Written by Darren G. Poley, Outreach Librarian, Falvey Memorial Library.
There are several consortia who have for many years been trying to promote the idea and utility of digital collections. The concept of course is simple. Either digitize print material in the public domain or archive digital works that are not under copyright to the end of making works more widely available to the scholarly community via the Web. The Digital Library Federation has worked primarily on standards. The D-Lib Alliance has an online journal and runs workshops. The Association of Research Libraries developed the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC®) which for over a decade has been a major advocacy group for policy change. For Catholic Universities there is the Catholic Research Resources Alliance which is working on preserving access to rare Catholic materials. While membership in these various groups is commendable and their work continues to be necessary recently there have been several turn of events that document the change in the milieu of digital libraries.
Our Cultural Commonwealth [PDF] (2006) from the American Council of Learned Societies Commission on Cyberinfrastructure for the Humanities and Social Sciences was meant to map out the horizon for greater collaboration. The Ithaka Report, University Publishing in a Digital Age [PDF], released last year forecasts the changing nature of university publishing due to the digital environment in which we now work. The Open Access mandate passed February 2008 by the Arts and Sciences Faculty at Harvard University is a hotly debated effort using institutional weight to promote an opt-out policy that will cause much that would have been less-accessible to be OA available thereby “disseminating the fruits of its research and scholarship as widely as possible.” Finally published March 2008, the Research Library Publishing Services [PDF] study that assesses the lay of the land on this front, at least among major research libraries in the United States.
These hallmark statements show that eventually all universities will need to look at their efforts and policies concerning the necessity and viability of digital libraries and how they are an increasingly essential means for more than just reformatting old books. The digital library may very well become the vehicle for preserving a larger and richer deposit of current scholarship.