In the wake of the visit to UVa of 8 May '98...

In the last decade W&L libraries have certainly been active in the evolution of electronic access to information, and for the most part library personnel and initiatives have led the development of faculty interest in the tools which electronic evolution has put into our hands: the online catalog, online indexes and databases, gopher and WWW, electronic journals. The plans for expansion of Media Center facilities are intended to underwrite the exploration of the multimedia use and creation which are the next frontier in this evolution.
We face again many of the same problems and challenges that attended our adoption and development of the earlier tools:

The opportunity to see several of UVa's Electronic Centers one after the other, in the context of a group tour including Leyburn and University Computing staff, affords a perspective that transcends individual visits and browsing of websites: we each saw things and possibilities that others in the group most fully appreciated (though there was no opportunity for discussion of that), and I think we should make an effort to consolidate what we heard, saw and thought, via a group discussion. Some sort of action agenda ought to arise from our experience, and I'm sure we'd agree that some elements of what we saw are important harbingers for W&L, and that others are beyond our means and energies.

I want to lay out some of my own thoughts in the hope that they will provoke others to respond, and this medium seems the handiest. The following summary tries to encapsulate what my eyes saw and what I think I think about it.

Uva is doing some things that we don't do, or are only beginning:

For the most part, W&L faculty are not requesting these services, and indeed seem not to know about them at all. Perhaps we should just let sleeping dogs alone? Or, alternatively, does the library have a responsibility to foster and foment cooperative projects, to lead the way in development of electronic materials? That's certainly what UVa seems to have done, taking direct action to incorporate the creation and production of electronic materials to support users, whether they requested or not.

Should we be making more active efforts to make the wealth of material in Special Collections available in digital form, locally and via the web? (this would involve substantial investment in high-end equipment and staff to use it)

Do we need to do more to foster specific "computing initiatives" to get the equipment and staff to undertake more active projects with creation, classroom use and dissemination of digital information? Who would make use of them if we attempted to organize and institute? How should we be thinking about the creation of demand in our user communities?

Does it make more sense for us to license (rather than seek to create and manage ourselves) a broader range of digital collections? And if so, should the library budget be redirected, or should other forms of funding (like alumni funds) be sought?

UVa's approach seems to have been (and continues to be) to hire specialists, rather than to grow them from (for example) library reference staff, so some of what they've done isn't reasonable for us to emulate.

(more to follow...)