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LC 21: A Digital Strategy for the Library of Congress 6 THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS AND THE WORLD BEYOND ITS WALLS No library is an island. Even the isolated monastic libraries of the late antique world, clinging to handfuls of books garnered at great cost and effort, knew of a world of books beyond, cautiously lending titles or having copies made, ardently seeking additional titles by famous authorities.1 The notion of institutional collaboration was, to be sure, still weak, but its seeds are visible nonetheless. Books are meant to be read at a distance from the author’s own social setting and are meant to live beyond the moment in which they are written. Libraries exist to give homes to books as visitors to places where their authors never visited and to preserve them for readers still to arrive. Libraries extend the power of the word over time and over space. The Library of Congress (LC) looms as a totemic giant in the mythology of libraries.2 The world over, it is emblematic of the largest and most complete collection of written materials. But all know and agree that even LC is incomplete, incomplete in a thousand ways. It holds millions of titles but has no precise idea of how many books in the world it does not hold, although the number is certainly large. The greatness of the Library of Congress since the Second World War lies in the fact that it has devel- 1 See An Introduction to Divine and Human Readings, Book One, by Cassiodorus Senator (New York: Columbia University Press, 1946) for an early example of lists of library desiderata. 2 As described in Avatars of the Word: From Papyrus to Cyberspace, by James J. O’Donnell (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998), p. 30.
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LC 21: A Digital Strategy for the Library of Congress oped its own collection at the same time as it has facilitated the growth and interdependency of the worldwide collection of the treasures of human creativity. It is evidently impossible that copies of everything should ever be found in a single place—it takes an Alexandrian monarch3 or an Argentinian poet4 to imagine such things. But it is far from impossible that collections great and small will one day be so tightly interlinked by the exchange of data about their holdings that we will eventually know where and how to find a vastly larger percentage of the materials held in them. The last two generations have already seen huge progress in this regard, going back to LC’s epochal agreement to disseminate cataloging information from its holdings and now leveraged to a wider world by such widely accessible catalogs as the Research Library Group’s (RLG’s) Eureka or the Online Computer Library Center’s (OCLC’s) WorldCat. All of these real achievements pale by comparison with what can be imagined for the world of cyberspace. Far more information from far more sources can be brought together in nearly real time. The floods of new, increasingly available electronic information can be drawn together, sorted, filtered, and made usefully accessible. Such a possibility is easy to evoke but difficult to achieve. The question of achieving it strikes at the heart of the way in which the Library of Congress goes about its business. A further prefatory remark is needed here to understand the possibilities for LC. As is brought out in the preceding chapters, the materials that LC embraces are many and various and growing in diversity. For a long time, traditional library materials have formed only a part of the collection: beyond books and journals and maps, LC has been collecting advertising materials, motion pictures, and baseball cards. What all of those materials have in common, however, is their physicality, their collectibility as physical artifacts. The grandeur of LC rests on the size, variety, and value of the physical artifacts gathered there. Today, at least three additional categories of information material challenge LC’s traditional practices. This brief outline resumes some of the discussion of earlier chapters, taking care not to recommend what LC should be collecting but emphasizing the decisions and strategies required no matter what the decisions on content may be. The categories of material are as follows: Born-digital—Under this heading fall materials containing socially valuable and interesting information created in electronic form. Typi- 3 For an elaboration, see The Vanished Library, by L. Canfora (Berkeley, Calif: University of California Press, 1989). The dream of Alexandria resurfaces in the contemporary project to build a new, ambitious (but conceptually questionable) library on or near the ancient site. 4 For an elaboration, see “The Library of Babel,” by J. Borges, in his Ficciones (New York: Grove Press, 1962), pp. 79-88.
