Volume 6 Number 7/8
The European Connection
Last month I attended two digital library meetings, the all-projects meeting of the National Science Foundation's (NSF's) Digital Libraries Initiative and a conference of the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI). What was unusual about these meetings was their location. Instead of the campus of an American university or an anonymous hotel in an American city, we met in England at Stratford-on-Avon, close to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Both meetings were co-hosted by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), the government organization that provides information systems and networks for higher education in Britain. Conference coordination was provided by the UK Office for Library and Information Networking at the University of Bath.
Pointers to the programs for these two meetings are given at the end of this editorial. If one theme stood out, it was the variety of topics described. Innovation in digital libraries has come a long way in the past few years. From five days of intensive meetings, the highlight was a talk by Lynne Brindley, who is the newly appointed Chief Executive of the British Library. Lynne has been a pioneer in digital libraries; as a former management consultant, she understands the challenge of transforming a national library for the digital world. The British Library is fortunate to have such a knowledgeable leader.
These joint meetings were a sign of the high level of international collaboration in digital libraries, particularly the collaboration between Europe and the United States. This cooperation takes many forms. Here are three examples: CNI began as an association of American universities, but, from almost the first meeting, it has been attended by representatives of European universities and national libraries; when digital libraries research emerged as its own sub-discipline, the European Conference on Digital Libraries established itself as the top conference in the field, with a strong American attendance; the Dublin Core metadata initiative has held three meetings in Europe, three in the United States and one in Australia.
These three examples are grass roots activities. Equally impressive are the efforts to collaborate at a government level. From an American perspective, the key has been the enthusiasm of a few people at the NSF. In 1997, the European Union and the NSF sponsored six working groups on aspects of digital libraries research. A year later the NSF announced its program of international digital libraries research, with JISC as its first partner.
The value of this international collaboration lies in the different perspectives that the countries bring. In the United States, the federal funding agencies sponsor digital libraries research, but not the development of large-scale library services. Conversely, JISC's focus is on providing advanced services to higher education, with research as a means to that end. In Europe, governments fund almost all universities. This means that it is possible for them to tackle centralized projects that would be impossible in the United States, such as the Athens system for authenticating users of academic libraries in Britain. This difference of emphasis is seen in D-Lib Magazine. In the first six months of this year, 35 percent of the In Brief articles had European authors, but only 17 percent of the longer articles. In Brief articles often describe implementation projects or joint developments -- the areas in which JISC and the other European agencies concentrate their funding.
International collaboration is always fashionable, but it is expensive in time and money. Often it is no more than lip service. The NSF, JISC and CNI deserve our thanks for taking practical steps to make it happen.
William Y. Arms
Editor in Chief
DLI 2 All-Projects Meeting, June 12-13, 2000, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire. <http://www.dli2.nsf.gov/ukworkshop/allprojects2000final.html>
Bringing Coherence to Networked Information for the New Century, JISC/CNI Conference, 14th-16th June 2000, Moat House, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire. <http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/events/jisc-cni-2000/>
Copyright (c) 2000 Corporation for National Research Initiatives.
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