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DLF draft strategy and business plan

Public version 2.0
D Greenstein
25 September 2000


  1. Aims
  2. Current program areas
    1. Digital library architectures, technologies, systems, and tools
    2. Digital collections
    3. Use, users, user support, and user services
    4. Digital preservation
    5. Standards and practices
    6. Institutional roles and responsibilities of the 21st century digital library
  3. Organization
    1. Office of the Director
    2. Executive committee
    3. Board of Trustees
    4. Informal advisory groups
    5. DLF initiatives
    6. DLF Forums
  4. Communication
  5. Resources

1. Aims

The Digital Library Federation (DLF) is a consortium of research libraries that are transforming themselves and their institutional roles by exploiting network and digital technologies. By working together they leverage their collective reputations, investments, and research and development capacities in order to:

  • share and evaluate information about digital library tools, methods, practices, trends, and strategies;
  • stimulate and share in the conduct of necessary digital library research and development;
  • respond quickly and effectively to digital library challenges as they arise;
  • exercise some influence for the library community over a rapidly changing information landscape;
  • act as a catalyst in the development of innovative information services and organizations, and as an agent of learning for the profession;
  • attract investment in essential digital library research and development activities; and
  • build a community of professionals appropriate to the development of digital libraries.

The Federation is a leadership organization operating under the umbrella of the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). Its members manage and operate digital libraries.

DLF require a common understanding of what a digital library is. The DLF's initial working definition of a digital library is as follows:

"Digital libraries are organizations that provide the resources, including the specialized staff, to select, structure, offer intellectual access to, interpret, distribute, preserve the integrity of, and ensure the persistence over time of collections of digital works so that they are readily and economically available for use by a defined community or set of communities."

Of course, the concept of digital library has multiple senses that one might invoke in various contexts. Accordingly, the definition has been extended or at least qualified as follows with reference to the functions that are increasingly becoming associated with the digital library as it constructs online environments through which it delivers its various services and collections.

The digital library extends the breadth and scale of scholarly and cultural evidence and supports innovative research and life-long learning. To do this, it mediates between diverse and distributed information resources on the one hand and a changing range of user communities on the other. In this capacity, it establishes "a digital library service environment" - that is, a networked, online information space in which users can discover, locate, acquire access to and, increasingly, use information. Although access paths will vary depending upon the resource in question, the digital library service environment makes no distinctions among information formats. Books, journals, paper-based archives, video, film, and sound recordings are as visible in the digital library service environment as are online catalogs, finding aids, abstract and indexing services, e-journal and e-print services, digitized collections, geographic information systems, Internet resources, and other "electronic" holdings.

In constructing a digital library service environment, the library becomes responsible for configuring access to a world of information of which it owns or manages only a part. Accordingly, the digital library is known less for the extent and nature of the collections it owns than for the networked information space it defines through a range of online services. In the world of commercial publishing, aggregators compete on the basis of the value-added services that they layer on top of overlapping electronic collections. Similarly, digital libraries establish their distinctive identities, serve their user communities, emphasize their owned collections, and promote their unique institutional objectives by the way in which they disclose, provide access to, and support the use of their increasingly virtual collections.

The digital library service environment is not simply about access to and use of information. It also supports the full range of administrative, business and curatorial functions required by the library to manage, administer, monitor engagement with, and ensure fair use of its collections whether in digital or non-digital formats, whether located locally or off site. The digital library service environment integrates (and interfaces with) information repositories that are characterized by open-access shelving, high-density book stores and availability via inter-library loan, and include data services and digital archival repositories. It manages information about collections and items within collections often throughout their entire life cycle. It incorporates patron, lending, and other databases, and integrates appropriate procedures for user registration, authentication, authorization, and fee-transaction processing. The digital library service environment may also evolve into a networked learning space, providing access to and a curatorial home for distance and life-long learning materials. The digital library service environment is, in sum, an electronic information space that supports very different views and very different uses of the library. It is designed for the library's patrons as well as for its professional staff and with an eye on the needs and capacities of those who supply it with information content and systems. It is built in the full knowledge that information technologies will continue to change rapidly as will our understanding of how they may be used effectively to support education and cultural engagement. Finally it evolves as the library's single most important core service and as such is developed with a view to its financial and organizational sustainability.

