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The Case for a Scholars Portal to the Web: A White Paper
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portal: Libraries and the Academy 1.1 (2001) 15-21

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The Case for Creating a Scholars Portal to the Web: A White Paper* - [PDF]

Jerry D. Campbell


In September 1999, the Association of Research Libraries and OCLC hosted a meeting designated as a Strategic Issues Forum for Academic Library Directors. Held in Keystone, Colorado, and attended by eighty academic librarians, the meeting yielded a somewhat unexpected outcome when a consensus emerged that in the World Wide Web environment the library world is in danger of abandoning its constituency to commercial information services.

The basis for the consensus was not that libraries don't offer web access but rather the general nature of this access. Our existing library web pages are focused mainly on individual libraries and the resources and services they offer. Consequently, with rare exceptions web access hosted by libraries is not designed to serve as a general entry point for the larger world of web-accessible resources. Neither are the multitude of individual library web pages equal to a single, widely known, dependable beginning place for research in the web environment. For this reason, library users and librarians in search of web-based information turn instead (and are sometimes directed through library web pages) to search engines or information services created by what may be referred to in the new parlance as information.coms. 1 A number of recently created content providers may also be counted among the information.coms, including netlibrary.com, questia.com, and several ebook providers. [End Page 15]

While they appreciated the benefits of such information.com portals, Keystone attendees nonetheless observed that these commercial portals were established on different values and principles than those espoused by the library community. In addition, the information.coms were seen as pursuing different goals and purposes than libraries. In light of this, the Keystone attendees concluded that libraries (and librarians) should take collaborative action to address this situation. In particular, Keystone attendees suggested that academic libraries should develop a full-service, shared web presence that they labeled "library.org." They also made a preliminary effort to describe the nature of a library.org presence and articulate the principles and values that might undergird it (see <http://www.arl.org/newsltr/207/keystone.html>). In addition, they considered the kind of business plan that might be required for its initiation.


The purpose of this paper is to suggest that the Association of Research Libraries should seriously pursue the feasibility of developing a "library.org" web presence. For clarity, this paper will refer to the proposed web presence as the scholars portal, the domain name derivatives of which are available. 2 This paper will also suggest that this effort could best be undertaken in partnership with other agencies including OCLC and the Library of Congress. It is not the purpose of this paper, however, to argue the case for the Keystone Conference principles or outcomes, though that might indeed be an interesting and useful debate.

Similarly, the paper intends to argue only the general case that such a portal--a collective research library presence on the Web--is needed. Thus the paper will not propose and argue for a particular design or set of services for the scholars portal, though a brief outline of these will be suggested as a means of providing substance for the idea. If ARL chooses to pursue the concept, the real particulars of the portal must emerge as the result of careful thought and broad discussion. In the same fashion, the paper argues for the partnership noted above not in order to be exclusive but in order to provide the necessary critical mass of expertise to undertake development of a scholars portal. While increasing the number of partners adds complexity, the consideration of other strategic allies must be part of assessing the concept.


With the availability of what already numbers several dozen information.coms, one might reasonably ask whether research libraries should bother taking concerted action to get into the web information portal business. After...