ARL German Resources Project
Digital Libraries Working Group
Richard Hacken, Coordinator
Munich, 29 July 2003

A handout is available to accompany this portion of the German Resources Project meeting.

My thanks to the outgoing coordinator of the working group, Michael Seadle, for his willingness to share his technical expertise and for his past and present efforts in promoting digital cooperation between institutions. New members of the GRP Digital Libraries Working Group in the last little while include Reinhart Sonnenburg of Dartmouth and Erika Banski of the University of Alberta.

I'd like to divide the next 45 minutes into two parts: First I'm going to pose problems and ask questions, which will remain rhetorical for about 15 minutes. And then I hope we can have a discussion among all of us. With our format today, we hope to hear ideas from all of you who wish to participate, member of the specialized Working Group or not. For the first part, please feel free to take notes about questions and your responses -- otherwise, I'm afraid, if we stop for each question and discuss it, we might end up concentrating on one aspect to the exclusion of others. The German Romantic, Clemens Brentano, once wrote: "eine übergroße Gänseleber, sie mag noch so gut schmecken, setzt doch immer eine kranke Gans voraus." (Translation: A super-sized goose liver, no matter how good it tastes, presupposes that the goose was sick."). Brentano was using a metaphor for imbalance in the life of a poet and probably never dreamed his words would be used for collection digitizers. Still, not wishing for us to be sick geese, I hope we can look at a variety of digital aspects today.

It's an exciting digitizing world out there… As a person who scans the digital horizon myself for primary historical documents from Europe to include in a European history gateway, I am aware of the mushrooming virtual offerings in that field alone. I've long been aware of the digital efforts of the Bavarian State Library (the first thing I noticed, I believe, was its facsimiles of nineteenth-century stenographic reports of the German Reichstag). The library at Göttingen is a major player as well. The list of digitized collections is growing in North America and Europe. This handout gives you just just one more example, that of Illinois & Wolfenbüttel; the Toronto talk links to many more.

In the shadow of such progress by German and other libraries in the realm of digitization, I think we as a small Working Group need a good dose of humility while looking for goals that are doable, realizable. Where do we fit in? For what audience can we do some good?

In practice, this digital working group has limited its attention to retrospective digitization of holdings (as opposed to ongoing electronic publications). And so liaison with such ongoing serial products as Xipolis or DigiZeitschriften has proceeded through the Collection Development Working Group. To me, that division seems proper, but we can discuss it.

In reference to German & American cooperation through the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), I received an e-mail two weeks ago from Steve Griffin of the NSF, and I quote:
"The DFG has been an ideal partner for US/Germany coordinated funding of projects and has set a high standard for organizational effectiveness. The NSF … program this year has experienced uncertainties and delays in carrying out our part of the planned joint activities with the DFG, due to budgetary shortfalls and programmatic structuring issues… We deeply value our relationship with the DFG and will continue to pursue additional coordinated activities as circumstances allow. The intrinsic value of international collaborative projects in digital libraries is viewed in the research and applications communities as essential in creating global knowledge resources in many topic domains."

A lot of digitizers are doing just fine, thank you, in Germany with or often without the support of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, and in the United States with or without the support of the National Science Foundation. What can our small working group contribute to American and to German scholarship? What modest and doable goals can we accomplish?

Another question presents itself: Are we one working group of Americans and a separate one of Germans? What benefits can German participants see in order to get involved and continue with the project?

Where do we go from here? I will suggest some possibilities. Our next priorities could be
- to be a matchmaker (in the words of Klaus Kempf, a wedding broker) between prospective German & American partners.
- to facilitate funding proposals as possible.
- to be a support for project cooperation that may require no extra funding.
- to supply information in a central site that could further digital cooperation
(this was the idea behind the Clearinghouse started in 1999… but it seems little used).
- to display and link successful sites for scholarly use, to build a "Gateway to digitized materials in German cultural studies."
- to encourage institutions to make their own records compatible with OAI (Open Archives Initiative) for harvesting of sites and for sifting by subject.
- to reach agreements on technical issues, metadata, or legal issues involved in digitizing?
- to encourage preservation of electronic data?
- to brainstorm and network with other digitizers or collection specialists?

We cannot do all of the above; so what should be the main focus?

Many of us are trying to educate ourselves about the Open Archives Initiative (OAI), for which OAIster is one example of a harvesting site, Federated Searching (of which the Karlsruhe Virtual Catalog is a major example), and related types of digital resource gathering. It appears to now that for our purposes we need not only a searchable breadth of "German Studies," but also search specificity of each discipline within "German Studies." We have a sophisticated need, and I wonder if we are capable of fulfilling that need in the immediate future. In speaking with my own computer guru at BYU, I am assured that the necessary technology is in place for us to attempt a German Resources-specific harvesting site. We can talk about the details later. Should we shoot for such an OAI "International Harvester?" Or do we need to concentrate on other types of traditional gateways for now?

The working group did draft a mission statement in Göttingen in 1999:
"The Digital Libraries Working Group encourages and fosters the digitization of unique and valuable collections related to German studies that can be made available to the world via the Internet. Among this group's tasks are to identify and to assist in the completion of such digital projects while agreeing on standards for interoperability and identification of target collections internationally."

The mission statement of 2003 has been amended to include mention of funding assistance and metadata. But let's remember: actual accomplishments, finished projects and online digital library usage are, as they say at the BMW factory, where the rubber meets the road.

Finally, before our discussion, I'd like to read two e-mails. First is an E-mail from Helene Baumann to the working group from 23 February 1999:
"This may be way too basic an issue, but I would be interested in the practical aspects of "access" for the library and scholarly community both here and in German speaking countries, i.e. knowing what has been digitized where and how our researchers can get access to it. I am also interested in linkages between ongoing or future digitization projects, linkages between institutions both within countries and across borders and the ocean. I am not a techie person, nor a legal expert, but I am very interested in what technology can do in preserving and providing access to our rare and special collections."

The second I refer to is an E-mail to Helene Baumann from Klaus Kempf of 5 June 2003 in which he requested those of us in North America to think about a concrete project that might interest and jointly motivate his own Bavarian State Library and the German Resources Project or some of its partner institutions…

This seems to me to come to the heart of what we should be doing, encouraging digital projects in German studies and then making relevant sites known to the scholarly world.

Now it's time to discuss:
How can we accomplish the digital libraries mission?
Where should our focus be?

A discussion then followed among members of the working group and the German Resources Project at large.
Initiatives and possible directions coming out of that discussion are found among the Working Group Action Items.