Business Planning for Digital Libraries: International Approaches

John Azzolini (Clifford Chance US LLP, New York, United States of America)

The Electronic Library

ISSN: 0264-0473

Article publication date: 4 October 2011



Azzolini, J. (2011), "Business Planning for Digital Libraries: International Approaches", The Electronic Library, Vol. 29 No. 5, pp. 723-724.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

The business perspective on digital content and service provision is not an inviting area of inquiry for most librarians. By training and inclination, their deliberations and self‐confidence are often directed to any domain but the business‐related. This is reflected in the professional literature on digital libraries, which contains ample commentary on more vocation‐friendly topics such as content, metadata, and search. Even issues beyond the concerns of the everyday user and data steward, like the monitoring and evaluation imperatives of project administration, receive a fair amount of practical treatment. Coverage of the financial planning elements of digital libraries, in contrast, appears to be in short supply. Yet these elements are as fundamental to project success as the technical and the political; indeed, they are determinative of the implementation of a project's technology and the maintenance of its stakeholder support.

Business Planning for Digital Libraries: International Approaches is an excellent attempt to fill the literature gap on this subject. This essay collection gathers the compact insights of library professionals from geographically diverse institutions while drawing out the field's common themes and challenges. The authors have substantial hands‐on experience with the crucial interplay of a digital undertaking's many variables, and their exceptionally well‐written contributions attest to that cognizance.

The book is neatly divided into three parts. The first section, Framework, is a very good point of entry for librarians unaccustomed to treating, or even seeing, business‐planning elements as natural and necessary components of their work lives. It focuses on how specific information environments (namely, the cultural heritage, higher education, arts and social sciences, and scientific, technical, and medical sectors) influence the level of planning needed to start and maintain a project. Editor Mel Collier makes plain the book's frame of reference: The digital library should be planned:

[…] as if it were an enterprise that is meant to fulfill specific goals and from the outset designed to be sustainable and to provide value to those who invest in it and those who use it (p. 14).

With this guiding principle in mind, the authors canvas the varied issues and tangibles to be grappled with. Some are everyday library matters, such as infrastructure requirements and the profiles of target users. Others can be rather intimidating, like the continuity of income streams and outside financial sponsorship, and can either repel practicing librarians into passivity or force them to take on bigger and more important roles.

The second section, Practice, devotes individual chapters to types of content areas, such as e‐books, e‐journals, and archived web materials, and to distinct issues likely to be confronted in the digital library field, like metadata, open access publishing, and multi‐linguality. These notable selections highlight the sundry questions of policy, scope, scale, and cost/benefit analysis that characterise discrete practice areas.

The third section, Case Studies, situates the broad principles and cross‐border wisdom in recognisable locales. It discusses the organisational frameworks, governance matters, and coordination efforts of particular libraries (FinELib, Finland's National Electronic Library; the Digital Library of Catalonia; APEnet (Archives Portal Europe); the California Digital Library; and the Oxford Digital Library) and sectors (i.e. Denmark's public libraries and New Zealand's cultural heritage institutions).

The book's structure renders understandable a topic usually not so clearly delineated, yet it does not rely on the simplistic formats of a beginner's textbook, such as oversized glossaries of key terms or visually insistent sidebars. The uniformly concise bullet‐point summaries at the end of each essay are particularly helpful reader aids that also avoid textbook oversimplification.

My lone criticism is format‐based and made in passing. It is that the typeface is a bit small, which might cause some eye strain if read for lengthy periods. However, this also means that a large amount of informative text is filling the book's pages. This is a welcome change from the use of excessive white space and large fonts favoured by some publishers.

The examples and standards discussed in Business Planning for Digital Libraries are from academic, national, and cultural heritage institutions, primarily from Europe and the United Kingdom, but this fact certainly does not discount the book's value for all working librarians. Its intellectual grasp of essential issues gives the reader a universal prism with which to handily view organisation‐specific case studies. Though more of a succinct introduction than a detailed analysis, this book succeeds as a strong step towards a more integrated comprehension of digital libraries. This is a knowing work for those who wish to know more.

Related articles