Beyond the Beginning: The Global Digital Library

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Macquarie University, Australia


This paper looks at the dynamics underpinning the scholarly information services market from a number of different perspectives, including the changes impacting on higher education institutions, the capacity to develop and sustain appropriate technical infrastructure, the mapping and development of global information infrastructure and strategic issues facing the electronic journals market.

The paper also explores the potential of the digital library concept as a service paradigm for delivering electronic information services based on four key information management concepts namely, resource discovery, evaluation, aggregation and resource sharing.


Much of the inspiration for this paper is derived from the author’s recent survey [5] of the dynamics of the information services market which was the subject of the author’s "Locknote" presentation at the Eighth Australasian Information Online and On Disc Conference held in Sydney in January 1997 [6]. The purpose of the presentation was to identify and analyse both the supply and demand sides of the market and to explore the means by which libraries could reposition themselves as key distributors in the market.

It is now commonly accepted that a strong information services market is dependent on the development of an information infrastructure that can sustain the increasing demands for the exchange and manipulation of networked information to customers who are geographically dispersed. This need for a coherent information infrastructure implies a strong technical infrastructure, much of which still has to be put in place.

The primary purpose of this paper is to explore the information infrastructure requirements for the higher education sector in a global environment and to identify areas where collaborative partnerships could assist in creating the evolving infrastructure, both at the national and international level.


There is a widespread acceptance in most developed countries that healthy economic growth is dependent on the ability to compete in an increasingly global market.

The driving forces behind the global market phenomenon were identified in a recent Australian report [7] as follows:

Although all of these factors are relevant to the transformation of higher education, the gap remains large between the rhetoric of campus missions and the capacity to deliver in the marketplace.


In a recent submission [8] to the Australian Review of Higher Education Financing and Policy [9], the author depicted the current situation in the following terms:

The debate on the future directions for higher education in Australia is driven by a complex array of technological, social and economic factors.
After two decades of rapid expansion, higher education institutions are being forced to rethink their strategies in the light of the changing expectations of the user population, the changes in funding arrangements and the potential impact of the new technologies on the means of delivering teaching and research programs.
There will be a need to service a much more mobile student population all of whom will be lifelong learners requiring highly customised courses delivered in a flexible mode.
Higher education institutions are also thinking increasingly in terms of satisfying market niches, which implies adopting a competitive approach based on the delivery of high quality programs in a flexible mode to a customer-base that may be dispersed across Australia and overseas.
Success will depend on developing a capability for diversification, on ensuring speed of response to new opportunities, and on the ability to repackage existing programs in a cost-effective manner.
These strategic imperatives require a robust information infrastructure which will allow Australia to compete in a rapidly expanding global market.
The establishment of this infrastructure is dependent on the higher education sector addressing strategic issues such as:
The degree to which technology-based teaching can be extended to make Australian higher education competitive, both nationally and internationally;
The extent to which Australia needs to be self-reliant in terms of developing technical infrastructure;
The capacity of Australian universities to sustain a digital library environment for teaching and research;
The capacity of universities to develop and maintain a cost-effective telecommunications infrastructure in a deregulated environment;
The means of ensuring inter-governmental and departmental co-operation in developing and supporting the infrastructure;
The assessment of the relative inputs and investment necessary for infrastructure development by national, state and institutional agencies, as well as the private sector.

The underlying themes contained in this submission are not unique to Australia and similar statements are prevalent in the US, Canada, the UK and Europe.

Almost all higher education mission statements now reflect a new vision of teaching where the deployment of new technologies will lead to:

There is a widespread realisation, however, that very little of the infrastructure is in place to deliver the declared goals contained in these mission statements.


It is no accident, therefore, that universities all round the world are showing a growing interest in institution-wide information strategies. In many respects, there are paradoxical forces driving this search for institutional coherence. On the one hand, the rapid somewhat uncontrolled deployment of new technologies has led to a situation where costs of maintenance and replacement cannot be sustained; systems cannot talk to each other; and there is little or no interaction between administrative and academic support systems.

On the other hand, the promises of interoperability, common interfaces, effective decision support, empowerment of staff and customers, cost effective deployment of technology and flexible delivery of programs are proving to be powerful influences in determining new corporate strategies.

