D-Lib Magazine
June 1999

Volume 5 Number 6

ISSN 1082-9873

The Joint NSF/JISC International Digital Libraries Initiative

Norman Wiseman
JISC Head of Programmes
C35 Cherry Tree Buildings, University of Nottingham, University Boulevard
Nottingham NG7 2RD, UK

Phone +44 115 951 4799, Fax +44 115 951 4791, Email:

Chris Rusbridge
Programme Director, Electronic Libraries Programme
The Library, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL, UK

Phone +44 1203 524979, Fax +44 115 951 4791, Email:

Stephen M. Griffin
Division of Information and Intelligent Systems (IIS)
Program Director: Special Projects, Digital Libraries Initiative
National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Room 1115
Arlington, VA 22230

Phone: (703) 306-1930, Fax: (703) 306-0599, Email:

blue line


Among the most exciting of opportunities offered by a global information infrastructure are international digital libraries -- content-rich, multimedia, multilingual collections created from globally distributed resources by international groups engaged in collaborative efforts. While there are now uncoordinated efforts in many countries, cooperative programs of research and intellectual infrastructure development can help avoid duplication of effort, prevent the development of fragmented digital systems, and encourage productive interchange of scientific knowledge and scholarly data around the world. The digital libraries area is one in which all countries stand to gain from coordinated, cooperative activities.

To begin to address some of the research challenges associated with creating international digital libraries, the Division of Information and Intelligent Systems and the Division of International Programs of the National Science Foundation issued a call for proposals in October 19981 for multi-country, multi-team projects involving at least one research team in the United States and one in another country. The NSF would support the US part of a joint project while the non-US parts needed to gain their support from other sources. NSF wished to co-ordinate review with the foreign funding agency and make joint decisions, when possible.

The UK Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) was the first to join the NSF in this endeavour and issued a matching call2. JISC has committed £500,000 per year for three years to fund new development work in this programme. The NSF has committed a similar amount.

The JISC/NSF arrangement was opportune for both organizations. It allowed NSF to broaden its traditional basic research focus, and JISC to draw on and connect with, in a direct way, the large set of research activities being sponsored under Digital Libraries Initiative Phase 2. The joint JISC/NSF projects are considered an integral part of this larger multi-agency program.

The overall goals of the JISC/NSF program are to foster common approaches to shared problems, promote common standards, share expertise and experience and build on complementary organizational strengths and approaches. Both JISC and NSF also look to gain valuable experience in setting up and running international programs.

JISC Funding Criteria and Procedures

The manner in which the NSF selects and manages projects is generally well known and understood within US academic research communities. Less well known to the US digital libraries communities are the factors affecting the way that the JISC decides on its programmes, selects projects and then manages them afterwards. To prepare for future collaborative programmes in this area between the two countries, it is useful to articulate these here for American researchers and practitioners.

Most UK universities and colleges receive the majority of their funding from the UK government. These funds are managed by a series of Funding Councils who each contribute a proportion of the funds they receive to the JISC (hence the 'Joint' Information Systems Committee), to create a national information infrastructure, including the SuperJANET network, for the UK higher education community.

As a result, the JISC is in a position to implement the policies of the funding bodies, but because the money has been diverted from every institution, the JISC must be careful to ensure that the following four issues are addressed:

  1. Work funded must be relevant to the needs of the community as a whole, and the JISC's priorities have to match those of the majority of institutions where possible.
  2. All work must benefit a significant proportion of the community.
  3. The results of work must be disseminated widely, so its benefits can be understood or acted on by all.
  4. All work must demonstrate good value for money.

JISC committee and sub-committee members are all drawn from the university and college community and, hence, have a good understanding of the needs and priorities of the community.

Projects will have a better chance of selection if they can demonstrate that they will satisfy the last three issues. The selection process used by the JISC reflects this.

JISC Evaluation Criteria

A call for participation in every JISC programme is issued to every higher education institution in the UK. The call spells out clearly the objectives of the programme and a series of evaluation criteria. Projects that study the call carefully and ensure that they have addressed all the criteria effectively have the highest chance of receiving funding.

A panel of experts studies the evaluation criteria and weights them in relation to their importance to the overall goals of the programme. In the case of the international initiative, for example, it was felt that the ability of the international partners to work together was one of the most important criteria. Proposals were studied very carefully to ensure that the projects recognised that this was an issue and were proposing sensible and effective strategies to address potential problems.

Other important criteria were the development of content or new technologies that would be widely applicable and not just of benefit to the participating institutions, and well thought out strategies for disseminating the results of the projects. However, originality and intellectual merit, though important in themselves, were felt to be less critical to the overall success of the programme and were thus given lower weights.