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LC 21: A Digital Strategy for the Library of Congress cally, we regard such materials as necessary either because they have no corresponding print form or, if they have one, they possess significant individuality in electronic form to merit inclusion in a serious library collection. Born-digital materials in turn fall into two categories: Artifactual: These are digital information materials that are published and distributed in ways that depend on particular physical media and artifacts—floppy disks, CD-ROMs, laser video disks, and the like. Nonartifactual: Increasingly, digital information does not appear in forms that lend themselves to physical collection by libraries. Web sites increase the number of sources where information of the highest social value may be found, but it is often functionally impossible to “acquire” a Web site—even if one copied all the public pages of a site, substantial additional bodies of material that lie behind it (e.g., databases that are accessed by commands issued from the Web pages) would not be publicly available. The quantity and quality of material available in this form can only be expected to grow in the coming years.5 Turned digital—By this phrase is meant materials that were originally created in a traditional artifactual form (usually print) but have been converted to digital media for reasons of preservation and/or access. There is already a history of cooperative activity surrounding preservation decisions (that is, decisions to change the media of presentation in order to preserve the content of the original), but this movement must now be accelerated, for two reasons: The use of electronic media for preservation has advantages in cost and accessibility over many other media (though electronic media may introduce new preservation problems of their own). Digital representations of print materials and other physical artifacts are increasingly popular when the purpose is not only preservation but also a concomitant increase in ease of access and use, particularly for rare or fragile materials. For digital materials, both “born” and “turned,” there is a nationwide and worldwide need for coordination and communication so that expensive and time-consuming projects do not duplicate other efforts. Furthermore, the results of digital preservation efforts can and should be widely shared, and for that reason turned-digital materials will quickly begin to 5 The two categories often blur into each other, as when material is deliberately published on both CD-ROM and the Web.
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LC 21: A Digital Strategy for the Library of Congress behave just as born-digital materials do. A library such as LC will presumably first digitize treasures of its own but will then wish to have access to those of other libraries (just as it makes its own available in digital form). All of the categories of cooperation and collaboration outlined above for materials born digital will thus apply here. The discussions here of collection, preservation, and cataloging all point to this end. In the world of print materials, LC’s strategy was straightforward: to leverage its statutory rights of collection (through copyright deposit) to achieve physical collections of unparalleled size and quality. In the digital realms, LC starts with many fewer advantages. The digitization of its own existing collections can give it, to be sure, tremendously rich and exciting materials for a new digital collection. But no matter how aggressively LC collects digital materials, achieving a truly universal collection will now increasingly mean recognizing that not everything can be collected, because the volume of digital information is so great. Also, many publishers and distributors of material of high value will produce material in a form that must be consulted remotely and cannot be physically added to the working collections of the Library. When physical possession is not possible or desirable, it will be all the more important that firm and secure links between LC and other stakeholders in the information community are established. If LC possesses a physical book, it can take its own steps to ensure preservation and accessibility—or even, if appropriate, to practice relative neglect—thereby making it possible for a book to be usable generations after its creation. (Some medieval manuscripts lay neglected, literally on top of storage cabinets, for as long as centuries, but they were still immediately readable on rediscovery.) Where LC possesses the original source files or identical copies, preservation will be a demanding chore. Where LC does not possess the digital source files, assurance of preservation and access will require coordination of a complicated social, legal, and economic strategy. THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS—ROLES FOR THE NEW MILLENNIUM The Library as Convenor, Coordinator, Partner, Collaborator, and Leader No library in the world has the prestige or the influence of the Library of Congress, if LC will only use it. Over the last two decades, the Library has been too little visible on the national and international stage, particularly in the digital arena. Too many of the stunning achievements of LC leadership and collaboration are now receding into the hallowed past. Moreover, it has been the case that projects and/or exhibitions of great
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LC 21: A Digital Strategy for the Library of Congress significance have not always been consistently institutionalized as ongoing services. The committee’s contacts with librarians here and abroad and with publishers have repeatedly uncovered the desire to see LC take a more active role in bringing together stakeholders in the rapidly changing world of print publishing (particularly with regard to materials whose primary consumers are not-for-profit organizations such as universities and libraries and whose primary producers are for-profit publishers) and in the emerging world of digital information (especially where not-for-profit users have a large stake in the use of the material). Indeed, the committee believes that LC’s inward focus during the past two decades has resulted in a decline of trust and confidence in the research library community in the United States. At the same time, it is important to be clear about the kind of role that LC can and should take. The vast size of its collections and its national importance to the United States do not elevate it—or any other player—above the rest of the library community. The Library should see itself as a particularly privileged, and therefore particularly responsible, partner in a wide range of conversations. The committee spoke above of the important role LC could play in establishing standards for a wide variety of infrastructural elements of the library of the future, just as it did in the past when it created the MARC record. But LC cannot dictate the outcomes of such a process to others. Rather, its true value would be to bring stakeholders together in a collaborative process that begins by identifying issues and needs that cut across broad swathes of the information community. Having done so, it should then focus on the