Virtual Library projects coming online

In response to the rapidly changing manner in which information is accessed and disseminated, the University is paving a path into the next century with a series of significant digital initiatives. In the Sept. 16 issue of Emory Report, Provost Billy Frye announced the creation of a Digital Information Resources Council (DIRC) and a $500,000 per year "superfund" to support it. This announcement marks the most significant recent development to result from the Virtual Library Project.

"The DIRC and the `superfund' are a big step for this campus," said Virtual Library Project coordinator Betsey Patterson. "We can now start thinking about electronic resources as a campus and not as individual schools and divisions."

Serving as a unifying force, the new council will direct the development of the University's electronic resources in an efficient and centralized manner that is beneficial to the campus as a whole. According to Patterson, the organization and allocation of resources is the biggest challenge inherent in the project. "In some respects, the technology is the least of the problems," said Patterson. "The organizational and financial issues are critical."

The Virtual Library Project began in 1993 with a $300,000 grant from the Luce Foundation. The goal of the project was to investigate avenues through which new information technologies could be used to enhance the management and utilization of scholarly resources. "The project gave us the capacity to explore key issues and provided a visibility and an opportunity to raise broad issues with University administration and faculty," said Joan Gotwals, vice provost and director of libraries. "It helped shape our thinking about the future."

A final report on the project details the progression of numerous initiatives and describes new tools that have become available to the Emory community as a result of the project.

Among the most exciting of these new tools is the SELA (Scholars Press-Emory Libraries Linked Academy) Journals Project. Touted as "an experiment in electronic publishing," four core journals in religion studies will be available in spring 1997 by accessing the Scholars Press web site (

The Virtual Library Project is encouraging other creative new collaboration in electronic publishing as well. Working with the Project and the Lewis H. Beck Center for Electronic Collections and Services, Associate Professor of English Sheila Cavanagh and a group of English graduate students are developing the Emory Women Writers Resource Project. This initiative is creating hypertext edited editions of rare works by 17th- and 18th-century British and American women. These works are being used by Cavanagh in Emory courses and are available electronically via the web to interested teachers and scholars around the world.

A recent $125,000 grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations to the Virtual Library Project will be coupled with matching funds from the University to expand the Beck Center's hardware and software resources.

Despite all the recent developments, Patterson cautions that, "this electronic excitement is not the panacea everyone thinks it's going to be. There is a lot of material that simply will not be available electronically." In the course of the research undertaken by the Virtual Library Project, it was discovered that there are numerous financial and legal boundaries to just how digital such resources can become. Students of the new digital age are proving to be discontent with these limitations.

"Unfortunately, there is arising, at least among undergraduates, a reluctance to use resources that are not electronic and a suspicion that if it is not in electronic form, it can't be significant," said Patterson. The new technology presents the unique challenge of encouraging students and faculty to utilize these emerging resources while integrating these new electronic tools with a wealth of traditional print resources which may never be converted to digital form. "This is a tough and challenging time, but I think it's an exciting time," said Patterson. "Everyone must be on their toes much more than they used to."

--DyShaun Muhammad

Editor's Note: See related story on page 3.

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