Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Web-Scale Library Consortia Lead the Way

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Web-Scale Library Consortia Lead the Way

Article excerpt

Last year, I wrote about the ascendance of HathiTrust as a banner initiative for broadlevel collaboration. Lately, as I have watched the trust grow, I have been thinking about how digital library development has increasingly become a hybrid proposition that demands not only technical expertise but also organizational, leadership, and collaborative skills. In some ways, what HathiTrust is trying to achieve is a logical extension of the new culture of sharing that the internet has come to symbolize; open access, shared governance, and shared codebase libraries are all taken for granted.

New collaborative skills are being minted through ventures such as HathiTrust. They are visible at the network level but are especially important at the consortial and interorganizational levels. So much collaboration might seem downright anti -competitive to the hardcore capitalist, but fear not, captains of industry: America is still a great place to turn a profit. The impetus for launching HathiTrust flowed from the mass digitization projects of Google, the Internet Archive, and the Microsoft consortium, and the focus has always been on scholarship and research, rather than profits.

More is possible when information utilities reach the web-scale zone of development. I believe that education-based projects such as HathiTrust will change library organizations and may also influence how business organizations approach shared resource management. With that in mind, in this column I will assess how our world is changing in the wake of HathiTrust's success, and then I'll offer some thoughts about whether its mission has anything to say to the commercial world.

Staking a 'Primarily Digital' Claim

In October 2011, HathiTrust held a Constitutional Convention to discuss governance and planning for the future and debated seven ballot initiatives that were advanced by consortium members. The event itself was seminal insofar as it involved so many colleges and universities, all operating with their own goals and sense of identity yet in search of common ground. In reporting on the University of California's participation, the California Digital Library stated that "Through membership in HathiTrust, the UC libraries will be able to maximize long-term access to digital content, a key element in our quest to capitalize on technological opportunities to accelerate the transition to a primarily digital environment." At first glance, that is not an earthshakingly new summary of this university's goals for the long term. But at second glance, it carries a number of important messages for scholars who work here. If we are accelerating the transition to a primarily digital environment, what will become of humanists, medievalists, and others who study artifacts in print? I don't imagine that these scholars will be abandoned, but they will need to be remembered and may require new outreach services.

Information professionals themselves have exciting times to look forward to in a primarily digital environment. Our legacy collections won't be going away anytime soon, but if our stated goal is to accentuate the digital, we may find ourselves rethinking how cataloging, preservation, and storage are handled. This in turn will affect how staff members are allocated within our organizations. We're a long way down the primarily digital road already, and the journey has included many moments of soul-searching, focus groups, and faculty outreach. That is not going to end; more likely, we will be doing much more of this strategic planning and thinking. HathiTrust, running at the network level, will play an important role in bringing change to academic libraries - which are still matrices of services as well as collections of print, digital, and other varieties of media. Given this new force for innovation, I am very encouraged by the transparency and parliamentary openness that HathiTrust has pledged to observe.

Whither the Union Catalog? …

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