specialized needs of less-privileged sectors of the information community and, finally, motivate that community to achieve solutions and resolutions that are fair, economical, and functional for all parties. Examples of such processes in other domains include the Congress of Vienna in 1815 and, in our own day, G7 summits. While LC and all of the other stakeholders are sobered by the realization that the outcomes of high-level summits are always debatable and never last forever (although the Congress of Vienna saw its work last almost 100 years), they can take heart from knowing that LC would participate in such conversations not as one of several hostile parties seeking influence but rather as the genuine representative of a common public good that can advance the interests of other participants in the process. A genuinely broad vision and a determined insistence on turning that vision into reality must be accompanied by a collegial, humble manner that seeks the broadest possible common good for both the users and the producers of information. The Library must recognize and genuinely respect other senior partners in these undertakings. Over the last three decades, both RLG and OCLC have emerged as serious and respected players in advancing broad
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LC 21: A Digital Strategy for the Library of Congress and reliable access to library materials. Relations among these three organizations have at times been no better than cool. RLG’s and OCLC’s joint representations to the committee suggested that they see the value and necessity of working with each other in productive ways and with LC.6 Collaboration of this sort may not prove easy for LC, because decisions taken two decades ago led to the creation of a highly successful system whereby OCLC distributes catalog records to a wide variety of libraries, and these records include the very substantial body of cataloging created by LC. The results for users have been overwhelmingly positive, however, and the cost savings to the library community extraordinary.7 Great things have been achieved by LC, OCLC, and RLG, and it is time to look to the future in a trusting and collaborative spirit. The committee also recommends that the Library reverse its tendency to become isolated and that it participate more actively in the library research community. The experience of installing the new Integrated Library System in 1999 (discussed in detail in Chapter 8) shows that even when the Library waits until a technology is well established and in use at other libraries, its size and scope make it hard to tailor the technology to the Library’s needs. The Library should look for ways to influence the technologies it will use earlier in their development cycle, ensuring that both library technology research and product development address issues of scale early on. The Library of Congress Made Visible In order to succeed, it is necessary for LC and its leaders to be seen and heard widely in the library community in the United States and abroad. It is unfortunate, although understandable, that none of the three senior officers of the Library has chosen to dedicate time to becoming heavily involved with the library community. An influential group of national librarians meets privately at the annual meeting of the International Federation of Library Associations, but the Librarian of Congress seldom attends these meetings, and his absence attracts wistful comment. 6 As presented to the committee in open session at its September 1999 meeting. OCLC and RLG have since made progress in working together by beginning to collaborate on two working documents to establish best practices for digital archiving. See the news release “RLG and OCLC Explore Digital Archiving,” March 10, 2000, at <http://www.rlg.org/pr/pr2000-oclc.html>. 7 This cost savings is estimated at $268 million annually (from the Statement of James H. Billington, The Librarian of Congress, before the Subcommittee on Legislative Appropriations, Committee on Appropriations, U.S. House of Representatives, Fiscal 2001 Budget Request, January 27, 2000).
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LC 21: A Digital Strategy for the Library of Congress The Association of Research Libraries is a respected national coordination and advocacy group headquartered in Washington, D.C., and physically proximate to the Council on Library and Information Resources, renowned for its efforts in preservation, funding, research and, now, for addressing the issues that libraries face in the digital environment. The Library needs to partner with these groups if it is seriously to advance important national information agendas. The National Science Foundation distributed funds through the 1990s for its Digital Libraries Initiative (DLI). The inclusion of LC as a partner of DLI is a promising step in the right direction, but more substantive involvement in the DLI and engagement in other, comparable initiatives need to be pursued aggressively. The Library is at a disadvantage owing to its lack of a research capability and its inability to provide significant funding for research by others, for even when it sees an opportunity it has only modest means to exert influence. Still, LC could provide small research grants to be used for cooperative efforts with others, or it could develop other means to support the needed research (e.g., sponsor visiting research fellows at LC, if such a program were in place).8 The Library of Congress must seek out, generate, and empower leaders who will be visible and influential as spokespersons for the library community and the interests of a broad range of information users. Such leadership could be credible and effective at creating the connections that the future of libraries requires.9 While the committee cannot provide an exhaustive list of specific actions that the Library should initiate, it would like to suggest one such action. The Library has a prime location on Capitol Hill—an attractive site for a speaker series (perhaps monthly) on various aspects of digital libraries. Such an event would be promoted to interested stakeholders in the Washington metropolitan area, from federal agencies and congressional staff to the library community and industry associations, which would include local information industry people and researchers. The committee is suggesting not that LC totally neglects such outreach initiatives (for its bicentennial in the year 2000, it planned a number of such 8 See Making IT Better: Expanding Information Technology Research to Meet Society’s Needs, by the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, National Research Council (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 2000) for a discussion of federal agencies with significant IT needs that have very limited internal resources to support research. Making IT Better recommends that such agencies should work more closely with the IT research community to find solutions to the problems they face. 9 One relatively economical way to enhance Library influence and authority would involve being more generous in providing travel funds to its professional librarians to participate fully in their national associations and in ongoing collaborative initiatives such as DLI.
