The Coalition for Networked Information: Realizing the Virtual Library

Article excerpt

Last spring I attended the third meeting of a relatively new group, the Coalition for Networked Information. In an occupation whose political effectiveness is often crippled due to a penchant for internal organizational hyperactivity, it is a welcome event to see the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) come along as an organization that might truly make a difference for the field of librarianship. For this month's column, I want to share with you some reasons for my enthusiasm.

Begun in early 1990, the CNI came out of some planning discussions involving representatives from the Association of Research Libraries, CAUSE (a professional organization of academic computing center directors), and EDUCOM, a consortium of academic institutions concerned about campuswide computing with a 25-year history of recognizing the importance of libraries in the overall university information infrastructure. With an initial price of Coalition admission set at $5,000 (prescribed to be divided equally between computing and

library sub-organizations of institutions seeking membership), it has surprised everyone involved that CNI grew so fast, now numbering over 130 institutions.

Most CNI members are research universities, but there are also representatives from the commercial community (IBM, Apple, Intel, Digital, and other high-tech heavy hitters), a couple of publishers (Wiley and Elsevier), a community college member, and representation from the Association of College and Research Libraries division of ALA, and the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA). CNI has an executive director and an eight-member steering committee, but most work happens in seven informal "working groups," divided into critical topical areas for planning what many of us see as the future of publishing and libraries.

CNI AND THE NREN

At the top of CNI's agenda is garnering political support for the U.S. National Research and Education Network (NREN), the high-speed "data highway" that will restructure and significantly expand the current Internet. With the higher education-based sponsorship of the Coalition, it might appear that this political agenda is fairly narrow, but in fact NREN development is a critical issue for every library, regardless of type. Just as the interstate highway system in this country has affected urban growth, commerce, leisure time, and many other aspects of our culture, we can expect the "data highway" system to affect what information we will have easy access to, how much information will be delivered electronically, and who will pay for it. Now the National Research and Education Network may seem to be a rather arcane and abstract entity fashioned by a few technological dreamers, but in the future it will likely become a presence profoundly affecting our library operations.

THE REST OF THE CNI AGENDA

In one way or another, all the seven CNI Working Groups are advancing programs that contribute to the shape and functioning of the NREN. The groups are:

* Noncommercial Publishing

* Commercial Publishing

* Architectures and Standards

* Legislation, Codes, Policies, and Practices

* Directories and Resource information Services

* Teaching and Learning

* Management and Professional and User Education

There has necessarily been some "shakedown" time during which these groups have set their particular agendas, and last spring's CNI meeting was the first at which there was evidence of effectiveness among some of the groups. Two areas of activity in which I think there will be real impact on our libraries are the discussions on electronic publishing (carried on jointly by the Noncommercial and Commercial Publishing groups and the Architectures and Standards Group) and the work being done on professional education within the awkwardly-titled Management and Professional and User Education group. …