Libraries increasingly giving prominence to pixels

UI LIbraries digitized content

UI Libraries is digitizing unique books and artifacts from areas such as Special Collections and the Iowa Women’s Archives to make them more accessible online. Photo by Tom Jorgensen.

While the average person may imagine rows and rows of books when they think of libraries, University Librarian Nancy Baker says a majority of research libraries, including The University of Iowa’s, are increasingly focused on providing digital collections and services for their constituents.

For The University of Iowa this not only includes acquiring electronic versions of scholarly books and journals, but also digitizing unique books and artifacts from areas such as Special Collections and the Iowa Women’s Archives to make them more accessible online.

“Digitization has transformed libraries over the years,” Baker says. “We can provide access to more resources that can be searched in multiple ways any time of day.”

Print versus digital
Edward Shreeves, associate university librarian and director of collections and scholarly communication, oversees the Libraries’ acquisitions budget.

“When I was hired in 1989, we were probably spending less than 1 percent of our acquisitions budget on electronic resources, which at that time were CD ROMs,” Shreeves says. “Today we’re spending around 75 percent of our budget on electronic resources. In just 20 years, there’s been an enormous shift in the collection that we are acquiring for our users.”

Both Shreeves and Baker point to demand as a reason for the shift. For a period of time, when academic journals and books were first being offered digitally, UI Libraries was purchasing both the print and electronic versions—often because they were bundled together—but then noticed that hardly anyone was using the print publications.

“As long as people can get to the electronic version, that’s what they’ll use because they can access it from their office or home 24/7,” Shreeves says. “The thing that’s happened most recently is the rapid growth of interest and availability of e-books. We now have access to 200,000 or more electronic books. Users seem to be finding them to their liking, for certain kinds of books. You can get to them anytime, anywhere, and you can search them and download parts of them.”

Shreeves says that, in addition to the UI Libraries’ electronic resources, patrons also have access to databases created and licensed by outside vendors, such as Proquest’s database of books published in Great Britain between 1475 and 1700 and digital editions of the New York Times and the Washington Post from each paper’s founding to the present.

“The availability of digital resources is changing the way people do research or can do research,” Shreeves says. “What used to take days searching through microfilm is now readily available and searchable online.”

Digital Library Services
In addition to acquiring electronic publications, UI Libraries also creates digital collections. According to Nicole Saylor, head of Digital Library Services (DLS), which coordinates digital collections across the libraries and around campus, the group primarily focuses on three areas of digitization.

“I think we’ve exposed some collections that were previously sort of hidden from view. What you have access to really has transformed because of what we have on the digital library.”
—Nicole Saylor, head of DLS

DLS’s initial focus was digital-collection building of primary source materials, something the group continues to do. All these materials are made available in the Iowa Digital Library (digital.lib.uiowa.edu).

“I think we’ve exposed some collections that were previously sort of hidden from view,” Saylor says. “Access is really transforming with the growth of the digital library.”

A second area of interest for the DLS team is scholarly archives and publishing. Iowa Research Online (ir.uiowa.edu) is an institutional repository to capture the scholarly output of the University. Part of that includes an e-publishing service, which hosts the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review and other peer-reviewed journals, as well as other published and unpublished scholarship.

A third focus is creative scholarship or e-research (www.lib.uiowa.edu/dls/projects.html). According to Saylor, these are pilot projects, specifically in the digital humanities. This year, DLS has provided a project team to two faculty members—one in art and art history and another in linguistics—to assist in the creation of digital projects. Saylor says supporting new forms of scholarship is important, as is advising faculty on managing research data, since more and more national granting agencies are requiring data management plans as part of research funding applications.

Google Books and the HATHI Trust
Another area of digitization that UI Libraries is a part of is the Google Books project, which scans and digitizes out-of-copyright books from university libraries around the world and makes them searchable on the web.

“A lot of our effort is to make our unique materials available to the world. It’s part of the notion of being for the public good.”
—Paul Soderdahl, director of Library Information Technology

Paul Soderdahl, director of Library Information Technology, says that, although Google hasn’t started scanning University of Iowa materials yet, an offshoot of the project has begun to put information online. The HATHI Trust (www.hathitrust.org) is a group of more than 50 institutions that are committed to preserving their unique collections online through digitization efforts. Unlike Google Books, the HATHI Trust is intended more for scholarly research, as opposed to a general audience. It also includes material that doesn’t necessarily meet Google’s digitization criteria.

Soderdahl says this means UI Libraries is focusing on digitizing things Google wouldn’t put online, such as at-risk materials—historical analog materials that could be made more available digitally and “born digital” materials, such as web sites, that people tend not to think about preserving.

Worldwide access
Despite the push to get more and more library materials online, Baker, Shreeves, Saylor, and Soderdahl all say that there is still a need for print and other primary source material, especially for researchers studying particular topics. Also, as Baker points out, UI Libraries still acquires plenty of print and other nonprint digital collections because that is the only way they are currently available.

However, digitizing the UI Libraries collections allows access to anyone in the world with an Internet connection through a simple Google search or by visiting the UI Libraries home page (www.lib.uiowa.edu).

“Everything we do is for access and preservation,” Soderdahl says. “We’d like to think the areas we focus on collecting in physical form, and therefore digital form, are particularly of use to this audience, to our University community. However, a lot of our effort is to make our unique materials available to the world. It’s part of the notion of being for the public good.”

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