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LC 21: A Digital Strategy for the Library of Congress BOX 6.1 Some Areas Calling for Initiative and Leadership by the Library of Congress Defining the subset of digital materials for which LC will assume long-term curatorial responsibility, thereby encouraging other institutions to make similar statements Supporting and promoting research and development efforts in digital preservation Supporting legislation to revise the copyright law so that the copying and migrating of digital information for preservation purposes become legal Encouraging the involvement of key participants from outside the traditional library and information science community in developing information management standards Coordinating metadata standards for digital materials so that cooperative cataloging is extended and transformed in the Internet context Working with authors and publishers directly to obtain metadata, so as to acquire greater coverage Representing the U.S. library community, in cooperation with other major U.S. libraries, in the international library community.1 1 One reviewer of this report wisely suggested that the meeting of the International Federation of Library Associations in Boston in August 2001 would provide an unusual opportunity for LC to raise its profile and show its leadership internationally. events) but that such initiatives need to become a more frequent and routine part of LC’s digital future.10 See Box 6.1 for some areas that call for initiative or leadership by the Library of Congress. The Library of Congress Is Not the “National Library” By U.S. law, the Library of Congress is only Congress’s library, not the nation’s. The Library’s role and function thus differ significantly from those of counterpart libraries in other countries. The argument over whether the mission of LC should be adjusted to make it more nearly a national library will continue and is beyond the scope of this report. It is important, however, to understand that a number of the Library’s func- 10 Another promising development was the Library’s high profile at the spring and fall 2000 meetings of the Coalition for Networked Information Task Force in Washington, D.C., and San Antonio, Tex., respectively.
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LC 21: A Digital Strategy for the Library of Congress tions are characteristic of the functions of a national library. These include but are not limited to the following: It serves as the national (copyright) depository library with a mission to assemble a comprehensive national collection. It is the authoritative national source of cataloging information. It de facto represents the United States in bodies and organizations where the other participants represent the national libraries of their countries. Moreover, the committee believes it is important to call attention to the way in which there will be increasing pressure for LC to function as though it could fulfill such a role. There are models elsewhere (notably the National Library of Medicine and the National Library of Canada) of information coordinated by a consortium, where a single national institution undertakes, on defined terms, to be a library of last resort and at the same time works closely with other institutions to articulate and manage a system that sends users efficiently to the physical collection most convenient to them as often as possible. If LC wishes to avoid criticism for not serving as a library of last resort, it should engage in conversations within the American and global library communities to pursue more aggressively ways and means of building catalogs and finding aids that will support the information needs of American readers and readers around the world without putting undue stress on LC. The Library of Congress and Other U.S. “National Libraries” At least three other highly respected organizations share in the functions of a national library for the United States. The National Agricultural Library (NAL) has its own domain, while the National Library of Medicine (NLM) not only takes responsibility for a significant body of the nation’s information management, but also has an extraordinary track record in its field for precisely the kind of coordination and technical innovation that the committee identifies in this report as lacking for LC (see Box 6.2). Finally, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) incorporates a crucial dimension, “the American Memory,” the archival record of American government and some of the nation’s most precious national treasures. As the committee explored the contributions that these other organizations make to the virtual national library, it was struck that the formal relations between these organizations had not resulted in more cooperation and cross-organizational learning. NAL, NLM, and NARA have important issues in common, and together they embody a national commitment to the nation’s and the world’s cultural
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LC 21: A Digital Strategy for the Library of Congress heritage and scientific present. Yet, subsidiary issues combine to leave them communicating too little with each other. In particular, the reporting line of LC is to the Congress and not to the executive branch, a fact with critical implications for how LC must be managed. This reporting line is allowed to loom too large in the thoughts of those who run these organizations. The committee recommends a regular working relationship between LC and these other organizations at multiple management levels: the organizations should not be in competition with one another. Findings and Recommendations Finding: The current transition to digital content calls for extraordinary, unprecedented collaboration and coordination. In most aspects of its work, however, the Library of Congress functions too much in isolation from its clients and peers. Recommendation: Each major unit of the Library should create an advisory council comprising members from the library, user, and service provider communities, including the private sector. The council for the Library Services unit, for example, should include scholars, general readers, research librarians, public librarians, computer service providers, and publishers. Other units would benefit as well from consultation in this form. Different units of the Library will naturally lend themselves to different configurations of advisory council. Even the Congressional Research Service, which has the closest relationship with a defined community, would benefit from such an arrangement. Finding: The Library has been too little visible on the national and international stages, particularly in the digital arena. Recommendation: The Library needs to be more proactive in bringing together stakeholders as partners in digital publishing and digital library research and development (such as the Digital Libraries Initiative). Box 6.1 articulates some specific areas in which LC should take the initiative and/or play a leading role. Recommendation: The Library of Congress needs to improve its relationships with the Online Computer Library Center and the Research Libraries Group to facilitate the collaborations that will need to take place. Regular executive meetings supplemented by ongoing staff contacts (e.g., a middle management working council) will be necessary to build cooperation.