2. Current program areas

The DLF focuses its R&D, information sharing, and catalytic activities in areas of particularly pressing concern to the digital library. At present, it is active in six areas but its emphasis is expected to change to keep pace with the digital library's evolving interests and needs. The current program areas are introduced briefly below.

2.1. Digital library architectures, technologies, systems and tools

Working within this area, members pool otherwise limited research and development capacity to:

  • define, clarify, and develop prototypes for digital library systems and system components;
  • scan the larger technical environment for potentially important trends and practices;
  • encourage technology transfer and information sharing between and among DLF members and between the DLF and appropriate commercial and industrial sectors; and
  • communicate technical directions and accomplishments of the DLF to a wider audience.

2.2. Digital collections

In the digital library collections are transformed through the integration of new formats, licensed (as opposed to owned) content, and third-party information over which the library has little or no direct curatorial control. Collection development strategies and practices are not yet fully developed to take account of these changing circumstances nor are their legal, organizational, and business implications fully understood. The DLF accordingly seeks to:

  • identify, evaluate and, where necessary, develop collection strategies and practices that are appropriate for the digital library and assess the legal, organizational, and business implications of these strategies;
  • prepare guidelines and other informational materials that help inform local collection development decision; and
  • encourage the development of new kinds of scholarly collections that take full advantage of computer and network technologies.

2.3. Use, users, user support, and user services

In a digital library, how information is made, assembled into collections, and presented online affects whether, to what extent, and how it can be used. The DLF is committed to expanding its program into this new and vitally important area and considering initiatives which promise to help libraries:

  • engage more effectively with user communities as a means of building better, more useful, and more useable collections and services;
  • provide data about users and their behavior in online environments as a means of informing the development of digital library collections and services;
  • build sustainable user support services that encourage use and are appropriate to our evolving digital library service environments.

2.4. Digital preservation

Building on the work of the Commission on Preservation and Access (CPA), CLIR and the DLF remain committed to maintaining long-term access to the digital intellectual and scholarly record. They have a particular interest in:

  • encouraging initiatives that result in some practical experience of digital preservation;
  • developing and working within a framework that allows such initiatives to document, compare, and evaluate their experiences;
  • continuing research and development in the most poorly understood areas associated with digital preservation including, for example:
    • strategies and practices appropriate for preserving digital film, video, and audio and
    • estimating costs of digital preservation and assessing the value of the digital record.

2.5. Standards and practices

Here the DLF seeks to share information about the standards and practices that are used to create, manage, and disseminate those digital information resources with which digital libraries typically come into contact. It will review these practices from the digital library's unique perspective that naturally places an emphasis, for example, on interoperability, long-term management, and the use and re-purposing of digital content. Through its review, the DLF will where possible identify, document, and promote adoption of "good", "best", and "benchmark" practices with a view to:

  • encouraging greater interoperability and exchange of digital collections;
  • facilitating long-term access to such collections; and
  • exercising some influence over the behavior of third-party data suppliers.

2.6. Institutional roles and responsibilities of the 21st century digital library

With CLIR, the DLF shares an interest in helping libraries promote themselves within their own institutions and to the communities they serve. As libraries migrate collections and services into a networked environment, that activity entails developing a literature targeting specific communities that have some stake in the library's future that inform those communities, for example, about the distinctive educational and cultural value of those collections and services and the real cost, legal ramifications and organizational requirements of such collections and services. Working within this program area CLIR and the DLF are:

  • undertaking a detailed survey that will provide important baseline data about the organizational, financial, and legal contexts in which digital libraries are beginning to emerge, focusing in particular on libraries in higher education;
  • developing position papers targeting university presidents and provosts of universities and liberal arts colleges, documenting key digital library challenges and demonstrating their relevance to university mission; and
  • identifying other key stakeholding communities that shape the landscapes in which digital libraries develop, assessing their interests and motivations, and preparing a targeted literature for those communities that documents the digital library's significance and its issues.

3. Organization

The DLF is a membership organization with two categories of member: partners and allies. Partners contribute $20,000 annually toward the DLF's operating costs and pledge $25,000 over five years towards a capital fund. They have a seat on the DLF Board and the opportunity to shape and help develop the DLF's program through a variety of R&D, information sharing, and catalytic initiatives. They are also invited to send staff to the bi-annual DLF Forum. Allies typically work in proximate areas and a senior officer of each allied organization sits on the DLF Board "with voice, but without vote."

