to ensure proper treatment of copyrighted materials. More education about the rights and prerogatives of scholars and others who create copyrightable material should be provided, perhaps by scholarly societies, perhaps by universities and other research institutions. Better dissemination of information about the rights of readers under the terms of the copyright law, as opposed to the interpretations of the law by various self-interested parties, is also necessary. Some task force members argued forcibly that creators of intellectual property might be better off managing their own copyrights rather than ceding them to publishers, some of whom have rapidly raised the subscription costs of journals in the sciences, technology, and medicine. It was suggested by a few that faculty sometimes circumvent copyrights and abuse fair use provisions out of pure frustration, because of the difficulty of securing reproduction rights.

The pressure on libraries to find new sources of income creates both a threat and an opportunity. The task force members were concerned, on the one hand, by the threat of narrowing access to content because of annual decreases in purchasing power and slower collections growth, and intrigued, on the other hand, by the possibilities of earning money by selling access to information or self-publishing of institutionally supported intellectual property. Since income can be generated by exploitation of publishable materials owned by research and teaching organizations, one solution to the problem of affording continuing collection development might lie in universities exploiting their own material. This raises the question of whether readers who otherwise might have had free access would face unfair barriers to access; at the very least, a public relations campaign to educate readers would be necessary. All agreed that sharing experiences in licensing materials and in self-publishing would be useful. It was also recognized that the issues which arise from selling (and re-selling) information are different from those arising from the exploitation by publication of more or less unique materials owned by institutions.

Components of Infrastructure

The discussion revealed important differences in the installed base of technical and support infrastructure among the participants’ home institutions. The question receiving the most emphasis was that of training and support for scholars so that they might more fully exploit the growing capacities of digital systems to present more materials, and of digital tools to analyze them more extensively. Ironically, as rapid advancement occurs in networked information and information technologies, distinctions among institutions widen. Small colleges and private research libraries adopt new technologies more slowly and their communities tend to lag in their awareness of change in this domain, compared to their colleagues at larger universities. Because these lags appear to be increasing, new mechanisms are required to disseminate successful approaches. Some members of the task forces expressed the view that such diversity should be appreciated, even as we take steps to ensure broader access to improvements, rather than decrying these inevitable dissimilarities.

Members of the task forces felt that parallel initiatives were necessary: one to develop a common infrastructure for easier discovery and retrieval of materials for scholarship, and another to define and operate a new system of scholarly communication based on retention of responsibility for scholarly communication by universities and scholarly societies. From the distribution of theses and dissertations on the Web to the determination of which digitally born materials need to be preserved (and by which methods), encompassing all the vast middle ground of publishing, reassertion of the role of universities and learned societies as publishers was felt to be a very good thing. A thorough takeover of the system of scholarly communication by learned societies and the universities would result in improvements in both its functioning and funding. These institutions and societies should embrace the opportunities presented by network technologies. Some good partial models of such a new system are already becoming available through publishing projects with university and learned society support.

There was concern over, if not consensus on, the need for new investments in digital resources in libraries and in tools to present and manipulate those resources from the workstations of individual scholars and students. Attention to both the human and technological components of the scholarly information infrastructure is recommended, with special regard to coping with predictable increases in the rate of change and unpredictable changes in the technologies themselves. We need to evaluate the ways in which people interact with and learn from technology and to assess learning in which there is a significant component of high technology.