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LC 21: A Digital Strategy for the Library of Congress BOX 6.2 Coordination and Technological Innovation at the National Library of Medicine A number of the policies and practices that the National Library of Medicine (NLM) uses to foster engagement and technological innovation within the professional community could be profitably employed by the Library of Congress and other libraries as well.1 The committee suggests not that all of the policies and practices outlined below are entirely absent at LC2 but rather that LC should carefully consider how NLM conducts business and how NLM policies and practices could be adapted for the benefit of LC. Senior-Level Oversight. A board of regents, appointed by the secretary of Health and Human Services, functions as the de facto board of directors. The board advises on all important aspects of policy relating to the NLM and is the final review body for NLM’s extramural grant programs. In-House Research and Development. NLM has two main research and development operations, the Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications (LHNCBC) and the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). In addition, NLM’s Systems Reinvention Lab speeds the transition from legacy systems to more modern computer and communications architectures and responds to customer needs with improved library products and services. Extramural Grants. The extramural programs of NLM fund projects to support research in the management and use of biomedical information. NLM also provides grants designed to improve the infrastructure essential to the modern management of biomedical information, to support training a national pool of scientists to resolve medical informatics issues (support comes as formal programs and individual fellowships), and to support the publication of important scientific information that is not commercially viable. Outside Technical Advice. Each of the two major research and development operations, LHNCBC and NCBI, has a board of scientific counselors. There is also an initial review group for extramural grants, the Biomedical Library Review Committee. For the Library Operations Division, the Literature Selection Technical Review Committee provides advice about the kinds of journals that should be incorporated into MEDLINE. Recommendation: The Library of Congress needs to develop a regular working relationship at the senior policy level with federal institutions such as the National Library of Medicine, the National Agricultural Library, the National Archives and Records Administration, and the Smithsonian Institution. Other federal agencies with related missions (such as the
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LC 21: A Digital Strategy for the Library of Congress Coordinated System of Libraries. NLM is responsible for eight regional libraries (which generally reside in medical schools) that coordinate library and information services for their geographical areas, interlibrary loan, and outreach, including outreach to public libraries. NLM also serves as the hub of the National Network of Libraries of Medicine. The eight regional libraries, 125 resource libraries, and 4,000 hospital and local libraries are connected in a collaborative fashion.3 Independent Outreach. The Friends of the National Library of Medicine, a not-for-profit organization, aims to promote the use and awareness of the NLM.4 Among its activities, the Friends sponsors an annual conference on health information infrastructure. Human Resources. The NLM employs a variety of mechanisms to obtain the expertise that it needs. In addition to hiring within the federal system, NLM hosts international visitors and predoctoral and postdoctoral fellows, employs commissioned officers of the U.S. Public Health Service, and uses personal service contracts and other contracting mechanisms extensively, especially for difficult-to-hire expertise. NLM operates the Library Associates Program to recruit new graduates of targeted advanced-degree programs. NLM senior staff reported to the committee that NLM’s cutting-edge research and development program is an important asset in attracting quality applicants, given that NLM is often unable to compete on a salary basis with private-sector employers. SOURCE: Testimony presented at the committee’s May 1999 plenary meeting, materials submitted to the committee by the NLM, and information at the NLM Web site. 1 Additional information about the National Library of Medicine may be found at <http://www.nlm.nih.gov>. 2 For example, there is the organization Friends of the Law Library of Congress. See “Among Friends: Law Library Group Holds Fall Meeting,” by Anne Mercer, in Information Bulletin, December 1999, p. 297. The Geography and Map Division has the Philip Lee Phillips Society, established to develop, enhance, and promote the collections of the division. See <http://lcweb.loc.gov/rr/geogmap/phillips.html>. 3 This network was established by the Medical Library Assistance Act of 1965. 4 See <http://www.fnlm.org> for more information. National Science Foundation and the Department of Education) might also be included. FUNDING FOR THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS For several important reasons, the committee has delayed a discussion of the funding strategies and realities of LC until just this point. It