The JISC has to demonstrate value for money and will always look for evidence of strong commitment from host institutions and, especially, funding from other partners. Projects must also pay attention to the project plan. Plans must be achievable, properly resourced and include mechanisms for change management and for evaluation of the project both during and after the work. The JISC also employs co-ordinators who look after programmes. These co-ordinators will work with projects to draw up milestones, see that they are delivered and help keep them on course. The co-ordinators report back to their parent committees on progress and successes and can recommend changes to the funding levels, including withdrawal of funding if appropriate.

NSF International Digital Libraries Evaluation Criteria

In addition to evaluation criteria applied to all NSF proposals (NSF Grant Proposal Guide, NSF 99-2), special criteria were applied to the international collaborative research proposals. These included the following:

The Joint Appraisal Process

For the joint initiative a hybrid process was developed in order to bring together the best elements of the styles of the two funding bodies. A project marksheet setting out the marking criteria, with guidance notes, was drawn up and a set of weights agreed. The sheets were circulated, with the proposals, to teams of volunteer markers in both countries. All proposals were graded by at least six people, including three from the USA and three from the UK. The total grades were then used as the basis for discussion by a final marking panel made up of five representatives from each country.

There were 24 proposals, which was a significant but not unworkable number. NSF guidelines on proposal layout were used, which resulted in somewhat larger documents than UK markers were used to (JISC often limits the full proposal to 6-10 pages). One for example was over an inch thick, with elements in several languages and character sets; quite a challenge to evaluate.

The joint panel session, held in Washington, D.C., in March was an intensive process, lasting two days. By the end of this period, the US and UK panellists reached unanimous agreement on the projects to recommend for funding. This was a particularly gratifying result, as there had been concerns that the different national imperatives might have led to some level of disagreement, but this was not, in fact, the case.

There was follow up discussion between representatives of the funding bodies and the project teams in each country over details of the proposals, reflecting the comments of the review panels. In the case of the JISC, approval for the final recommended list of projects had to be sought from the sponsoring committee, the Committee for Electronic Information. This has delayed the announcement of the final selection for some time but is a necessary and vital element of the process.

Lessons Learned

Both funding partners have learnt a great deal from this joint initiative, not least that such initiatives can be set up and solid agreement on the content of the programme agreed. The UK team has been impressed by the effectiveness of the panel approach and the care that was taken to ensure that honest but constructive feedback was provided by the panel to all of the unsuccessful bidders.

The NSF has appreciated the time and effort that the JISC's team of dedicated co-ordinators can apply to the evaluation process and the thoroughness of the weighting and marking process that the JISC uses.

Both parties have been extremely pleased with the outcome of the call, and the quality of the bids received, and have every intention of working together again when the opportunity arises.

Meeting Program Goals

In the NSF and JISC calls for proposals (close variants on the same text), research under the International DLI is expected to:

The goals of the program are to enable users to access digital collections more easily, and to support broader use of these collections. Research was suggested on:

Not all of these areas have been covered in the program described below; notable absences at this stage include intellectual property protection, data mining and self-organising databases. However, it is worth noting that the collaboration between the NSF and JISC is only one part of the NSF’s IDLI, and that other projects, covering other areas, may well emerge from collaborations with other countries.

No attempt has been made here to analyse these projects in any detail. The projects are expected to engage in vigorous dissemination activities throughout their durations (the official start dates are in August 1999.) The short descriptions included below were provided by the projects. Project descriptive material will be posted on

The sponsors are pleased at the variety of projects and the strength of the collaborative partnerships behind the projects. The process of negotiating partnerships has been viewed as beneficial, even for unsuccessful proposals. The joint program as a whole is expected to increase the awareness in each country of digital library activity in the other. Future joint activities of mutual benefit are being pursued by JISC and NSF officials.

An initial meeting between the UK partners of these projects was held, to coincide with a visit Steve Griffin made to the UK. This was the first each project knew of the others. It was fascinating to observe the buzz of excitement as they began to explore areas of common interest and complementarity.

The Funded Projects

Six projects were recommended for funding, with each to receive almost $1M over a three year project term. The six joint projects are:

Cross-Domain Resource Discovery: Integrated Discovery and use of Textual, Numeric and Spatial Data: University of California, Berkeley / University of Liverpool

Principal Investigators:

Prof. Ray Larson, School of Information Management & Systems, University of California, Berkeley, 102, South Hall, Berkeley, California 94720-4600.

Dr. Paul Watry, Automated Projects Manager, Special Collections and Archives University of Liverpool Library, PO Box 123, Liverpool L69 3DA, UK.

The University of California, Berkeley and Special Collections and Archives, the University of Liverpool Library are collaborating on a project to enable cross-domain searching in a multi-database environment. Their aim is to produce a next generation online information retrieval system ("Cheshire") based on international standards that will facilitate searching on the Internet across collections of original materials, printed books, records, archives, manuscripts, and museum objects, statistical databases, full-text, geo-spatial, and multi-media data resources.

