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  1. British Library

  2. California Digital Library

  3. Carnegie Mellon University

  4. Columbia University

  5. Cornell University

  6. Council on Libraries and Information Resources

  7. Dartmouth College

  8. Emory University

  9. Harvard University

  10. Indiana University

  11. Johns Hopkins University

  12. Library of Congress

  13. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  14. National Archives and Records Administration

  15. New York Public Library

  16. New York University

  17. North Carolina State University

  18. Pennsylvania State University

  19. Princeton University

  20. Rice University

  21. Stanford University

  22. University of California, Berkeley

  23. University of Chicago

  24. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

  25. University of Michigan

  26. University of Minnesota

  27. University of Pennsylvania

  28. University of Southern California

  29. University of Tennessee

  30. University of Texas at Austin

  31. University of Virginia

  32. University of Washington

  33. Yale University


  1. Online Computer Library Center

  2. Research Libraries Group

  3. Coalition for Networked Information

  4. Los Alamos National Laboratory Research Library


Please send the DLF Director your comments or suggestions.

Distributed Open Digital Library (DODL)
Realizing the Promise of Digital Libraries

DLF proposes to move digital library development to a new phase, a phase characterized by increasing contributions of content, a deeper context for sharing that content and a more robust architecture for supporting digital services through the creation of a Distributed Open Digital Library (DODL).

The Digital Library Federation has a strategic mission to foster and leverage digital library activity among its members and in consort with other allied organizations. Since its inception, it has provided leadership for digital library development, served as a catalyst in the creation of innovative information services and organizations, and provided a venue and context for learning within the profession. The time has come for DLF to extend its leadership by launching an ambitious effort to aggregate and develop a substantial corpus of research collections in the humanities and related disciplines, a corpus that will make certain kinds of research easier and richer, and will actually encourage new kinds of research and pedagogy. This initiative will result in a larger body of content of significance to humanities scholars, provided in a digital service environment that deploys innovative tools to share content and ultimately enable researchers, students, and the larger public to interact more deeply with digital content.


As stated by the DODL Initiative Committee in their May 2003 document, “Framework for a Distributed Open Digital Library,” the goals of the Distributed Open Digital Library (DODL) include:

  • To create a framework for shared digital library content, tools, and services among the DLF membership and broader community
  • To catalyze collaboration among digital library stakeholders in the development of rich content and innovative services
  • To develop an extensible architecture to leverage existing digital library assets, enable the development of layered services, and explore models for managing digital content rights in a collaborative environment
  • To generate, facilitate and evaluate use of digital library content and services among our users
  • To engage potential funding agencies in this effort

In short, DODL is intended to enable better, as well as broader, use of digital assets.


In developing a federated online library, DLF seeks to leverage the considerable investments made by its members in building a digital library infrastructure. DODL will enlist the staff expertise, technical standards, user communities, and above all the rich digital collections that DLF members have developed locally over the course of the past decade and more. Capitalizing on these core assets, DODL will develop components that, with minimal or no changes to local practices, will enable libraries with digitization plans to build them in collaboration with member libraries, and to benefit in turn from the shared collections that members contribute. DODL will simultaneously continue and enhance members’ work on tools and services to deliver, use, and repurpose digital content.

DODL will move forward on two fronts: collection development; and the enabling technology to support the services and tools that enhance research and learning. DODL will be built in phases that target near-, mid-, and long-term goals and are designed to build on rather than change existing practices.


DODL comprises three components:

  • building new digital collections
  • easing the search, discovery, and use of shared collections
  • specifying the elements of a digital library infrastructure that will enable deeper sharing of resources among and between members

Building Collections

Initially, DODL will give priority to the pooling of existing content in DLF libraries. This is in most cases humanities and related content, collections that DLF members have already converted and created for use locally and often made freely accessible beyond their domain. The pooling of existing content will enable libraries and their users to develop new, coherent bodies of content around which communities of users can work, create and test tools, and deploy them in research and teaching. The pooling of content will also allow for the identification of areas of systematic growth for future collections in subsequent phases of DODL development. DLF will engage both communities of users on campuses and relevant stakeholder groups, such as the American Council of Learned Societies and their constituent societies. Similar to the National Science Foundation’s National Science Digital Library, there will also be effort to identify and include non-DLF created content when appropriate.