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LC 21: A Digital Strategy for the Library of Congress was necessary to outline the directions LC ought to take, the content it needs to collect, the infrastructure it must support, and the role it must play on the national and world stages before moving to issues of funding. Too often, the tendency in managing a large federal agency is to move in the other direction: to start from the realities of funding and then to move to strategy and management questions. The committee believes that budgetary issues have loomed too large in LC’s funding strategies in recent years. Most of LC’s funding comes from annual congressional appropriation. Such appropriation typically falls in two parts: continuation of the preceding year’s funding, with some approved increment to cover ordinary expenses and mandated salary adjustments, as well as programmatic enhancements in response to specific requests. The Library is also authorized to retain its receipts from copyright registration and other services. (There are statutory restrictions on how far LC can go in generating revenue from, for example, sales in the Library bookshop. These restrictions may need to be revisited as new opportunities emerge.) The committee could not form a clear picture of how much of the conservatism inherent in the annual budget exercise is mandated by government policy and how much is a feature of LC’s management style. There are tensions. Congress is well aware that LC is Congress’s library, but the public image of LC has little to do with its congressional service role. The Congressional Research Service arm of LC is professional, well-staffed, and highly responsive to congressional needs. For all that, CRS makes relatively little direct use of the “Library” (i.e., the resources managed by Library Services and the Law Library). Congress continued to support LC generously through the 1990s, at a time when not all federal agencies with cultural missions enjoyed such support. Inevitably there is some friction between the demands of the institution and Congress’s keenly felt need to keep its own budget down.11 Today, LC is fortunate in its patrons on the Hill, but they are few. Shorter Washington careers and myriad demands on congressional attention leave less time and attention for an institution with no clear and vocal constituency. Given, moreover, the imperatives to bring the congressional budget under control, LC’s most outspoken supporters cannot responsibly call on their colleagues to write a blank check. Funding, and in particular funding increases, must be made compelling in terms that a broad range of representatives and senators can understand. The clear choice of LC’s present administration has been to support 11 “Generously” is a relative term. The Library falls under the legislative branch’s budget in the appropriations process. Because of the desire of the Congress to limit severely its own budget increases, even securing increases to cover inflation is an accomplishment. One such struggle is being played out as this report goes to press at the end of 2000.
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LC 21: A Digital Strategy for the Library of Congress the great collections and the new digital initiatives required by emphasizing outreach of several kinds: outreach to the House and Senate through targeted services, outreach to other cultures (Dr. Billington’s own scholarly eminence has led to some remarkable joint programs with other countries),12 and outreach to the broadest American educational public, the K-12 sector. In 2000, LC is benefiting from a generous allocation from the Advertising Council to publicize the Library’s 200th birthday in terms that a broad public can appreciate and support. The National Digital Library Program, discussed above, has been frank and direct in making American schoolteachers and students the primary audience. The committee views these pragmatic priorities with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it would be hard to reject the results that this political insight and acumen, this focus on certain “markets,” have won for LC in Congress. In a decade of austerities in federal agencies, LC has done remarkably well in keeping the funding it needs for core services, managing even to innovate creditably at the margins. Dr. Billington and his administration deserve high praise for these successes. In the committee’s judgment, the Library’s good reputation in the Congress (and its relative success in the appropriations process) is a direct result of Dr. Billington’s relationship building. In addition, Dr. Billington was the driving force in making fund raising an important function at LC (e.g., the Madison Council was established in 1989 and the profile and staffing of the Development Office have increased substantially during Dr. Billington’s tenure). At the same time, much is at risk in this strategy. The riches of the Library of Congress are arguably of interest to the broadest American public. However, the committee was struck—in its conversations with, for example, schoolteachers—by the way in which LC is seen as only one of many, many players in the K-12 environment, and not an especially favored one. If LC owns or creates useful material and someone—a teacher, in this example—knows about it, the material will be used. But the LC “brand name” is not yet one to conjure with in cyberspace. The 12 For example, the Russian Leadership Program was established in May 1999 to enable young, emerging leaders of the Russian Federation to see firsthand how a democratic society works at the grass roots. The 1999 program brought 2,200 Russians to 530 U.S. communities. The Congress has renewed the program for 2000. For additional information, see “Leadership Program Funded for 2000,” Information Bulletin, January 2000, p. 5. Another example is the agreement between LC and the National Library of Spain to collaborate on “Spain, the United States, and the American Frontier: Historias Paralelas (Parallel Histories).” Some of the most important materials relating to the history of Spanish expansion into North America will be made available on the Internet (see LC’s press release 00-20, “Library of Congress and National Library of Spain Sign Agreement to Collaborate on Internet Project,” February 24, 2000).
