A National Digital Library: Wouldn’t It Be Nice?

The article Playing Catch-Up in a Digital Library Race appeared in the New York Times on January 8, 2011. The topic is how the United States is lagging woefully behind other countries like uber efficient Norway and the Netherlands in efforts to create some kind of unified national digital knowledge repository. Despite Ben Franklin being at the leading edge of the democratization of libraries, since the 1700’s and especially in the last couple of decades, lack of library resources has potentially caused a rift between the goal of providing digital access to all collections and integrating those disparate resources in a collaborative manner and the reality of accomplishing these large scale endeavors.

While it is true that the Library of Congress started the American Memory project way back in the 1990’s and Google has been steadily progressing on their privatized plot to digitize the world, academic and research libraries as well as public libraries still manage digital projects in fits and starts as time and money and staffing allow, often with steep learning curves and in some cases, inadequate technology. In order to create resources that are interoperable, attention needs to be paid to scan quality, metadata, and the systems used to push content. Luckily, I think MLIS students today are better prepared to deal with the challenges presented by electronic resources. However, old positions in cataloging and public services need time to evolve into the Digital Services Librarians, Metadata Librarians and Electronic Resources Librarians that will help cement the future. This will not happen overnight.

It seems like the initiatives in Norway and the Netherlands started with a collective overarching commitment to going digital. My inability to read Norwegian or Dutch makes it difficult to discern how these libraries successfully made the switch. My gut says that it was more of a philosophical change and not a total house cleaning – rather, I am sure once the decision was made to digitize, existing staff perhaps supplemented with technical expertise retrained and reapportioned time to focus on the new responsibilities associated with digitization.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s