There are however, no easy answers to this complex institutional problem. The Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) has put a great deal of energy and thought into addressing the underlying issues. As Gerald Bernbom states [10], the task is to:

better understand, describe and promote institution-wide strategies for networked information for networked information resource and service development across five major dimensions, (a) technology platforms, (b) financial resources, (c) organisational and human resources, (d) policies and practices, and (e) strategic alignment.

He asserts that the two principal questions being addressed are:

How does an institution (such as a college or university, public agency, professional association, scholarly society, commercial firm) use information?
How does this institution co-ordinate its activities and allocate its resources so that the use of information creates value for the institution in such areas as quality of service, user satisfaction, intellectual productivity and discovery, innovation, organisational efficiencies or others?

The growing interdependence between the evolution of the institutional Intranet and the effective deployment of scholarly information systems supporting teaching and research programs is a key factor in answering these questions.

Information professionals, particularly librarians, have a potentially crucial rôle to play in these institutional developments but in many instances they remain marginalised, perhaps because of a lack of understanding of the technological drivers which sustain the growth of institutional Intranets.


The emergence of the concept of the digital library in the institutional context is likely to prove a most influential component in bridging many of the gaps in current institutional information strategies.

The University of California Digital Library initiative [11] provides useful insights into the potential power of the digital library concept. In formulating the terms of reference, the Working Group states:

To maintain a library system capable of supporting a great research university, UC must:
develop a shared vision for a digital library, which meets the evolving needs of the academic community;
build an organisational structure to implement that vision; and
create a funding model to sustain it.

The Group acknowledges that there are no easy answers and no quick solutions in responding to the challenge.

In attempting to define the infrastructure and the rationale for the creation of the digital library, Davis [12] makes the following points:

The framework, therefore, is clearly defined and the outcomes of projects, such as that being undertaken by the University of California, will be followed with great interest in the higher education world.


The institutional preoccupation with realigning service paradigms and marketing strategies is being increasingly driven by the realisation that customers are beginning to apply market thinking to their choice of higher education options and to their choice of information requirements. Whilst most customers remain somewhat unclear when asked to articulate their information needs, there are a number of common characteristics which constantly emerge in terms of information infrastructure, namely:

Most of these requirements have emerged as a result of technology-driven user behaviour. The gap, however, between expectations of customers and the capacity to deliver remains very wide.


The analysis, so far, suggests that higher education institutions are gradually formulating a vision of technical and information convergence as a means of doing business in the new millennium. There are, however, many external forces impinging on the ability of institutions to achieve their goals. For the purposes of this paper, it is important to explore issues relating to the creation of national and international technological infrastructures, to examine the complex inter-relationships between technological infrastructures and information infrastructures and to explore the rôle of the scholarly information services market in the emerging institutional service paradigms.

Most, or all, of these issues now need to be addressed as global matters, although it is acknowledged that the rate of change and the particular market configurations will vary both within and between countries.


Almost all developed countries are now engaging in open debate on the nature of the information infrastructure required to compete successfully in the global market. The debate is fraught with problems for a variety of reasons, including:

All these problems have led to doubts as to whether the paradigm of the national information infrastructure is a useful vehicle for addressing the developmental issues. There is, however, a general consensus that the following outcomes are desirable:

There will be continuing debate in all countries on how these outcomes can be realised and on the rôle of public and private sector investment in meeting particular sector requirements, such as higher education.


It is now commonly accepted that the internet is of key strategic importance to the development of the information services market in general and for the delivery of global higher education enterprises in particular. There remain, however, significant barriers to the achievement of the aspirations of higher education institutions, because of the current limitations of the internet. In his assessment of the internet phenomenon at the Australasian Information Online and On Disc Conference in January, Cliff Lynch [13] made the following points:

He concluded that there was a serious loss of coherence in the world of internet information exchange. He went on to assert that progress would be dependent on the following critical success factors:


It is the continuing gap between the aspirations of higher education institutions and the deficiencies of the national information infrastructure that now absorbs much attention in our respective countries. For example, in the Australian context the deficiencies can be characterised as follows (from reference (4)):

Internet II

The internet II project in the US aims to address most of the deficiencies identified above through providing advanced networking facilities, including the following institutional requirements:

The primary goals of the program are to produce greater reliability, to foster better quality of service, to ensure adequate bandwidth and to create large scale mechanisms for authentication. All this infrastructure development is highly necessary, if the scholarly information market is to remain vibrant and integral to the teaching and research programs. In the meantime, there is a significant number of barriers to the transformation of the scholarly information process and the next part of the paper addresses these issues.