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LC 21: A Digital Strategy for the Library of Congress distinctiveness of LC and the vital contribution it has made to the American nation lie elsewhere. The committee is concerned that if the realities of the search for funding are allowed too much influence over policy, there will be insufficient attention to two areas in particular: Access to and use of collections by scholars—If schoolteachers or other members of the public consider LC’s materials to be interesting but interchangeable with those of many other sources, research scholars often consider them to be utterly unique, irreplaceable, and priceless. It is safe to say that material for tens of thousands of vital and engaging research projects possessed by LC is traditionally and necessarily difficult to access. The books and papers of LC need to be physically consulted in Washington, D.C.—a challenge for even the most fortunate of scholars and beyond the means of most. Digital technologies can and should make such materials more widely known and accessible well beyond the walls of the building where the originals are kept. But the American Memory project has emphatically and purposely not addressed the scholarly user. At most, a scholarly user will get from that project a sense of what might be worth pursuing in the collections, but the digital collections are not themselves useful as scholarly instruments. The committee believes that future digitization must keep the needs of the researcher squarely in mind. This also means using electronic tools for indexing and finding materials, especially when digitization of the primary materials is uneconomical. Metadata and preservation for digital content—The discussion of infrastructure issues in this report makes clear where there is real and unique value in LC’s participation in the digital future. Building and maintaining a consensus around standards for cataloging and other forms of metadata—the surrogates that help librarians and users alike find their way through the welter of materials a great library contains—are tasks of the greatest importance to the world of learning and indeed to all who would use library and archival materials in a creative and timely way. The archiving and preservation of digital content deserve LC’s most serious attention. But metadata and cataloging lack pizzazz, and digital preservation is scarcely better off. This is unfortunate. The committee strongly urges the Library of Congress to address the tasks it is best positioned to address, particularly those that can only be done with public funding or that arise out of its statutory responsibilities (e.g., copyright depository, support for Congress). The committee’s understanding of the mission enunciated by the Library (and as described in detail in Chapters 2 to 5) suggests that congressional funding for the
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LC 21: A Digital Strategy for the Library of Congress Library of Congress must be continued at a level that enables LC to do the following: Carry out the work of Congress as required and requested; Maintain the precious collections already in LC’s possession and make them available to users, especially scholars; Build those collections with both analog and digital materials; and Lead in the definition of digital standards and acquire, catalog, archive, and preserve the digital works that fall within the LC charter. No one should have any illusions about the price tag for this mission. There is today no easy replacement of paper with digital materials, and comparatively few cost-saving benefits will be reaped from automation per se: those days are largely over.13 (Where opportunities now arise, they go beyond the walls of any single institution, comprising, as they do, the aggressive use of networked technology to—for example—acquire goods and services online in a business-to-business setting.) We live in a time when libraries will see their missions expanded as they continue to collect and preserve analog materials while at the same time participating wholeheartedly in the digital revolution. The users of libraries—from senators to ordinary citizens to research scholars—will demand (and deserve) no less. The committee does suggest that Congress encourage LC to focus its attention on the resources and services that make it unique, even if this means making the subtler and less populist case for funding outlined above, and to put an appeal to a mass audience in second place. The committee believes that a more collaborative and interconnected Library of Congress, with partner libraries and organizations around the country actively sharing in the adventure of the digital age, would have a better claim on congressional attention for the kinds of projects recommended by the committee. Similarly, efforts to build a consensus with a broad coalition of institutions of higher education, publishers, and other stakeholders would result in better service to users and create a stronger, broader constituency. That said, congressional funding cannot be the limit of what LC needs and seeks. In the last decade there have been signal successes in private fund raising, for the National Digital Library Program in particular. The committee views those successes with both admiration and caution. How far should such fund raising compete with that of other not-for-profit 13 However, process rationalization (which would include some “automation”) might result in nontrivial cost savings at LC.
