day while researching, I used four different Web sites: the Making of America
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.html],
the World Lecture Hall [http://www.utexas.edu/world/lecture/],
Tenet Web: The Texas 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/].
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
and A Celebration of Women Writers [http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/].
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.org E-print
The work of individual
faculty researchers or research teams.
These are some of
the common things I saw universities and libraries doing that seem to encourage
and nourish the creation of wonderful Web resources.
The work of librarians
in digital library projects, both following their own ideas and assisting
faculty in their projects.
A Research Environment
Wendy Lougee, assistant
director for digital library initiatives at the University of Michigan
Library, and Eric Shulenberger, head of Multidisciplinary Research Development
at the University of Washington, both made a point of telling me that the
creation of educational Web sites is in many cases incidental to the real
point of the exercise, the research itself.
Even when university
libraries digitize collections specifically for dissemination on the Web,
the collections chosen usually reflect the research needs and interests
of university faculty and programs. According to Kody Janney, Digital Initiatives
coordinator at the University of Washington Libraries:
We like to focus
on strengths of the UW. For instance, we worked with the Center for Labor
Studies on the WTO History Project. We have mounted quite a lot of Seattle
and Pacific Northwest material, as that is an area of unique strength for
our institution. An example of research support is the Mt. Saint Helens
Succession Collection, which contains post-eruption photos taken of the
same site over a period of years. We are working with an archeology professor
on images from a dig. We support both research and curriculum.
The more the institution
encourages and supports research, the more useful Web sites it will likely
host. Some of the research support services are formal and campus-wide,
such as technological resources (the Texas Advanced Computing Center, for
example, or University of Tennessee's Applied Visualization Laboratory),
and assistance in grant-writing. Most of these institutions offer many
venues, formal and informal, for faculty to learn to design instructional
multimedia. Most of them also offer support with statistics and datasets,
like the University of Tennessee-Knoxville's Statistical and Computational
Many of the libraries
have digital initiative programs, where faculty can propose ideas for digital
collections and get both the funding and technical assistance to bring
them into being. [To get an idea of the extraordinary range of such projects,
the Digital Library Federation's guide to Public Access Collections at
Perhaps even more
important, though, is informal support within and across departments and
schools. On most of these campuses, each school has its own servers, system
administrators, and technical support. In many departments, faculty have
been using the Net for years; many of the most productive universities
on the Web started their online networking as part of the ARPANET and NREN
networks. That means there are enough faculty who are very comfortable
with the technologies that the idea of putting your knowledge on the Web
is pervasive, and help in doing it right at hand.
The Habit of Collaboration
In many ways, universities
are a natural place for digital projects to bloom, because faculty are
in the habit of working collaboratively with researchers in their field
at other universities or government agencies. Cross-boundary collaboration
is part of the stated mission of many projects, such as the Penn Humanities
Forum. Many Web projects at the University of Washington, which is the
largest single recipient of federal grants, are natural outgrowths of extensive
work with the Department of Defense, the U.S. Geological Survey, the National
Weather Service, and numerous other federal and state agencies. The University
of Michigan has partnered with the University of Illinois to create an
"academic Hotbot" — a search engine to retrieve material from digital libraries
— and with Cornell in the Making of America collection. [For more information
on the Open Archives Initiative Metadata Harvesting Project, check out
The University of Tennessee Center for Information Studies has a stated
mission of "building interdisciplinary research teams to bring the full
range of University research talent to bear" on "problems involving the
intersection of information technology, knowledge-based systems, and user
who often have scant respect for stupid artificial boundaries, also frequently
collaborate across disciplinary lines; in fact, some institutions actively
encourage them to do so. The sole job of Eric Shulenberger at the University
of Washington is to provide a kind of one-man "skunkworks," to help faculty
create cross-disciplinary projects, find logical research partners, and
design and seek funding for them. Among the research projects he's helped
nurture is the Urban Ecology interdisciplinary education and research Web
which draws on faculty from Forestry, Urban Planning, Geography, Public
Policy, and Computer Science.
Many research universities
have embraced a relatively new and evolving concept called a "collaboratory"
— "a center without walls, in which the nation's researchers can perform
their research without regard to geographical location — interacting with
colleagues, accessing instrumentation, sharing data and computational resources,
and accessing information in digital libraries," according to the article
by Kouzes, Myers, and Wulf that started it all ("Collaboratories: Doing
Science on the Internet" in IEEE Computer, August, 1996).
One such project
from the University of Michigan's School of Information is a Collaboratory
for Research on Electronic Work [http://www.crew.umich.edu/],
which "focuses on the design of new organizations and the technologies
of voice, data, and video communication that make them possible." This
collaboratory draws on experts in computer, information, cognitive, and
social sciences. In fact, one of its projects examines The Science of Collaboration
which plans to compile a knowledge database about the process.
