Economics and Usage of Digital Libraries: Byting the BulletSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
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14. Building and Using Digital Libraries
The forces that converged in the 1990's were extraordinary in loosening the physical and temporal constraints on information. Technology tools and capacity grew rapidly. Network infrastructure became more robust. Information in digital form—both converted and born digital—came online in unprecedented volume and with new functionality. The impact on library organizations and their users was significant, yet far from straightforward. The volatile mix of digital resources, organizations, and individual behaviors set in motion shifts in expectations, in roles of stakeholders, and in the distribution of costs. The authors in this section explore, through project and program descriptions, the experiences of exemplary digital library development.
In his paper, JSTOR's Kevin Guthrie notes that old metrics, methods, and intuition are not reliable guides for our sense of value in evaluating digital libraries. Projects featured, such as JSTOR, Early Canadiana Online (Kingma) and Columbia University's Online Books (Kantor, Summerfield, and Mandel) drive home the changing notions of value. These studies document the increased access to information that is realized through digital content, and also shed light on the potential that is created for reduced costs, new research capability, and innovation. As Kantor points out, there is also a symbolic utility. Digital libraries may not always perform as hoped; nonetheless, they have significant utility. Digital libraries, despite early clumsiness, have stimulated considerable user interest and exploration.
The realization of digital potential within library contexts is captured here in the organizational descriptions of Drexel University (Montgomery), University of Louisville (Rader), and British Telecommunications (Alsmeyer). Notably, the capabilities of digital libraries prompted these organizations to rethink the existing configuration of resources and shift focus to new user services. Although libraries may realize cost savings, there are also new costs associated with technology infrastructure and more expert staff. Mission-based questions also arise as digital libraries take shape. Do libraries still have an archival role if publishers manage digital collections? Can or should libraries add value to the provision of intellectual access that publishers offer to their digital content? In the disintermediated context of online resources, how (and by whom) are users supported? As several authors note, users are not uniformly able nor ready to exploit the capabilities of digital media, so the library's instructional and outreach roles may become far more critical.
The descriptions presented also suggest unfolding tensions between stakeholders. Libraries and publishers have yet to agree on policies governing digital content related to resource sharing, course environments, and archives. While users and libraries may derive new value from digital content, publisher arguments for increased costs are seldom acceptable to the library community. Tensions are also evident between libraries and their users. At a time of constrained or modest growth in resources, libraries are often unable to meet user expectations for both the traditional resources and new digital titles. And as the complexity of the digital environment grows, demands for greater integration and interoperability between and among library systems, publisher resources, and user tools will also grow, further entangling responsibilities and interests of each stakeholder.
Clearly, agreement on the differentiation of roles and allocation of costs in a complex, interdependent environment will be increasingly central to the evolution of digital libraries. Digital library developers and directors face several questions: Who is responsible for what functions? Who adds value and at what cost? How flexibly can resources be shifted to accomplish new roles? How will roles and responsibilities be sustained over time as the environment takes shape? The chapters that follow capture some answers found in early instances of digital programs. While the digital library environment has matured as more recent developments have taken hold, these fundamental questions remain.