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DLF Forum Hears Hopes for Collection Sharing

"DODL is back on the table."

So announced David Seaman, director of the Digital Library Federation, at the DLF's 2003 Spring Forum, May 14-16, in New York City -- the largest DLF Forum ever, with 180 registrants from the Federation's 30 partner institutions and 4 allied institutions.

DODL (pronounced "Doddle") stands for Distributed Open Digital Library, the creation of which would make digital resources of major research libraries electronically accessible in a shared, unified collection of use for scholarship and teaching. The federation's 1995 charter called for building such a collective library, Seaman said, and after years of work by DLF initiatives to foster elements of digital resource development, representatives of partner institutions recently resurrected the original, overarching goal.

"Imagine," explained Seaman, "that you are teaching the writings of the Founding Fathers, or some aspect of the Civil War, or nineteenth century American fiction, or imagine that you are a librarian crafting a collection in support of seminars on such subjects. You quickly discover, via the Internet, many relevant books, images, and manuscripts scattered across dozens of institutions. But 20 digital objects in 20 different locations cannot easily be searched together, or enriched with information and design elements of value for a local project, or dropped into desktop software that may allow annotation by the user, or subjected to linguistic or statistical analysis that the original Web site does not support, or delivered in a format (Palm Pilot, E-book) that the producer did not think useful, or used in myriad other ways." The DODL is intended to overcome such limits, providing a single access point for material in multiple collections, and enabling users to "combine those scattered objects into something new, improved, and shaped for your local needs." A distributed, open digital library, said Seaman, can "radically improve library services and achieve new efficiencies in digital library production and collection building."

A DODL Initiative Committee expects to report in the summer of 2003 on development plans. Nothing except DODL's goal is currently settled, including the name. The obstacles will be less technical than conceptual, organizational, and emotional, but contributors will get back more than they provide in materials of use to their patrons.

One questioner from the audience asked whether access restrictions on material under copyright would render the DODL just "a library of old knowledge." The seriousness of that question became evident in another major presentation at the forum. Professor James Boyle of the Duke University Law School, speaking on "Public and Private Initiatives in Copyright Reform," declared that copyright laws restrict access to almost all of twentieth century culture.

Copyright prevents huge quantities of material from being reproduced even though the authors are dead and the works are out of print, generating no commercial return to publishers. Regardless, legislation upheld by the courts has made copyright automatic and extended its protection through the life of an author plus 70 years. Only a small fraction of copyrighted material needs such protection, Boyle said. Such an inefficient and unjustifiable system, in his view, produces "invisible losses" -- the loss to the economy of "locking up" so much material, the loss to cultural creativity from "failed sharing," and the loss to teaching of material that professors fear transmitting because of vagueness in the standards defining fair use.

Remedial action is needed through initiatives both public and private, Boyle argued. Legislation could restore the once-prevalent system in which one had to apply for copyright to obtain it, and could reduce the time that copyright would apply. But because the trend is the other way, an organization called Creative Commons instead generates licenses by which authors -- those whose works pay off more in recognition and the advancement of knowledge than in financial gain -- can authorize specified kinds of uses of their copyrighted products. Also, Boyle said, librarians could seek an arrangement allowing libraries to digitize copyrighted material by paying a specified, flat fee to anyone complaining of harm to a commercial interest. Also he urged librarians to prevent "fair-use" atrophy by vigorously asserting fair-use rights in the digital realm. He called on librarians to "organize for change" and to seek creative ways to "work around" the current copyright system.

Libraries themselves have become involved in publishing by providing support for electronic journals and providing access to repositories of other scholarly materials produced electronically by university faculties. A panel on "Supporting Scholarly Publishing" dealt with electronic publication-management systems including provisions for peer review. It concluded with a proposal for collaboration within the DLF to create more open and accessible publication-management systems in connection with e-scholarship repositories.

Many other sessions provided what DLF Director Seaman called "breaking news," bringing Forum participants up to date on developments in various areas of digital library work:

  • The Bibliographic Enrichment Advisory Team at the Library of Congress is enhancing electronic catalog records with information not traditionally found in them -- with the unexpected effect of attracting users back from search engines to the library catalog.

  • OCLC's "Metadata Switch" project is constructing experimental modular services to add value to metadata, meeting needs for pulling metadata from different repositories, fusing differently formatted metadata, and disclosing it in "union" services.

  • In a project called "RedLightGreen," the Research Libraries Group is working on ways to make information in the RLG Union Catalog available to a wider Web audience, and is learning much about that audience's needs.

  • The University of Virginia is implementing its FEDORA system, which provides infrastructure for a digital repository and associated user services.

  • The University of California's Collection Management Initiative is studying the use of print and electronic journals to see how best to integrate those published in both formats -- and has discovered that opposition is low to cancellation of print versions because e-journals are "enormously popular."

  • Indiana University's Digital Library Program is studying user behavior as part of a project to use "controlled vocabularies" to enhance browsing and searching of an online photographic collection.

  • Yale University is exploring the impact of digital content on American studies courses with an eye to designing a library support infrastructure for the use of digital content in teaching.

  • The Library of Congress has put its reference service online using a reference management tool called QuestionPoint and engaging a global network of librarians in exchanging reference queries and building a global knowledge-base.

  • The University of Virginia is working with "information communities" on campus to collaborate in building information content and services, digital and traditional, for these subject-oriented groups.

  • Harvard and MIT are working on a registry for digital format representation information.

  • OCLC and RLG are organizing a working group on strategies for implementing preservation metadata in digital archiving systems.

  • The National Archives is working with other government, industry, and academic organizations on an International Standards Organization (ISO) specification for a basic subset of the Adobe Portable Document Format, known as PDF/A, to govern creation of documents that are self-contained, technologically stable, and have the basic properties that users need.

  • Cornell University is developing a risk-management approach to monitoring and evaluating changes over time in Web resources useful to the library's users but not owned or controlled by the library.

  • The University of Southern California selected a vendor for its Collection Information System through a process of possible use to others.

  • Through an E-Resource Management Initiative (ERMI), librarians at the University of Washington are working on metadata and standards for rights management in licensing and digitizing resources.

  • The Digital Knowledge Center at the Johns Hopkins University is developing a framework for large-scale digitization and processing that includes a robotic system for scanning and retrieving materials in remote facilities.

  • Units of the Stanford Library are collaborating to build a new digitization lab aimed at satisfying growing demands for digital content while also ensuring long-term preservation of both original documents and digital surrogates.

  • A project at the University of California, Berkeley, is exploring means for enhancing interoperability between libraries and educational software systems.

  • The Harvard University Library is working to streamline processes by which metadata of various kinds can be collected.

  • The research library at the Los Alamos National Laboratory is undertaking research aimed at devising solutions to barriers to the "harvesting" of metadata collections.

  • Several campuses and museums are scheduled to begin testing ARTstor, the new digital library for scholarship and education in the history of art.

  • The Beinecke Library at Yale University has developed a model for collecting and delivering digital images of a range of materials on which faculty may draw for classroom presentations.

  • The National Archives continues its development of an Electronic Records Archives capable of ingesting, preserving, and providing future access, free from dependence on specific hardware software, to vast quantities of government records, such as the 40-million e-mail records generated by the Clinton Administration.

Two "firsts" for DLF Forums occurred at the Spring 2003 meeting. The program included the first panel of vendor representatives, who explained systems for "federated searching" across digital databases. And the audience included the first four winners of DLF Forum Fellowships for librarians new to the profession. Finally, DLF Director Seaman announced at the forum that the next one will be on November 17-19 in Albuquerque, NM.

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