HARMONY: Metadata for resource discovery of multimedia digital objects: Cornell University / ILRT / DSTC

Principal Investigators:

Dr. Jane Hunter, Senior Research Scientist, DSTC PTY Ltd. Level 7, GP South, Brisbane, Queensland Australia

Mr. Carl Lagoze, Department of Computer Science, Cornell University, 4112 Upson Hall, Ithaca, New York 14853

Mr. Dan Brickley, Institute for Learning and Research Technology, University of Bristol, 8-10 Berkeley Square, Bristol BS8 1HH, UK

HARMONY, a three-way international partnership between Cornell University, the Australian Distributed Systems Technology Centre(DSTC) and the University of Bristol's Institute for Learning and Research Technology(ILRT), will be devising a framework to deal with the challenge of describing networked collections of highly complex and mixed-media digital objects. The work will draw together work on the RDF, XML, Dublin Core and MPEG-7 standards, and will focus on the problem of allowing multiple communities of expertise (e.g., library, education, rights management) to define overlapping descriptive vocabularies for annotating multimedia content.

Integrating and Navigating ePrint Archives through Citation-Linking: Cornell University / Southampton University / Los Alamos National Laboratory

Principal Investigators:

Mr. Carl Lagoze, Department of Computer Science, Cornell University, 4112 Upson Hall, Ithaca, New York 14853

Prof. Stevan Harnad, Professor of Cognitive Science, Department of Electronics and Computer Science, University of Southampton, Highfield, Southampton, SO17 1BJ UK

In a 3-way partnership, Southampton University, Cornell University, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory will hyperlink each of the over 100,000 papers in Los Alamos's unique online Physics Archive to every other paper in the archive that it cites. It is hoped that the power of this remarkable new way of navigating the scientific journal literature will help induce authors in others fields to join to create interlinked online archives like Los Alamos across disciplines and around the world.

Online Music Recognition and Searching (OMRAS): University of Massachusetts / King's College, London

Principal Investigators:

Dr. Donald Byrd, Department of Computer Science, Box 34610, A243 Lederle Graduate Research Center, University of Massachusetts, Amherst MA 01003-4610

Mr. Tim Crawford, Music Department, King's College, Strand, London WC2R 2LS, UK

Online music recognition and searching (OMRAS) is led by King's College London in partnership with the Center for Intelligent Information Retrieval at the University of Massachusetts. OMRAS is a system for efficient and user-friendly content-based searching and retrieval of musical information from online databases stored in a variety of formats ranging from encoded score files to digital audio. The overall goal of this cross-disciplinary research is to fill a gap in the provision of online facilities for musical collections: the inability to search the content for "music" itself.

Emulation options for digital preservation: technology emulation as a method for long-term access and preservation of digital resources: University of Michigan / CURL

Principal Investigators:

Dr. Margaret Hedstrom, School of Information, The University of Michigan, 550 East University, Ann Arbor MI 48109 1092

Ms. Kelly Russell, CEDARS Project Manager, Edward Boyle Library, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK

A team of researchers at the University of Michigan and research staff in the UK from the Cedars project, being run at the Universities of Leeds, Oxford and Cambridge under the aegis of CURL (Consortium of University Research Libraries) will investigate the potential role of emulation in long-term preservation of information in digital form. The project will develop and test a suite of emulation tools, evaluate the costs and benefits of emulation as a preservation strategy for complex multi-media documents and objects, and develop models for collection management decisions about how much effort and resources to invest in exact replication within preservation activity. The project team will assess options for preserving the original functionality and "look and feel" of digital objects and develop preliminary guidelines for the use of different preservation strategies (conversion, migration and emulation).

The IMesh Toolkit: An architecture and toolkit for distributed subject gateways: University of Wisconsin-Madison / UKOLN / ILRT

Principal Investigators:

Ms. Susan Calcari, Computer Sciences Department, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1210 West Dayton Street, Madison WI 53706

Mr. Andy Powell, UK Office for Library and Information Networking, University of Bath, Bath, BA2 7AY, UK

Recent years have seen the emergence of the subject gateway approach to Internet resource discovery and leading gateway initiatives have recently been collaborating informally under the name IMesh. The IMesh Toolkit project, a partnership of the UK Office for Library and Information Networking at the University of Bath, the Institute for Learning and Research Technology at the University of Bristol and the Internet Scout Project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, aims to advance the system framework within which subject gateways and related services operate by defining an architecture which specifies individual components and how they communicate.

Notes and References

1. International Digital Libraries Collaborative Research, (NSF 99-6) (URL

2 JISC Circular 15/98 (URL

(At the request of the authors, Jane Hunter's name was added on 6/19/99 as one of the principal investigators of the Harmony project. Email addresses for Ray Larson and Susan Calcari were corrected on 6/28/99.)

Top | Contents
Search | Author Index | Title Index | Monthly Issues
Editorial | Next story
Home | E-mail the Editor

D-Lib Magazine Access Terms and Conditions

DOI: 10.1045/june99-wiseman