The quest in our respective countries is for a sustainable vision for information availability in the global university environment. In terms of basic infrastructure, such a vision is very well encapsulated in the goals of the Generic Architecture for Information Availability project in (GAIA) Europe [14].

GAIA aims to provide a holistic approach to architectural development based on the principle of interworking, interchangeable components. To ensure technical and business portability the GAIA architecture will be:

The architecture is designed to enhance the information service environment, taking into account the following critical features of the digital economy:

This statement provides an excellent summary of the features which all information providers need to bear in mind in developing services in the digital environment. It leads naturally to a discussion of the nature of the information services market in general and the scholarly information market in particular, in terms of infrastructure requirements.


The global information services market is in a volatile state and exhibits many of the classic characteristics of an industry in the throes of restructuring. The information services market as it exists at the present time was depicted in the following terms at the Australasian Information Online and On Disc Conference (reference (2)):

It is not easy to make generalisations about the information services market as it now exists, because there is a spectrum of so-called information services markets ranging from global vertically integrated markets to local, or regional, niche markets, all struggling to capture a customer base willing to pay for the respective services.
There are however, a number of observations to be made of a general nature which may assist in re-positioning our own services. The observations are listed in no particular order of importance.
the ever-increasing convergence of computers and communications technologies is continually stimulating new visions and new strategies for information management;
there is constant re-positioning of content providers, telecommunication firms and traditional on-line service providers;
large scale experimentation is taking place in offering services and products via the internet;
there are increasing moves towards vertical integration at the top end of the market;
a multitude of small information providers is aiming to find niche markets via the internet in very complex and insecure environments;
information services are still predominantly aimed at traditional markets, in both the private and public sectors;
the end-user market is still problematic because of a complex range of technological, social and cultural factors;
the consumer continues to be offered products rather than services;
there are no real signs of computerised home shopping emerging as a large-scale phenomenon, although home banking may be more successful in the short to medium term;
the increasing activity relating to the incorporation of classified advertising with services on the internet, offers the potential to sustain regional and local information service markets;
on-line publishing continues to grow but the profit-margins continue to decline, thus indicating a potential shake-out in the market place;
there is a growing preoccupation with the concept of the Intranet as a means of corporate knowledge management;
the control of content is becoming the major battleground;
the ability to change quickly in response to customer demand is critical to successful competition;
the term ‘aggregation’ has become the ‘buzzword’ of the information industry as it struggles to redefine itself.
All these factors apply to the global information services market but the effects will vary from country to country.


The scholarly information market is a niche market in the spectrum of information service markets. It shares many of the characteristics of other information service markets but it also has some unique characteristics arising from the basic fact that academic staff are both the producers and consumers of the published output. In market terms, it is no longer possible to divorce discussions of the future trends on the supply and demand for scholarly information from the likely transformation of higher education, particularly in terms of the infrastructure requirements.

There are increasing signs of a convergence of interests of all the key players in the scholarly information industry in terms of identifying the need for common infrastructure and the remainder of this paper seeks to describe the key areas of convergence, to assess the scope of new service paradigms and to signal potential ways forward for partnerships between the major stakeholders.


Journals have traditionally formed a large part of the scholarly information market. There is now an enormous literature pertaining to the present state of this market. It is a market under pressure from all sides, as it struggles to come to terms with transformation into the electronic age. The present state of affairs can be characterised in the following general terms:

All these observations indicate an industry in a state of economic disarray and there are signs of a potential breakdown in the whole system, although Odlyzko is correct in his observation that change will not come quickly because of the inertia in the system and the perversity of economic incentives.