Building a Finding System

In the first phase of DODL implementation, member libraries will develop a finding system to enable end-users to search distributed library content and records. This initial finding system will build on the meaningful investments made by DLF members in the creation of OAI records and harvesting activities. While a recent survey commissioned by DLF points out the fairly generic nature of OAI services to date, there is clearly an opportunity to build on these services to enhance access to DODL content for targeted communities of users. Over time, this finding system will be developed and enhanced to ensure easy search and retrieval of increasingly complex digital objects.

Building Deeper Sharing of Content

The ultimate goal of sharing content is to enable DLF libraries to present shared content seamlessly incorporated into local digital service environments. For certain digital collections, such as text and simple images, this may be relatively straightforward. For more complex digital objects, the processes for deep sharing demand more investigation before scalable, production-level methods can make them readily accessible for DODL. In the end, deep sharing will mean that the full range of DLF-created content—encoded texts (e.g. from the text centers at Virginia, Michigan, Stanford), to digital images (e.g. at Cornell, Yale, Minnesota, New York Public Library), research publications (e.g. in pre-print servers or institutional repositories at Cornell and MIT, respectively), sound recordings (Indiana), archival finding aids (Chicago), maps (Texas), and data collections (e.g. at Emory)—can be shared among libraries and used to create wholly new collections, uses, and potentially new research methodologies and pedagogical opportunities.

This is an area where interested DLF member libraries will collaborate to develop and test advanced applications to specify shareable content. Similarly, interested members will focus attention on the creation and testing of new types of user services. Those services might range from a subject portal to an archival portal, an alerting service to print-on-demand.


The DODL Initiative requires these key elements to succeed:


The development and implementation of DODL over time demands strong leadership from DLF to coordinate and integrate the many components of and contributors to the library as it grows towards its potential to advance scholarship and learning.

One of the first actions towards DODL, then, is the clear designation of leadership, someone dedicated to building partnerships, nurturing relationships with stakeholder communities, and furthering the compelling and visible case for funding. This leader will facilitate key working groups to ensure coherence in planning.

Two crucial working groups, drawn from the deep staff expertise found among DLF libraries and beyond, will address content development and the enabling technology architecture.

  • The first working group is charged with strategic planning for content development (component 1), both the pooling of existing content, and the development of systemic collection development.

  • The second working group will focus on the technology and enabling infrastructure that will support DODL and plan for its extension and deepening of sharing (components 2 and 3).

These two working groups will guide the development of technical specifications and the solicitation for participation.

Technical Specifications

Technical specification work will begin by defining the range of content that can form the seed of systematic collection development efforts. Further work will define the precise range of predictable content to go in a DLF-friendly OAI record for the finding system. Simultaneously, work will commence in defining minimum standards for sharable content, as well as the transport mechanisms that move such things as master files from an originating organization to the library or individual who needs them for a service or a project, work that will involve some research and testing. The work of specification will be guided by the two working groups and continue through all phases of DODL development.


The third element of the strategy to build DODL is the solicitation of participation from the member libraries. DODL will be as strong and deep as the pooled expertise, collections, and users of its contributing libraries. Each library will be able to identify a contribution to DODL over the span of its development and deployment, from those who are ready now to contribute content or OAI services, to those that have long-range collection development plans that will add significant new dimensions to the shared resources of DODL.


Finally, the ambitious efforts of DLF to move digital library development into a critical new stage of content creation and service delivery provides an outstanding opportunity to seek significant outside funding. The Executive Committee, Initiative Committee, and DODL leadership will begin immediately to forge a coherent fundraising strategy that will target both collection development and technology plans for major funding.


With a strategic plan for DODL in place and an initial group of member libraries prepared to begin work, implementation will begin immediately.

Phase I

  • Designation of leadership, working with the DODL Initiative Committee, to develop principles for coordination and management of DODL
  • Appointment of content development and technology working groups, each to begin work on stipulating specifications for the solicitation
  • Solicitation of participation from members for digital content and services
  • Fundraising
  • Outreach to stakeholder communities

Phase II

  • Working in small groups of collaborating libraries, collection development begins
  • Developing and testing specification for shareable content
  • Continue fundraising
  • Continued outreach to stakeholders

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Copyright © 2004 by the Digital Library Federation