The result of such
collaboration seems to be a wonderfully generative cross-fertilization
of ideas. When I spoke with Ruth Ludwin, of the University of Washington's
Seismology and Earthquake Information Center, she talked about the "loose
cannon management style" and the numerous creative partnerships it seems
to inspire. The Seismology site hosts the Volcano Research Center and the
Tsunami Research center, for instance. I was left with an impression of
UW as a vast intellectual fermentation vat, always yielding unexpected
and interesting results.
A Fast Learning Curve
It seems clear
that success on one project creates partnerships, trust, and a skills platform
that lead to new initiatives. Joe Janes, the director of the University
of Michigan's School of Library and Information Science at the time he
founded the Internet Public Library, had picked up the necessary skills
from his involvement in the UM Library's Digital Library Project, which
itself benefited from early collaboration on the JSTOR project. The University
of Iowa's Scholarly Digital Resources Center was a logical outgrowth of
the university's Information Arcade, and its Center for Electronic Resources
in African Studies also grew out of the faculty's previous partnerships
with the University Library on research proposals.
Standards and Continuity
especially in the early days, began on a kind of ad hoc basis as the project
creators were figuring out the Web, and eventually had to conform to evolving
institutional "best practice" standards. But at many institutions, the
standards and best practices came first. As early as 1991, three University
of Michigan departments — the School of Library and Information Studies,
the University Library, and the Information Technology Division — sponsored
an ongoing faculty symposium to discuss issues presented by electronic
information, including collections, user support, and funding.
Digital Library Program was an outgrowth of that symposium. Originally,
it worked in a project mode, says Wendy Lougee, but increasingly over time
it has become more focused on providing functionalities that help faculty
to create and preserve Web projects — durable formats, metadata standards,
collaboration with subject-specialist librarians, and a usability testing
process [Wendy P. Lougee, "The University of Michigan Digital Library Program:
a Retrospective on Collaboration within the Academy," Library Hi Tech,
vol. 16, no. 1, 1998, http://www.umich.edu/~gateway/policies/].
Sustainability is assumed and planned for all projects; continuous evaluation
is built in, so that projects can be improved, preserved, and migrated
to other platforms as technology changes, and so that lessons learned on
one project will incorporate into others.
A similar evolution
occurred at the University of Iowa, which created the Scholarly Digital
Resources Center "in order to go beyond collecting electronic texts to
provide a platform for creative projects in electronic text and multimedia
format" [Barbara I. Dewey and Carol Ann Hughes, "Sharing Minds: Creating
the Iowa Scholarly Digital Resources Center," Information Technology
and Libraries, vol. 18, no. 2, June 1999]. Another goal at Iowa, and
increasingly at other universities, is interoperability, enabling the user
"to easily cross the boundary between the texts on the Web and bibliographic
records in the library's online catalog without barriers...."
Most of these universities
also post guidelines for officially sponsored pages, to insure that the
pages are appropriate to the university's mission and reflect the highest
ethical and legal standards of conduct. The University of Michigan's Publishing
Policies, Guidelines, and Instructions offer an unusually thorough and
specific example [http://www.umich.edu/~gateway/policies/].
Many of the Web
sites serve multiple educational purposes. The sites:
to pass on knowledge to both their own students and to the community whose
taxes paid for the creation.
offer students an
opportunity to learn by contributing to the development of the Web site.
The Internet Public
Library is a prime example of an educational site for the general public,
providing carefully chosen, high-quality Web resources arranged by subject,
in addition to detailed subject pathfinders and what might have been the
first online reference service. But it's also a training tool, since much
of the work is done by students in what is now the School of Information
at the University of Michigan.
steer students to
quality Web resources and attempt to show them what genuine scholarship
University of Iowa's Scholarly Digital Resource Center uses Information
Arcade graduate assistants. Hired for 3 years at a time, the assistants
develop increasing expertise with both technology and information management,
while they help build projects like the CERAS collection [see above] and
the Chautauqua project, which serve a wide public. Cornell's Legal Information
Institute employs Cornell law students, who learn on the job. Tom Bruce,
co-director of the Institute, was quoted as saying, "We use students extensively
as editors. They are a tremendous source of creativity and of editorial
and substantive expertise" [Linda Myers, "CU Law Institute Web Site Has
Latest Legal Information, from Miranda to Elian," Cornell Chronicle,
April 27, 2000 http://www.news.cornell.edu/Chronicle/00/4.27.00/Legal_Info_Inst.html].
of Maryland Library provides a particularly nice example of libraries that
use their Web pages to steer students to the best resources in their fields
Each subject page points students to databases, electronic journals, subject
gateways, specialized tools, and — best of all — human resources, e.g.,
the related University departments, as well as the librarians who serve
as subject specialists for specific topics.
Grace York, of
the University of Michigan Library, says she created her impressive Internet
resources — Government Information on the Web, Statistical Resources on
the Web, and Documents in the News — "to serve as a reference tool for
my staff in answering the questions it receives, and to serve as a teaching
tool for classes" [my emphasis, "Webmastery: A Guru Named Grace," Searcher,
Public Service Mission
One of the questions
I asked the people I interviewed was, "Does your institution have a fundamental
commitment to making taxpayer-funded research widely available to citizens?"
