- Managing the Digital Library
Roy Tennant is a respected and accomplished practitioner and writer in digital library development and management. He is user services architect for the California Digital Library (CDL) and has been involved in the development and deployment of the CDL eScholarship Repository and eScholarship Editions. His previous publications include XML in Libraries (New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, 2002); Practical HTML: A Self-Paced Tutorial (Berkeley, CA: Library Solutions Press, 1996); and with John Ober and Anne Lipow, Crossing the Internet Threshold: An Instructional Handbook (Berkeley, CA: Library Solutions Press, 1993).
Since 1997 Tennant has written a monthly column on digital libraries for Library Journal. In his latest book, Managing the Digital Library, he has compiled all of these columns through October 2003. In doing so, Tennant has "edited, link-checked, [and] rewritten [them] as needed" with updating and new content. (p. vii) [End Page 278] The columns are organized thematically under broad chapter headings such as "Acquisition and Digitization," "Building Collections," "Cataloging and Classification," "Public Service," "Organization and Staffing," "Technology and Infrastructure," and so on. Two appendices index the original columns by date and title.
Throughout these columns Tennant has defined "digital library" broadly to include commercially licensed digital content like journals and e-books in addition to digitized versions of analog content that a library might create from its own collections. Readers will thus find discussions of e-books, e-book appliances, OPACs, and licensing principles along with columns on federated search tools, imaging standards, and metadata (including the future of the MARC record format). Tennant reminds us that the "digital library" is increasingly the way in which the "traditional library" does its work; all academic libraries are (to use the definition crafted by the Digital Library Federation and quoted by Tennant) organizations that "provide the resources, including the specialized staff, to select, structure, offer intellectual access to, interpret, distribute, preserve the integrity of, and ensure the persistence over time of collections." (p.3) The digital library, on this reading, cannot be equated with specific tools—like federated search systems—or collections. At the same time, one of Tennant's recurring themes in this book is the impending "disappearance of our print collections in the face of more easily obtained digital content" and in the column entitled "The Convenience Catastrophe" he enjoins librarians to "provide more information online about what our print collections hold so that potential users of our collections can more easily discover the treasures they contain." (p. 128)
The strength of the periodic column format comes from its relative timeliness, allowing the columnist to address topics of immediate interest to readers unconstrained by a prior scheme of exposition. The format's concomitant weaknesses are brevity of treatment and a certain unevenness of coverage. Managing Digital Libraries is not a thorough treatment on a par with, for example, Michael Lesk's Practical Digital Libraries: Books, Bytes, and Bucks (San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann, 1997). It is, however, more accessible than Lesk's book and may be more likely to be read by professionals (new and experienced) seeking an overview of the topics that define our field.
Moreover, any book on such a rapidly developing field as digital libraries risks becoming quickly outdated; and, although Tennant has updated some sections, some important developments are not mentioned, such as the emergence of JPEG2000 as an open-standard alternative to the MrSID imaging format ("Beyond GIF and JPEG: New Digital Image Technologies"). Perhaps for this reason, I found one of the book's stronger chapters to be "Organization and Staffing." Here Tennant reminds managers that in a world characterized by constant technological change, cultivating staff with the right personality traits—capacity to learn constantly and quickly, flexibility, innate skepticism, tolerance of risk and of failure—is more important than hiring staff with specific technical skills. It is equally important to maintain agile organizations with flexible management structures, open communication, and a commitment to developing staff skills and rewarding innovation so that those staff will be enabled to work most productively. At the same...