Common Denominator: Digital Libraries from R1s to Liberal Arts Colleges

This member update was provided by Rick Provine, Dean of Libraries at DePauw University, Greencastle, IN.

About 20 years ago, while I was working at the University of Virginia, we joined a fledgling organization to help us share information and work towards our digital future. The Digital Library Federation was born. Now, working at DePauw University, a liberal arts college, I return to the DLF as we find ourselves very much immersed in that future.

Digital library activity was once the purview of the “bigs.” R & D was expensive and the R1 institutions were scrambling to get a foothold. But what once divided us is now a common denominator. Digital library activity now makes us all more similar than different. The gap between what we can do in a liberal arts college and what can be done in an R1 is no longer so great.

At DePauw, we have an institutional repository and an open access policy, terabytes of digitized images, newspapers, documents and other archival holdings, an endless array of databases, online journals and ebooks. We support digital humanities projects in cooperation with faculty and other units. We have, in a word, lots of “stuff.” It’s a treasure trove. And it’s maybe the best town-gown strategy we have ever had, with the plethora of photos, local news, and ephemera from our shared local and institutional history.

So what now? As we did 20 years ago, we turn to the collective wisdom of those who both came before us and who are engaged in the puzzle of making all of this “stuff” as accessible, usable, and relevant as possible.

Our challenge today is to make our digital riches more than just an array of disparate collections, containers, and search boxes. Discovery layers are a start but not the whole equation. We now look to DLF to help us sort this out and move ever forward. Hopefully, by Thursday.

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