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LC 21: A Digital Strategy for the Library of Congress institutions that do not have the federal treasury behind them? Should LC approach corporations as donors or—perhaps better—as partners? The Library owns precious content that many publishers and entertainment industry producers would be happy to develop. It has reservations, however, for it has had some negative experiences with such partners. These reservations are understandable, but they should transmute not into suspicion but into a strategy for partnership. How can LC work together with the private sector to develop and communicate the riches of the Library? Insofar as LC remains committed to the business of disseminating its collections to a broad public, and in particular to schoolchildren, it should look for neither a core congressional allocation nor charitable contributions to support that commitment. Rather, LC should seek to disseminate its collections to a wider public by means of a mutually beneficial partnership with the private sector—a partnership that goes beyond the contribution of funds or equipment by using the partnership to develop the technical and marketing expertise of the Library (i.e., to effect technology transfer). To the extent that there are legal and practical restrictions on such partnerships, the committee strongly urges Congress to respond by facilitating the creative exploitation of a cultural treasure. In the end, of course, LC’s collections belong to the nation, and that fact sets limits to the rights that LC can assign to its prospective partners and thus, inevitably, to the degree of exploitation that is possible. Mission should drive funding strategy. To the extent that funding tactics begin to impinge on the basic missions of the LC, a grave risk is run, that of losing focus. If LC concentrates on what it does best and what is most important, then indeed it can afford to do some other things as well. At the moment, it appears that the Library’s language of appeal to a mass audience has created confusion, both within the organization and outside it. This cannot go on. Traditional processes can also be facilitated through the use of information technology to improve access for clients and to increase revenue. For example, the Photoduplication Service might sell its products through the Web.14 There are surely other strategic opportunities of a nontraditional kind, for example, with “portals” that would let the portals’ customers link more effectively to LC, while LC would find in such (presumably nonexclusive) arrangements an effective and essentially cost-free marketing strategy. 14 Currently, products may be ordered in person, by mail, or by fax.
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LC 21: A Digital Strategy for the Library of Congress Findings and Recommendations Finding: The Library of Congress is constrained in what it can do by its dependence on congressional funding as well as by other constraints on the ways in which its precious materials can be made better known and be more widely used by the world at large. Recommendation: The Library of Congress should address the agendas that it is best positioned to address, especially those that are likely to be achieved with public funding. The committee points out two agendas in particular: (1) developing digital collections to address the needs of researchers and (2) facilitating progress on digital preservation and metadata. Recommendation: Limitations on the Library’s ability to generate revenue from its activities should be revisited and restrictions eased, where possible, in order to facilitate mutually beneficial relationships with outside entities. It is unlikely and undesirable that such activity would become a major source of funding—and the committee cannot emphasize too strongly that such revenues should never be taken as an excuse for limiting or reducing government funding for the core missions of the Library—but room must be made for experimentation and partnership. Finding: Year-to-year operating funds and traditional capital funds will be inadequate sources of funding for new Library initiatives for the foreseeable future because the initiatives are not likely to result in significant cost savings and may well require increased funding—for instance, the National Digital Library Program adds costs and does not result in any savings because the capabilities being developed are new and do not replace any existing processes. Recommendation: Fund-raising successes with the National Digital Library Program and the Madison Council should be extended to give greater direct support for the Library’s core strategy areas. Potential funders include traditional philanthropic givers, corporate partnerships, and newly established high-tech corporations (the “dot-coms”) with an interest in the activities supported.
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LC 21: A Digital Strategy for the Library of Congress These initiatives and the enhanced relationships with traditional and nontraditional audiences alike would increase the focus and relevance of each LC unit and make LC more important to all outside organizations and the general population. External relations must be geared to more than simply raising money and generating revenue, although in the medium to long term, substantial revenues could be generated for LC even as the partners develop their businesses because of the partnership with LC.
Representative terms from entire chapter: