The amorphous, rapidly evolving, and fickle nature of the Web makes forays into creating DLs dangerous. There are no guarantees that your effort will be worth anything in 3 years (and it likely won’t be worth much).
Because of this, there are some questions as to whether massive expenditures into digital collections are really worth it.
It’s a question we have to ask without an easy answer.
Sure, digital collections are neat, have great information, and aren’t expensive compared to holdings in physical buildings, but the expenditure is constant, and digital directories of web contents will always be a step behind the actual Web.
Given this, can we justify the cost of creating a DL for the long term? And if so, who will pay? The state? The federal government? Ad-revenue?
I have 3 thoughts on this topic:
1. Most digital collections will be abandoned or fail.
Not all projects have a chance at a long life and many are stillborn. Some successful ones will flicker and die. All of this is likely a good thing. Not all ideas are grand, and not all ventures are needed. Sometimes you have to accept failure, cull, and focus on the successful parts.
2. Standards are the lifeblood of long-term successful collections.
Why open standards are important, and why I’ve focused on them in this blog so far, is because they allow existing effort to be transferred between systems. Any project with long term aspirations needs to be ready to transfer into a new technical system or risk failure. Having no transition path in case of disaster is a recipe for failure. Disaster always strikes in the long term.
3. The survivors will serve specific needs
I think that surviving collections will serve needs aside from search. Mega-conglomerate search engines will always attract more users than small web directories. However, communities and individuals will likewise have needs not met by the big engines. Whether that need is a catalog for a local physical library, or a collection of papers presented at conferences for a professional organization, or your collection of shot glasses, local collections will always be needed – and those communities and individuals will be the ones to support the surviving collections.
But these are just my thoughts on the ultimate sustainability of digital collections. Your thoughts?