There are a number of strategic issues which all members of the supply/demand chain need to address, including the assessment of:

The economic viability of the scholarly journal in a digital economy is a strategic issue of utmost importance in assessing future trends. There is now a vast literature on this subject and a growing core of informed comment on costing and pricing structures associated with both conventional publishing models and electronic journal models. It is not the intention of this paper to rehearse the main points of this debate and readers are well advised to look at the papers from Harnad [15], Quandt [16] and Odlyzko [17] who shed considerable light on this important subject. In a recent excellent paper, Barnes [18] states that we should start with the assumption that the advantages of electronic journals are accepted and outweigh the disadvantages, and that traditional publishers will continue into the foreseeable future, to be the source of most of the information content.

He goes on to make the important observation that In the end, the fundamental change does not take place until there is enough critical mass moving in one direction creating the necessary momentum to pull the rest along.


There appear to be three main options for the supply and distribution of electronic journals namely, conventional publishers, aggregators and scholars/universities as producers/distributors. The three options are already competing in parallel within the market and are likely to do so for some time.

Publishers as primary providers

Having gone through a period of considerable uncertainty, there is now clear evidence that some of the larger conventional publishers have decided to control directly the supply and distribution of their journals. The obvious advantages from their viewpoint are the ability to totally control the process, to avoid costs associated with intermediaries and to be able to add value through additional features so as to gain a competitive edge for their particular products and services.

Such a strategy is already being deployed by Elsevier Press and the service can be accessed either online via the Web from a central server, or by taking out a local licence and mounting the files on a local server with the local site being responsible for hardware, software and archiving.

Both options may appear attractive as service paradigms to those larger institutions, or consortia, which already take a significant proportion of the company’s journal output. Apart from the pricing issues, (which are proving controversial in the case of Elsevier Press), the primary drawback of this approach is that subscribers, whether libraries or individuals, would find themselves handling a large number of disparate systems and business deals which would almost certainly result in significant increases in the cost of institutional overheads. From the institutional view point it appears to be the least attractive option for the development of the electronic journal market.


Machovec, in his recent overview of the electronic journals market [19], summarised his trend in the following terms:

Many publishers have decided to offer their electronic journals through an intermediary service which aggregates the titles from many different publishers under one interface or search system. This means that the publisher does not have to create and maintain their own separate system and that the end-user may go to an aggregator for many different titles under a common point of presence.

Libraries are currently being inundated with offers from a range of aggregators, all claiming to offer a comprehensive service with many value added features. The potential suppliers include traditional library utilities such as OCLC, traditional online service providers, and the large journal distribution agencies, such as EBSCO and Blackwell’s.

The range of content, searching facilities and formats are truly bewildering and the pricing algorithms are almost impossible to understand, or to compare. The primary problem still relates to coverage. From the institutional perspective, the suppliers appear to be offering a product rather than a service in the sense that no one supplier can yet guarantee to provide the total institutional profile requirements in any one subject area, let alone all subject areas.

The principle of aggregation, however, is most attractive to institutions and the most acceptable strategy would be to have a commitment to one or two major aggregators at the most, who would provide the necessary institutional coverage and provide the seamless access that has proved so elusive.

Scholars in control

Given the notable success of some e-journal ventures based on internet technologies, there is now widespread debate on the possibility of scholars reclaiming the publishing process, thus breaking the invidious cost cycles associated with the production of electronic journals by conventional publishers.

Harnad, (1995) and Odlyzko, (1997) have both argued most forcibly that a new production and service paradigm is not only possible, but necessary, if the scholarly publishing industry is to continue to flourish. Their basic thesis is that the present distribution chain is too costly and tied to conventional printing values and methods. Whilst there is still a lack of authoritative information on the costs of electronic publishing, the contention is that scholars could produce electronic journals for less than half the cost of traditional publishers. There is, however, a general consensus that there are many other forces at work which protect the current distribution chain, not least that scholars still wish to have their publications published in prestige journals which are controlled by commercial interests.

Odlyzko, (1997) presents the challenge in the following manner:

Until the academic library system is modified with the costs and trade-offs made clear to scholars and administrators, it is unlikely there will be any drastic changes. We are likely to see slow evolution ... with continuing spread of pre-prints (in spite of attempts of journals in certain areas, such as medicine, to play King Canute roles, and attempt to stem this natural growth). Electronic journals will become almost universal but most of them will be versions of established print journals and will be equally expensive. Free or inexpensive electronic journals will grow, but probably not too rapidly. However, this situation is not likely to persist for too long. I have been predicting ... that change will come when administrators realise how expensive the library system is and that scholars can obtain most of the information they need from other sources, primarily pre-prints.


