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Building Sustainable Collections of Free Third-Party Web Resources

Building Sustainable Collections of Free Third-Party Web Resources

report cover

by Louis A. Pitschmann
June 2001

Copyright 2001 by the Council on Library and Information Resources. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transcribed in any form without permission of the publisher. Requests for reproduction should be submitted to the Director of Communications at the Council on Library and Information Resources.

About the Author



  1. Introduction
1.1 Methodology
1.2 Content
1.3 Terminology
  1. Why Select Free Third-Party Web sites?

  2. Identification, Evaluation, and Selection

3.1 The Need for Web-Specific Selection Criteria
3.2 Developing Selection Policies
3.3 Collection Scope Statement
3.4 Selection Criteria

3.4.1 Context Criteria Provenance Relationship to Other Resources
3.4.2 Content Criteria Validity Accuracy Authority Uniqueness Completeness Coverage Currency Audience

3.4.3 Form/Use Feature (Accessibility) Criteria Composition and Site Organization Navigational Features Recognized Standards and Appropriate Technologies User Support Terms and Conditions Rights Legitimacy

3.4.4 Process or Technical Criteria Information Integrity Site Integrity System Integrity
  1. Access: Resource Discovery and Added-Value Functions
4.1 Resource Discovery
4.2 Added Value: Cataloging, Metadata, Search Functions
  1. Data Management: Collection Maintenance, Management, and Preservation
  2. Multilinguality

  3. User Support

  4. Human Resources: Organizational and Financial Issues

8.1 Staff Skills and Experience

8.1.1 Cataloging

8.1.2 Selection
8.1.3 Technical Support
8.1.4 Project Manager
8.1.5 Advisory Boards

8.2 Staff Training

8.3 Financial Issues

8.3.1 Staffing
8.3.2 Sustainability and Related Costs
8.3.3 Staffing Models: The Individual versus the Collaboratory Individual Initiatives Departmental Initiatives Managed Collaboration Facilitated Collaboration
  1. Future Directions: Nurturing Sustainability
  2. References

About the Author

Louis A. Pitschmann is the incoming dean of libraries at the University of Alabama. At the time of this report’s publication, he was completing a fifteen-year tenure as associate director for collection development and management at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Before that, he worked for almost a decade at the Cornell University Libraries. Mr. Pitschmann received his Ph.D. and M.L.S. from the University of Chicago. He has presented papers and written several articles on various aspects of collection development and management in research libraries.


The author wishes to acknowledge the advice offered by colleagues, especially Susan Barribeau, Jo Ann Carr, and Barbara Walden of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Michael Seadle and Amy Tracy Wells of Michigan State University, who provided important leads and suggestions in the early stages of the project. Bonnie McEwan of The Pennsylvania State University provided much welcome advice on the penultimate draft of this paper. Tim Jewell, head of collection management services at the University of Washington, and Abby Smith, director of programs at the Council on Library and Information Resources, are owed a special debt of thanks for their unfailing moral support and encouragement throughout the project. The author also wishes to thank Daniel Greenstein, director of the Digital Library Federation, without whose guidance and counsel this report would not have been possible. Most importantly, the author wishes to acknowledge his wife’s patience and understanding while this report was researched and written.


In January 2000, the Digital Library Federation (DLF) launched an informal survey to identify the major challenges confronting research libraries that use information technologies to fulfill their curatorial, scholarly, and cultural missions. With astonishing unanimity of opinion and clarity of voice, respondents pointed to digital collection development as their single greatest challenge. Whether the digital information came from a commercial publisher or from a digitization unit within the library, it seemed to exist under a cloud of profound and unsettling uncertainty. Would it be useful and useable in its present or intended form, or require additional work on the part of catalogers, systems staff, or subject bibliographers? What new demands would its availability make on library reference staff? What level of continued investment would be necessary to ensure its accessibility on current hardware and software?

The survey also revealed that leading research libraries had learned a great deal about their digital collections through experience. Though substantial, that learning had rarely been expressed outside the collection policies, working papers, and implementation guidelines that libraries create to coordinate and manage their collection development efforts. Accordingly, in April 2000, the DLF commissioned three reports to address broader concerns about digital collections. The three reports deal respectively with commercial electronic content, digital materials created from library holdings, and Web-based “gateways” that link to selected Internet resources in the public domain. The reports mark a starting point for what we hope will emerge as an evolving publication series.

Working to a common outline and based on learned experience, the authors demonstrate how decisions taken by a library when acquiring (or creating) electronic information influence how, at what cost, and by whom the information will be used, maintained, and supported. By assembling and reviewing current practice, the reports aim where possible to document effective practices. In most cases, they are able at least to articulate the strategic questions that libraries will want to address when planning their digital collections.

In this report, Louis Pitschmann deals with the widespread practice of listing “useful” Internet resources. Variously billed as subject gateways, Internet resource guides, and “related Internet resources,” these inventories appear on library Web pages across the country. Their construction has become a cottage industry, often fuelled by the voluntary and devoted effort of individuals who have taken it upon themselves to identify and catalog worthy resources that occupy some definable segment of the World Wide Web. The redundancy involved in this work is as substantial as its long-term hidden costs. The author’s treatment of the practice is critical, yet fair. He has few doubts about the value that such Internet resource guides offer to library users. At the same time, he asks searching questions about whether they may be developed and maintained outside the mainstream of collection development efforts and without the resources that typically support such efforts. Drawing extensively on evolving international experience, Mr. Pitschmann’s work is essential for any institution that seeks to build its collection in part through reference to “free” Internet resources.

Daniel Greenstein
Director, Digital Library Federation

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