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229 21 THE OXFORD DIGITAL LIBRARY Michael Popham A digital library at Oxford In 1999, thanks to generous funding from the Andrew W Mellon Foundation, a ninemonth scoping study recommended the formal establishment of a digital library service at the University of Oxford. Subsequent discussions focused on the potential allocation of resources between the functions which would be required to create new digital collections, and those to develop and maintain new services to readers. The former were seen as largely technical issues (and thus the preserve of IT specialists); the latter as comparable with more traditional library activities which would naturally fall within the domain of reader services. In practice, the boundaries between these two supposedly distinct areas have proven to be extremely blurred. Thanks once again to the foresight and largesse of the Andrew W Mellon Foundation, July 2001 saw the official launch of the Oxford Digital Library (ODL) as both a set of services and a distinct locus for more than twenty newly-created digital collections. Yet in the two years between the publication of the scoping study and the start of ODL operations, much had changed. The scoping study had reviewed existing analogue collections and consulted with librarians across the collegiate University, and provided a decision-making matrix for digitization based upon priorities such as access, preservation, feasibility, and the potential for revenue-generation or the creation of new infrastructure. By the time the ODL was established, attention was largely concentrated on the holdings of the libraries which comprised the newly-formed Oxford University Library Services (OULS), and the emphasis was firmly placed upon digitizing collections to both facilitate greater access and promote the richness of the libraries’ holdings to the widest possible audience. Even in 2001, digitization was not a new activity at Oxford. Several major digital image creation projects had taken place over the previous decade or more, and work to create digital scholarly editions and new electronic finding aids had been underway since the mid-1970s (e.g. with the foundation of the Oxford Text Archive in 1976). Not all of these earlier activities had directly involved the libraries, but by 2001 there were substantial numbers of legacy digital collections the natural home of which lay within the ODL. This combination of new and old digital collections, shifting organizational structures and priorities, and a need to combine traditional library services with cutting-edge technical expertise made for a particularly challenging business planning environment. Indeed those challenges remain to the present day, as library services and the notion of what constitutes a digital library service have continued to evolve to meet the changing demands of our users. BPDG_opmaak_12072010.indd 229 13/07/10 11:51 Gary S. Lawrence 230 Business Planning Vision and mission When Sir Thomas Bodley founded the Bodleian Library in 1602, his aim was to create a ‘Republic of Letters’ – a community of learning, open to all. While the collections held in Oxford’s libraries have grown considerably in the intervening four hundred years, many of the traditional spatiotemporal barriers to access have remained unchanged. Indeed, with the need to preserve a growing and aging collection of nationally important materials, and the challenges of managing immense numbers of items received under Legal Deposit privilege on a reference-only basis, barriers to access arguably increased over time. In its vision for the ODL, Oxford University Library Services shares the view voiced by Michael Lesk (amongst many others) that “In the future we expect that artifacts will be relatively less important. More and more, it will be the digital version that is used ….. the old will survive, but the new will be dominant.” (Lesk, 2005) While the establishment of the ODL was certainly driven by a combination of factors, greater access to Oxford’s collections by a much broader readership was the primary goal. In the transition to becoming a hybrid library service, OULS recognizes the growing demand to connect users with content – irrespective of the constraints of time, place or original medium. The business case and users More than 60% of the readers registered to use the Bodleian Library are not members of Oxford University. Leading scholars will travel half way round the globe to access some of the unique items held in our collections, but the vast majority of potential users (even those located in the UK) are unlikely to visit in person. Like most other leading educational institutions, the University of Oxford is continually striving to expand the services it offers...


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