:: Digital Libraries Columns


Library Journal "Digital Libraries" Columns 1997-2007, Roy Tennant

Please note: these columns are an archive of my Library Journal column from 1997-2007. They have not been altered in content, so please keep in mind some of this content will be out of date. :: Digital Libraries Columns

The Digital Library Federation


   It was the beginning of February 2000, and although Daniel Greenstein
   had been traveling for weeks, he was only halfway through his
   itinerary. As the new (as of 12/1/99) executive director of the Digital
   Library Federation (DLF), Greenstein was on a whistle-stop tour of all
   of the federation's 23 organizational members, from one U.S. coast to
   the other. One would expect someone with such an arduous travel
   schedule to be tired, but he exhibited no such symptoms as he
   animatedly discussed the DLF and how it may be able to help its members
   solve digital library problems.

   His British accent hearkens back to his recent position as director of
   the Arts and Humanities Data Service in the UK, where he demonstrated a
   clear grasp of pressing digital library issues and the ability and
   energy to do something about them. For example, the AHDS publication
   that he coauthored, "Managing Digital Collections: AHDS Policies,
   Standards and Practices," exhibits a well-developed sense of what it
   means to create and manage digital collections over time.

   In undertaking this whirlwind tour of the United States, Greenstein had
   also demonstrated that he understands the essential purpose of the DLF
   -- to serve its membership by helping to solve pressing digital library
   problems. In his presentation to members he has identified four key
     * Identify tomorrow's opportunities today.
     * Leverage shared investment in research and development on the
       leading edge.
     * Disseminate information, raise awareness about, and propagate use
       of policies, standards, practices, and tools that will govern the
       American national digital library.
     * Incubate innovative information services.

   One purpose of his tour was to confirm those key objectives with the
   membership. Also, he was gathering input regarding which program areas
   the DLF should be active in, how well communication occurs between the
   DLF and its members, and whether it is organized appropriately to
   achieve its aims.

   Among the DLF membership are 23 "partners," which are mostly large
   research libraries such as Harvard and University of California at
   Berkeley, as well as organizations like the Council on Library and
   Information Resources (CLIR) and governmental entities like the Library
   of Congress. Participating institutions each contribute $19,000
   annually toward the operating costs and $25,000 over five years to a
   capital fund.

   Each participating organization has a seat -- usually filled by its
   executive officer -- on the steering committee. In addition, the DLF
   includes "allies" such as OCLC and the Coalition for Networked
   Information that sit on the steering committee but lack a vote (and
   don't pay dues). Membership dues help support the two full-time paid
   staff members (including Greenstein). CLIR provides a home (both
   digital and actual) for the federation.

   A brief history

   The DLF was formed as the National Digital Library Federation on May 1,
   1995 by a group of 16 large research libraries, organizations, and
   government agencies. The stated purpose was to "bring together -- from
   across the nation and beyond -- digitized materials that will be made
   accessible to students, scholars, and citizens everywhere and that
   document the building and dynamics of America's heritage and cultures."
   Recently "National" was dropped from the title, but the DLF remains
   U.S.-centric in membership and focus.

   The NDLF Planning Task Force Final Report in June 1996 advised the
   creation of an organizational infrastructure and described several
   areas of activity. The areas defined as being the "business" of the
   federation at that point included discovery and retrieval, intellectual
   property rights and economic models, and archiving of digital
   information. In 1999 the DLF launched a publication series, with two
   titles now published in print and on the web.

   Present initiatives

   The DLF is now brokering an expanded list of areas of interest
   classified under the headings of discipline-based activities, access
   management, digital archiving, discovery and retrieval (metadata),
   digital imaging, and digital library architecture. A couple of key
   projects under these categories are the Making of America II project
   and the Digital Certificate Prototype.

   The Making of America II project aims to develop a method and syntax
   for encoding complex digital objects in a standard way, so that objects
   from different repositories can be used transparently by the same
   access tool or method. For example, if two different libraries digitize
   a diary in their collections, it should be possible for the same access
   method to retrieve and display the individual page images and
   transcriptions from those diaries as if they were in the same
   collection. To do this, there must be encoding standards that can
   "encapsulate" the various pieces of a digital object in an intelligent
   (and open) way. Five DLF library members are collaborating on this

   The Digital Certificate Prototype aims to develop and test a protocol
   that enables a commercial resource provider to verify that a user is a
   legitimate patron of a library that has licensed the resource. Such a
   protocol is required, for example, to enable library patrons to access
   licensed library databases from home without the problems associated
   with other kinds of authentication (e.g., IP filtering, proxies). Key
   DLF participants in this effort include the California Digital Library,
   Columbia University, JSTOR, and OCLC.

   Future directions

   Despite some success in certain specific areas, the DLF has not been
   known for sweeping and decisive action. As is the case with many large
   membership organizations, the process of reaching consensus before
   taking action can hinder progress. The DLF has been chartered for
   nearly five years, with little of demonstrable significance achieved.
   The interests of the various players are often too divergent -- ranging
   from private universities to public ones to public libraries -- to lead
   to any clear, unanimous mandate, and the institutional culture of some
   of the participating institutions can further hamper collaboration.

   But it appears that Greenstein has a plan. Rather than trying to
   achieve an unattainable consensus, he may use the DLF to identify key
   challenges, bring together the members that wish to address those
   challenges, and help develop collaborative solutions. In working this
   way, no consensus is required, and only those organizations that wish
   to work on a problem need to be involved. All indications are that this
   go-getter from across the pond is just what the DLF needs.

                                  LINK LIST

                                          Arts and Humanities Data Service
                          The Council on Library and Information Resources
                                             Digital Certificate Prototype
                                                Digital Library Federation
                                                          DLF Publications
                                                      Making of America II
      Managing Digital Collections: AHDS Policies, Standards and Practices

              The NCSTRL Approach to NDLF Planning Task Force Final Report