Deanna B. Marcum
I have been asked to bring my individual perspective to summarizing this collective work. I offer my comments from the perspective of a librarian.
I believe that all the contributors to this work share at least one major assumption: that the purposes of the library will remain unchanged, though the means through which it achieves those purposes may be quite new and different. The library still exists to provide whatever resources are necessary to meet the research and inquiry needs of students and faculty members. At the same time, the library as a physical place still serves as a community symbol of knowledge and its importance to society.
Against the backdrop of this shared assumption, contributors possess at least three different perspectives: (1) technology enthusiasts, who see how technology can change the essential nature of our work and who urge all of us to accelerate the pace of transformation; (2) librarians, who are concerned about managing "hybrid" organizations that will support massive paper-based collections while also taking full advantage of electronic resources; and (3) publishers, who want to understand how electronic scholarly communication will affect the publishing business.
In all these chapters, writers eloquently portray the promise of technology for increasing access to information. Far less clear are answers to the following questions:
1. Can technology reduce the cost of scholarly communication?
2. Do students learn better when using technology?
3. Are libraries organized to take full advantage of the possibilities for enhanced access?
I find these questions raised by the writers more compelling than their reports of progress, perhaps because so many of the projects they discuss are not far
enough advanced to offer solid conclusions. I would summarize these questions, which have come up in many different guises, as follows:
1. Where should we concentrate our efforts-on converting print documents to digital form to increase access, or on adding digital files that were born digitally to existing library resources? Can we do both?
2. How do we shift the focus from individual institutional holdings to the provision of more extensive access to materials for our students and scholars? How do we budget for this shift?
3. How can digital libraries be discussed without taking into account the networks for delivering information resources and the equipment necessary for reading digital files? Libraries have never been islands unto themselves, but we are becoming increasingly aware of their interdependency.
4. What, exactly, do we want to count? How do we count? Our tradition is to collect quantitative data about the size of collections, budgets, staffs, transactions. If we keep in mind that the library's primary purpose is to provide resources for scholarship and teaching, what should we be counting in the digital environment? Thus far, only one conclusion is clear: counting hits on a Web site is useless.
5. Will we be able to read anything we are now producing in electronic form a few years from now? Digital preservation has been alluded to many times, but it remains an area of great uncertainty.
These chapters have described in detail several pilot projects and their outcomes and users' reactions. As these projects continue to develop, I hope that we can learn more about the following areas:
1. Desirable future states. We read a great deal about changes we can expect, but we need to have more intense discussions about those changes we are prepared to pursue and effect. Descriptions of the various projects have given us much to ponder. We must now spend more time specifying the desirable future outcomes and conditions against which we can measure project results.
2. The nature of collections. Electronic information resources alter both our notions about the significance of very large collections and our methods of allocating resources for the provision of information. How are these changed perceptions to be accommodated within higher education?
3. Variations in disciplines. There appear to be genuinely different requirements for research resources from discipline to discipline. In describing projects, we should look carefully at the types of resources involved and the audience, or audiences, for them. It is not possible to generalize about what scholars need and want.
4. Users' views. To date, the projects have provided considerable data about how information resources have been scanned and indexed and how they can be
retrieved. In the future, we must learn more about users' reactions to the new format and about the utility of digital information to them.
5. Digital archiving. Kevin Guthrie (see chapter 7) rightly pointed out that there are not technological barriers to archiving and to meeting our societal obligation to preserve the intellectual record. But now we must find the most suitable-and the most cost-effective-methods for fulfilling that obligation.
Though most of the contributors to this work advocate continued support for pilot projects, many have also asked that more specific requirements for reporting results be established. The future of scholarly communication may not be clear, but the need for all of us to understand better the implications of electronic publishing is entirely evident.