Magazine article Computers in Libraries

My Three Wishes for Digital Repositories

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

My Three Wishes for Digital Repositories

Article excerpt

My interest in digital repositories goes back to the dim and venerable year of 1997. At that time, research libraries were already pretty far along in exploring standardized general markup language (SGML) and Web-based solutions to information management. Flat-file UNIX databases running on CGI had emerged as a terrific way to build resources, because they presented a comparatively low hurdle to getting things up and running. There was a growing awareness that our user communities really wanted solid scholarship on the Web and that it was possible to gain their "attention" by quickly rolling out new repositories. The more proactive among us started homesteading a new role for the digital library with "born-digital" resources. Basically, it was records management on steroids in business firms; at universities, it was a whole new "hook" for involving the faculty, not to mention raising funds for new library initiatives.


Fast-forward a few years, and we see that we've come a long way. The Open Archive Initiative led to applications like the Online Archive of California (OAC), which offers access to high-quality collections of text, image, and sound files. The OAC is not the only show going, but it's a popular one, as witnessed by New Mexico's adoption of its architecture. Another local initiative, the California Digital Library's eScholarship program, took flight and grew quickly. As an early adopter, the library I manage jumped in and pitched the repository to the faculty at Berkeley, with great results. We now oversee four working paper series that grow in spurts and starts, and we've digitized a full run of our flagship series. The staff members have also offered "information counsel" to other journals published by this institute. It's a great thing to practice what you preach--all the while playing the role of expert consultant in areas where smart people can safely be assumed to be clueless. Plus, it worked: One of our prestigious law journals, California Public Employee Relations, adopted e-commerce to sell its print editions. It also sells a digital version via the Berkeley Electronic Press (

Everything's going just great, right? Not so fast: Yes, the profession has gained ground in digital repository management, and those skills are becoming more widespread. But I see an overall environment where digital librarians excel in the predictable ways like metadata creation, quality standards, and finding aids--certainly achievements we can be proud of. Yet at the same time, I also see a shortfall in the "vision" department. I can find three areas within the sphere of digital repositories that need work. The first two pertain to information architecture, while the last one pertains to taking action. And action is important, because digital repositories will play a central role in research environments. How we integrate (or fail to integrate) them into our information ecologies will be instructive as a test of how much we can grow--not only in collection development skills, but also in access strategies. So here are my three wishes.

Bridge the Archipelagoes

Many of us are lucky enough to work for libraries that maintain top-notch Web sites. A good library Web site is a gateway to any sphere of knowledge. The University of California-Berkeley's Library Web ( is as good an example as any, and it has a lot of company at peer institutions. However, there's one thing we do not see enough of, as far as I'm concerned. We need to see far more integration of born-digital, or "built" content with traditional library collections and services. As Marshall Breeding recently pointed out (see CIL, January 2005, p. 28), integrated library systems could do more of this, but they are playing catch-up in the design process. Until the ILS or other utilities can offer a better approach for linking all e-resources together, our best tool is the library Web site itself. …

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