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Concluding Discussion


During the plenary session that concluded the conference, each participant had the opportunity to define the principal issues that had been raised and propose the next steps that need to be taken.

Academic librarians stressed the need to consider taking steps on a much larger scale than before. These steps include building the infrastructure needed to sustain digital assets and finding the permanent funding to do this. They urged that we should be thinking about building common databases, not individual Web sites, and addressing the many issues around convergence. Amalgamation is the national business trend, and cultural institutions would do well to create a “mega” Web site-something like a “” or “”-that would create a digital presence of sufficient scale to match the power and scale of commercial endeavors on the Web. As the economy is increasingly being driven by commercial knowledge creation, e-companies are acting as both creators and publishers of digital content. Cultural institutions must build relationships with the technologists, businesspeople, and legislators who so deeply affect the fate of cultural institutions in the online world. Copyright is another important issue that must be addressed directly. Historically, academic institutions have tended to duck this matter because they have been able to control access to collections. While they can build walls around collections online in some cases, copyright still severely restricts what is mounted on the Web. There is little choice in the future but to engage both rights owners and users. Another pressing concern is the long-term maintenance of digital files.

Finally, academic librarians called for more pilot projects designed to develop best practices for collaboration, to collect data on the impact of the digital environment on resource acquisitions budgets, to cost out the creation and preservation of electronic exhibitions, and to track life cycle costs of digital materials. This is a collaborative task and it will bear fruit only to the extent that we engage our primary users-students and faculty.

Public librarians agreed that a much larger scale Web presence is required-one that would include a huge array of integrated resources that could be accessed easily from a single portal. There is a need on the Web for a critical mass of digital material in support of wide-ranging research and real education for many varied audiences. Public librarians cautioned that ways must be found to make the Web available to all audiences, especially those children not well-served by the public education system. We must develop new models of service, not simply replicate of patterns of access that existed before the creation of the Web.

Art museum administrators urged broader efforts to integrate digital programs of cultural institutions with external sources of support. It is important to establish collaboration not only with important members of the business community, they argued, but also with the larger nonprofit sources of funding. As a model digitization program, art museum administrators expressed great confidence in AMICO; one administrator called it a model database and research tool, and another asserted that AMICO has already achieved much of what the conference participants had been discussing. From the administrators’ perspective, the real problem is not generating the digital images but creating the documentation that must accompany them. This, and the resolution of continuing intellectual property issues, are the most important problems to be solved.

History museum administrators pointed out the ways in which the traditional boundaries between libraries and museums are being blurred, just as the historic balance of decision-making authority within museums is being eroded. There is also a blurring of the profit/non-profit distinction, with commercial companies becoming creators of content. The result is an inescapable “commodification” of knowledge. They also stressed that the traditional audience for cultural institutions is not only expanding, but is being transformed in such a way that it is no longer possible to identify a museum audience or a library audience. The audiences are blurring, and institutions cannot maintain their traditional position as gatekeepers who can control or select their audience. If there is one thing we have learned about the Web, it is that quality is not more important than, or even as important as, ease of access. Users decide how, when, and where they will use an institution’s materials. In fact, most people do not even distinguish between a museum and a library site. They are looking for information. The academic users present underscored this notion, claiming that the important issue is not which institutions digitize which materials or on whose Web site they reside. The crucial need of academic users, both faculty and students, is to have the broadest possible access and the most powerful searching tools to locate digital resources wherever they may be found.

Costs are also a major concern. One history museum administrator reiterated his concern about the sustainability of the AMICO model, both as a continuing and reliable source of revenue and as an agency for the permanent maintenance of digital resources. History museum administrators joined their art museum colleagues, however, in stressing the need for new efforts to provide better descriptive control over collections. They also agreed that libraries need to follow the lead of museums in developing a more sophisticated attitude toward marketing and in addressing issues of intellectual property.

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