American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

Report on NRC Workshop on a Digital National Library for SME&T Education (8-6-97)

On August 7 and 8, 1997, the National Research Council (NRC) hosted a workshop on a "Digital National Library for Science, Math, Engineering & Technology (SME&T) Education." Dozens of experts on digital and conventional libraries were present to discuss and debate the benefits and disadvantages of a digital national library. According to the NRC, a digital national library might "provide a comprehensive collection of high-quality educational material for undergraduate students and teachers." The NRC commissioned papers on the topic which served as a starting point for much of the discussion at the workshop. In addition, during two plenary sessions, speakers started discussion with their points of view on "the role and value of a national digital library for undergraduate SME&T education."

Although the workgroup never fully defined the digital national library, they did reach consensus on the following statement:

The National Science Foundation (NSF) should provide funding and coordination for a national digital library to support SME&T education with at least the following activities:
  1. Collecting and preserving important content
  2. Supporting development of virtual library collections
  3. Applying 1 and 2 to enhance learning.
There were a few dissenters in the group, including Bill Arms of the Corporation for National Research Initiatives. Mr. Arms said that the work group should not vote for this or any other resolution because it would limit NSF's flexibility to create a digital national library. According to Mr. Arms, "Any resolution [the work group] come[s] up with is more likely to get in the way of NSF rather than help them." Jim Davis, of XEROX PARC, said that NSF should not fund or construct a digital national library because there is no demand for it and the library is not the solution to improving SME&T education. He said that the funds would be put to better use in the area of content development.

The workgroup is to submit a findings report to NSF by September, after the report is reviewed by the NRC.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at

Contributed by Stephanie Barrett, AGI Government Affairs Intern
Last updated August 8, 1997

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