Most of the university representatives said yes, though some of them pointed
out potential or actual conflicts with intellectual property rights, as
in the ownership of distance-education course materials prepared by individual
professors. But Jennifer Conway, Associate Director of the University of
Pennsylvania's Humanities Forum [http://humanities.sas.upenn.edu/],
= knowledge. The University of Pennsylvania, consistently ranked among
the nation's 10 universities, has a number of world-class programs for
which public outreach is fundamental: e.g., Center for Community Partnerships,
Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, Center for Bioethics, Fox Leadership
Program, Penn Humanities Forum, numerous initiatives within The Wharton
School (e.g., Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics, Lauder-Fisher
Center), the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center (e.g., Oncolink,
Institute on Aging, among many), Penn's School of Nursing, Grad. School
of Education, Law School, ... and on and on....
other university Web projects have to be regarded as pure acts of public
service, making unique university resources — documents, databases, images,
and information — available to far more people, such as the Perry-Castaneda
Library Map Collection at the University of Texas Library [http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/historical/],
and the Rutgers Alcohol Studies Database [http://www.scc.rutgers.edu/alcohol_studies/alcohol/],
formerly available only to those who visited the Center for Alcohol Studies
The Web resources
that have the best chance of long-term survival clearly are those projects
integrated with the digital library initiatives run by academic libraries.
Visit the Digital Library Federation [http://www.diglib.org/],
"a consortium of libraries and related agencies that are pioneering in
the use of electronic-information technologies to extend their collections
and services" by:
and "best practices" for digital collections and network access.
research and development in libraries' use of electronic information technology.
You can't help being
impressed by the pooled collection of planning documents on system architecture,
preservation, standards, and practices.
helping start projects
and services that libraries need but cannot develop individually.
of Michigan and Cornell are so certain of the continued joint maintenance
of the Making of America collection that the schools are creating cataloging
records for the documents in it, which any library can add to its own catalog
[Walker, Kizer, "Integrating a Free Digital Resource: The Status of Making
of America in Academic Library Collections," RLG DigiNews, February 15,
The good news is
that on many campuses, digital library initiatives are not solely the preserve
of the library but are campus-wide partnerships, funded and supported at
the highest levels of the university administration, which bodes well for
the stability of individual faculty projects operating under their auspices.
Some prime resources,
however, such as the Legal Information Institute, rely on a patchwork of
funding sources — the university, grants, partnerships, and individual
donors — which makes it more difficult to assume the long-term viability
of the Web sites in their existing, noncommercial form. Others that may
be purely personal or course-related faculty projects have been known to
vanish, like the excellent guide to SciEd resources formerly hosted on
the astronomy server at the University of Washington.
Inadequate Reward Structure
It was obvious
that everyone I talked to got great psychological rewards from their work
on the Web. That's just as well, because it's equally clear that while
librarians may advance their careers by creating digital resources, faculty
generally are not rewarded for their Web work with pay increases, promotion,
sabbaticals, or tenure.
The problem seems
to be that traditional peer-review mechanisms for research have not yet
expanded to consider resources created for or published on the Web, though
there are signs that some scholarly associations are beginning to consider
their responsibilities in this area. A new resource called MERLOT [Multimedia
Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching] has been set up
specifically to provide peer review of discipline-specific Web resources,
applying the same measures of scholarship as those applied to standard
scholarly publication [http://www.merlot.org/Home.po].
As Eric Shulenberger
told me, academic inertia is a powerful force, and until these measures
of scholarly achievement gain wide credibility, untenured scholars who
devote enormous amounts of time to the creation of Web resources, at the
expense of formal publishing, may place their careers in jeopardy [Jeffrey
S. Young, "Ever So Slowly, Colleges Start to Count Work with Technology
in Tenure Decisions," Chronicle of Higher Education, February 22,
Where Librarians Shine
I found it remarkable
that at so many research universities, librarians were there first, in
many cases as early as 1991, leading the charge to develop major digital
projects. That's because the librarians were among the first to realize
the challenge presented to the knowledge enterprise by a glut of easily
available but unvetted information, seeing the need to do for the Net what
librarians have always done for traditional resources: select, arrange,
annotate, and educate.
But perhaps the
greatest contribution of librarians to the digital enterprise has been
long-term thinking and a broad-based view of information. After all, librarians
happened to documents on microcards, music on 8-track tapes, and videos
in Betamax format. We also know that valuable information is distributed
in multiple formats that should not be mutually exclusive. From the first,
librarians have insisted on standards, on interoperability of databases,
on accessibility, on scalability, and on the maintenance and preservation
of digital records.
The great research
institutions have provided a supportive environment for the creation of
educational internet resources. But their librarians told the institutions
what needed to be done and how to do it. Let's hear it for them.