Although a membership organization, the DLF is a program of CLIR, and is subject ultimately to the governance of the CLIR Board. As a "federation," DLF is a consortium intended to have a limited central organization. At this stage, DLF has a structure with essentially six components: the Office of the Director, an Executive Committee, a Board of Trustees, advisory groups, DLF initiatives, and the DLF Forum.

3.1. Office of the Director

The office consists of the Director, a small support staff and the various support structures that CLIR provides. It is responsible for setting the goals and direction of the Federation, managing the program activities and finances of the DLF, supporting information sharing amongst the DLF members, communicating about the DLF and its activities to the broader community, and establishing external alliances. The office benefits substantially from work of CLIR/DLF Distinguished Fellows - senior information professionals who, with support from CLIR and the DLF, are encouraged to pursue research or lead catalytic initiatives in areas of mutual interest.

3.2. Executive committee

The Executive Committee advises the Director on policy and other strategic matters as they arise. It consists of a small number of Directors of institutions participating in the DLF as Strategic Partners and is convened virtually as need dictates.

3.3. Board of Trustees

The DLF Board is the governing body of the DLF. It meets up to three times a year and provides oversight for the DLF program activity and initiatives. The Board consists of the Directors of those institutions participating as Strategic Partners. It also includes the President of CLIR and, ex officio, the Director of the DLF. Representatives of allied institutions participate in the Steering Committee with a voice but no vote.

3.4. Informal advisory groups

Informal advisory groups may be convened by the Director to advise on initiatives or program areas. They will comprise experts drawn from DLF and other institutions and help to articulate and prioritize need for research, development, and information sharing within those areas. They may also take a role in initiating consulting on and reviewing the work conducted by any DLF initiatives undertaken within those areas and communicating their accomplishments to DLF members and a wider audience.

3.5. DLF initiatives

DLF initiatives are the principle source of the organization's shared investigative, information-sharing, and catalytic activities. Typically, they comprise a small number of professionals and experts who collaborate as a means of addressing key challenges that each confronts within his or her own institution.

3.6. DLF Forums

Forums are convened periodically and include a number of professionals from each of the member institutions. They serve as meeting places, market places, and congresses. As meeting places they provide an opportunity for the Board, advisory groups, and initiatives to conduct their business and to present their work to the broader membership. As market places, they provide an opportunity for member organizations to share experiences and practices with one another and in this respect support a broader level of information sharing between professional staff. As congresses, Forums provide an opportunity for the DLF to continually review and assess its programs and its progress with input from the broader membership.

4. Communication

Effective communications are vital to the DLF. They ensure that its program and program priorities respond to members' needs and interests. They form the bedrock upon which effective and meaningful collaboration is built. They enable the DLF to inform its members and the broader library community about the strategies, technologies, organizational mechanisms and legal and business issues that have a direct bearing on the development and cost effective maintenance of high-quality digital library services and collections. Communications are also essential to the DLF as it seeks to communicate its work to the broader library community and act as a catalyst in the development of new information services and organizations, and as an agent of learning for the profession.

At present, the DLF's communications infrastructure includes:

  • a network of electronic mailing lists;
  • a quarterly newsletter which reports the progress of DLF initiatives to the members and through which, members report to one another on their own digital library developments;
  • online registries comprising information about (a) members' web-accessible public domain, digitized collections and (b) policies, strategies, working papers, standards and other application guidelines, and technical documentation developed by DLF members to inform or reflect upon their digital library development activities;
  • bi-annual DLF Forums; and
  • publications that report on DLF initiatives and on the proceedings of the DLF Forum.

5. Resources

DLF funds derive primarily from members' subscriptions and capital contributions. Funds are expended to maintain the Office of the Director and the DLF Forum, to support the work of informal advisory groups, and crucially, the DLF initiatives. With regard to initiatives, funding may be allocated with a view to attracting co-investment from institutions that participate in them and from external funding agencies. Prospects for increasing funds available to the DLF through external funding and through increased membership are kept continuously under review by the Office of the Director and the Board of Trustees.

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