As Barnes observes, there are five key non-pricing areas that libraries must address, namely:

None of these critical success factors can be dealt with in isolation and they demand the formulation of new service paradigms and a re-evaluation of the relative merit of creating centralised and/or distributed service mechanisms. There is also a need to map both the technological and information infrastructures necessary to support the desired outcomes.

There has been quite a lot of preliminary work done in the Australian context over the past year to map the required architecture and the present state of this map is depicted in Figure 1 [20].

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Figure 1: Future Directions of Technology [21]

The challenge is to integrate diverse proprietary systems into the internet environment in a way which allows the customer to share the illusion of seamless access for both resource discovery and the delivery of information in both electronic and print form. In our respective countries, there are many interesting projects aimed at bringing together pieces of the infrastructure jigsaw, however, it remains unclear as to whether the sum of the parts will be sufficient to sustain the needs of our customers in the higher education context.


The technical complexities involved in infrastructure development continue to dominate our thinking. There has been, however, increasing attention over the past year on the means of matching people and resources in the electronic environment. Four key information management concepts appear to be central to this renewed effort, namely:

All four concepts are relevant, irrespective of the balance between print and electronic information resources provision, or the nature of the content.

The MODELS [22] analysis, formulated as part of the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) program in the UK, reflects this renewed determination to aggregate information resources in a way that is meaningful to particular customer groups. MODELS categorises the areas for potential action in the following manner:


The proposed European project PRIDE (People & Resources Identification for a Distributed Environment), which is being co-ordinated by Peter Smith from LASER in London [23], outlines the desired architectures in a clear fashion. PRIDE is focusing on two complementary and critical dimensions missing from the distributed services currently developed within the European framework, namely:

These services are essential in networked services scenarios where:

The resultant services will allow the user to gain unified access to a potentially global range of information resources and services in a more efficient, scaleable and functional manner by facilitating:

The project proposal rightly asserts that the distributed services paradigm will be an important guide to service providers seeking to offer services across domains.


One of the most critical issues, in terms of both organising and sharing information resources in the electronic environment, is to determine the size and nature of the integration necessary to offer optimal levels of service. The library world has always been driven by a curious mixture of autonomous initiatives and bold co-operative ventures. The opportunities and threats inherent in our current environment are powerful incentives to rethink the nature of the service paradigms, the practical parameters for delivery and the organisational/political alliances necessary to fund and operate the services. Cliff Lynch observed in a recent article [24] that the outcomes are very often dependent on political questions of perceived autonomy and power rather than on optimal technical/service solutions.

Consortia have been the most common way of integrating services for particular groups of institutions or particular groups of customers. More recently, however, there has been debate over the nature and optimal size of groups to operate in a shared virtual information space. In the U.K. the term "clumps" has been coined as a generic description of the concept. A lot more work has to be done to explore the practical implications of "clumps."

There is the additional question relating to the level of national co-ordination necessary to ensure that the service implications of a framework, such as that postulated in MODELS, are fulfilled. The author understand that a recent study [25] of the need to establish a national co-ordinating agent in the U.K. has proved to be inconclusive in terms of reaching a consensus on outcomes. This is hardly surprising, because libraries are entering new and complex territory, where their key interests and potential partners are not yet clearly identified.


The analyses contained in this paper indicates a convergence of interest around a number of important strategic issues. These issues can be summarised in the follow manner:


In satisfying the information requirements of the global academic community, it is necessary to work towards a growing interdependence between the academic and administrative systems in higher education institutions, together with the national and international technical infrastructure and the myriad of proprietary and internet electronic information resources.

The primary challenge for the library community is to formulate realistic service paradigms for the global digital library. In developing the necessary infrastructure, it is essential to seek workable partnerships at the institutional level, to seek natural alliances at the regional or national level and to work towards international collaboration.

