Doing It Right: How Some Universities Encourage the Creation of Prime Research Web Sites

By Block, Marylaine | Searcher, September 2002 | Go to article overview

Doing It Right: How Some Universities Encourage the Creation of Prime Research Web Sites


Block, Marylaine, Searcher


One day while researching, I used four different Web sites: the Making of America collection [http://moa.umdl.umich.edu/], the Internet Public Library [http://ipl.org/], Statistical Resources on the Web [http://www.lib.umich.edu/govdocs/stats.html], and Documents in the News [http://www.lib.umich.edu/govdocs/docnews.html]. Suddenly it struck me that all of these prime resources, and more, came from just one institution, the University of Michigan, three from the library and one from the SILS (library school) program. Wow!

I wondered if any other universities or university libraries could boast of anywhere near as many useful resources, but when I went hunting, I found many others fully as remarkable. The University of Texas, for instance, harbors the Perry-Castaneda Library Map Collection [http://www.lib.utexas.edu/Libs/PCL/Map_collection/Map_collection.htm l], the World Lecture Hall [http://www.utexas.edu/world/lecture/], Tenet Web: TheTexas Education Network [http://www.tenet.edu/], and a host of Digital Library Projects. The University of Tennessee-Knoxville site hosts Dr. George Hoemann's comprehensive American Civil War page [http://sunsite.utk.edu/civil-war/], the Mathematics Archives [http://archives.math.utk.edu/], and the library's digital projects, including the Great Smoky Mountains Regional Project [http://www.lib.utk.edu/refs/smokies/].

Cornell University's site is home to many important digital collections, including the invaluable Legal Information Institute [http://www.law.cornell.edu/], Computer Science Technical Reports [http://encompass.library.cornell.edu:8081/], Core Historical Literature in Agriculture [http://cdl.library.cornell.edu/chla/], and its own half of the Making of America Project [http://moa.cit.cornell.edu/moa/]. The University of Pennsylvania hosts a number of sites, including the Penn Humanities Forum [http://humanities.sas.upenn.edu/], the African Studies Multimedia Archives [http://www.sas.upenn/edu/African_Studies/Home_Page/GIF_Images.html], and Oncolink [http://oncolink.upenn.edu/], while its library offers such digital projects as the On-Line Books Page [http://digital.library.upenn.edu/books/] and A Celebration of Women Writers [http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/].

The University of Washington offers a gold mine of useful Web sites, such as the Seismology and Earthquake Information Center [http://www.geophys.washington.edu/SEIS/], the Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine page [http://www.orthop.washington.edu/], and the Polar Science Center [http:///psc.apl.washington.edu/]. Meanwhile, the UW Library operates a Digital Initiatives Program [http://content.lib.washington.edu/] that "works with faculty members to create online collections of interest and value," such as the Cities and Buildings Database, the American Indians of the Pacific Northwest collection, and papers and documents related to the World Trade Organization protests.

How Do They Do That?

When a university produces one or two really good Web sites, it may simply mean the institution has a couple of really talented people on its staff, provides the server space for their work, and stays out of their way. When a university's Web server hosts dozens of outstanding resources, however, you have to think the university itself is doing something very right. I set out to find out what that was.

After reading innumerable "about this project" pages and articles on the creation of digital library resources, I interviewed creators of the Web sites and talked to digital library project directors and campus administrators. I learned that projects came in three flavors:

* The work of lone individuals who carry their work with them when they move on, like the On-Line Books page, which moved with its creator, John Mark Ockerbloom, from Carnegie-Mellon to the library at Penn, and the Physics Preprint Server, started in 1991 and formerly hosted by Los Alamos National Laboratory, and acquired by Cornell in September 2001, where it is now known as the ArXiv. …

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