D-Lib Magazine
February 1998

ISSN 1082-9873

From the Editor

Visions and Intersections

A Conversation with Richard E. Lucier of the University of California

Richard E. Lucier was named Founding University Librarian and Executive Director of the newly-organized California Digital Library in October 1997. This is another step in a distinguished career in digital libraries that includes both the Red Sage and Human Genome Projects. This essay is based on a conversation with him in Berkeley on January 6, 1998, his first full day at his new position.

Amy Friedlander

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My whole goal is to help maintain the quality of the University of California libraries and create the world-class research library of the future. The digital component is a critical component of that future library, and the California Digital Library (CDL) is an important opportunity. What is also absolutely critical to realizing this goal is understanding the enormous breadth of people who have to participate. The Digital Library has to belong to many communities -- to the research community, the library community, the government, and the public. It is not something we're doing for somebody or to somebody. It is something we're all doing together.

People will collaborate if they understand that they have a common problem and they want to solve that problem. Throughout my career, there has been an emphasis on bringing together the groups of people needed to create solutions to specific problems. My role is to help them identify the shared problems and facilitate their identification and implementation of solutions. My role is also to make sure we bring in all the areas of expertise that are necessary. With CDL, we want to identify problems that are significant with respect to scholarly information, identify the solution, and put together the groups of people who can help to bring about those solutions. The library, whether print or digital, is a critical part of the infrastructure of the academy, enabling scholars and scientists to accomplish their work. Libraries are more or less important to faculty, students, and staff, depending on the nature of that work; information, however, is important to all. What is critical with the digital library is to look at what people's information needs are, and how we might use technology in order to solve those problems.

Defining a digital library within some tight kind of rubric doesn't necessarily do that. We need to come up with something different, something fluid. And I think there will continue to be fluidity in boundaries and in defining roles and responsibilities. If we only automate traditional functions, then we're not going to be very successful. For example, digitizing special collections or putting journals online represent critical parts of the knowledge infrastructure. But there is also a critical part of the user communities that are not supported by traditional library functions, or even by automating those functions. So, the digital library means moving the library to the bench, the patient's bedside, and the classroom rather than expecting people to come to a building or a place, not only in terms of place but also in relevance to the work at hand. A key challenge we face will be how we integrate the digital library and the continuing paper-based library. The California Digital Library may be able to provide some insight to others how to do this on larger scale.

One of the problems we face right now is coming up with strategies that scale up, and getting a process and system in place where people can solve their own problems. In California, we want to scale up what's been happening at some level on some of the campuses to something that can be leveraged university-wide, then broader than the university. Developing that process is going to be a greater challenge than the technology. I have enormous faith that the technology will provide tools to people to solve their problems.

We have an opportunity here to create a whole new system of scholarly communication -- not electronic versions of the paper library. It is challenging to pull technological, human, and disciplinary strengths together, but I think the shift in scholarly communication is going to happen finally. What that will look like is a difficult question; we do not know the answer to that yet. But it may differ by discipline, and that's one reason why this is going to be a long process that will take a while to emerge from the scholarly community itself. We saw this in the Genome Project: We watched how the researchers wrestled with the problem of creating a gene map, all the things they did. Then we asked, was there some way we could bring these things together, for greater efficiency and ease, using technology? Could we then define this convergence so that the participants could see that it was a structure they themselves had created? All I helped provide was a framework, a management structure, and a process so that the investigators could see their work in that context. So, we will make technological tools easily available and see what users start to do. That's where academics really shine.

It is very important to plan for a technology transfer process, for example, to go from basic research to the California Digital Library. But I am not sure that efforts in basic research are focusing sufficiently on the problems we face. What's been missing to the degree necessary is a tight enough linkage between the academic users of this infrastructure technology and the people who are doing the research. I am pleased that the computer science research community is reaching out to practicing librarians. But I think it is really important that the researchers continue to reach out beyond those intermediaries to all the different kinds of users. I would like to have very close ties to the research community so that they will work on problems that are important to me from a production standpoint and are still intellectually interesting to them.

There need to be people who are really critical links between user communities and the research groups, who can walk in both. It is the type of role I've played in the past. I developed enough experience to work with users and learned enough science and engineering to talk to the researchers and engineers and then to find the points of intersection, to guide them all to that point of intersection, and to create opportunities for innovation -- like the development of the web itself. That's got to occur with digital library research as well.

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