It is probably safe to assume that the commercial market will continue to be a main driver of both the technical infrastructure and the information infrastructure. It is highly likely, however, that a competitive edge will be gained by those countries where the higher education sector complements the commercial market forces with imaginative service solutions and timely financial investments in large-scale collaborative ventures, aimed at strengthening both the technical and information infrastructures as a means of creating the global digital university.

[4] This is a paper supplied by the speaker, edited for this report.

[5] McLean, Neil "Open Systems - Open Market: Ten Years On" in Proceedings at the Eighth Australasian Online and On Disc Conference held in Sydney 21-23 January 1997. Information Science Section, Australian Library and Information Association.

[6] The Locknote presentation and a summary of the main themes of the Conference were published by McLean as "The Challenges in the Information Services Market" in The Australian Library Journal 46(1): 52-67.

[7] Australia's Future Online. (1997). A report produced by the Australia Coalition of Service Industries and McKinsey & Company, Melbourne.

[8] McLean, Neil. "Information Infrastructure for Australian Universities". A Submission to the Review of Higher Education Financing and Policy by the NSW/ACT CAUDIT/UNISON Group.

[9] The Australian Review of Higher Education Financing and Policy is being conducted by a committee chaired by Roderick West and is due to report to the Commonwealth Minister, Senator Amanda Vanstone, by the end of March 1998.

[10] Bernbom, Gerald (1997). "Institution-wide Information Strategies." CAUSE/EFFECT 20 Spring.

[11] The University Librarians of the nine University of California campuses have assumed a leadership rôle in launching a major initiative to define the scope of a University of California Digital Library Program. For further details see

[12] Davis, Hiram L. (1996). "Economic Considerations for Digital Libraries: a Library of Congress Perspective", The Economics of Information in a Networked Environment. Proceedings of the Conference: Challenging Market Place Solutions to Problems in the Economics of Information, Washington, DC, September 18-19, 1995. Association of Research Libraries.

[13] Lynch, Cliff (1997). "Building the Infrastructure of Resource Sharing: Union Catalogs, Distributed Searching, and Cross-Database Linkage." Library Trends 45(3).

[14] The Generic Architecture for Information Availability (GAIA) project is funded by the European Commission under the ACTS programme. There are twenty companies/institutions involved from various countries in Europe. For further information see

[15] Harnad, Stevan (1995). "The Post Gutenberg Galaxy: How to get there from here". 5 80/ ~ harnad/THES/thes.html

[16] Quandt, Richard C. (1996). "Electronic Publishing and Virtual Libraries: Issues and an Agenda for the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation." Serials Review , 22(2) Summer.

[17] Odlyzko, Andrew (1997). "The Economics of Electronic Journals". Preliminary Draft. Based on paper presented to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Conference, Scholarly Communication and Technology. E mory University, Atlanta, Georgia April 24-25, 1997.

[18] Barnes, John H. (1997). "One Giant Leap, One Small Step: Continuation the Migration to Electronic Journals. Library Trends 45(3).

[19] Machovec , George (1997 ). "Electronic Journal Market Overview."

[20] The Council for Australia University Libraries (CAUL) sponsored a Working Group in September 1996 to explore library requirements for managing electronic information resources, both in the context of organisational and infrastructure needs. The diagram depicted in Figure 1, constructed by McLean (1996), is an attempt to portray the infrastructure requirements in a schematic manner.

[21] Source: Gartner Group.

[22] MODELS ( MOving to Distributed Environments for Library Services) is one of three eLibSupporting Studies projects sponsored by JISC. The project is a UK Office for Library & Information Networking (UKOLN) initiative, which has support from the eLib programme and the British Library. For further information see:

[23] The PRIDE project proposal is being co-ordinated by Peter Smith from LASER in London. There are seventeen prospective partners comprising membership from institutions and companies across Europe. The proposal has been submitted under the European Commission Telematics Applications Programme.

[24] Lynch, Cliff (1997). "Global Networking Complexity Chaos and Control." Keynote address at Eighth Australasian Online and On Disc Conference Sydney 1997. The Australian Library Journal 46(1).

[25] The report was not available at the time of the conference but is now published: "Towards a National Agency for Resource Discovery: Scoping Study", P. Brophy , S. Fisher, G. Hare and D. Kay. British Library Research & Innovation Centre 1997 (BLR&I Report 58).

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