Implementation and Innovation in the NSDL by William Arms

September 18, 2008 at 2:07 pm 2 comments

The first solicitation

The NSF provided seed grants through the Digital Libraries Initiative in 1998 and 1999. The main program was announced in 2000, under the name of the National Science Digital Library (NSDL). Since then, the annual solicitations provide a record of how the NSF’s view of the NSDL has evolved. Small alterations have been made every year, but the solicitations in 2000, 2004, and 2008 represented major changes of emphasis. The solicitation in 2000 was particularly important. It differed from the recommendations of the planning reports in several significant ways that have shaped the program ever since.

The most important change received little attention at the time. While the planning meetings had been asked to consider undergraduate education, the solicitation called for a library to support scientific education at all levels. This was a major change, since K-12 education is fundamentally different from undergraduate education in emphasizing curricula through highly structured class plans and state standards, and making limited use of primary materials. Failure to grasp this distinction was a serious problem in the early days of the NSDL and remains a challenge today, particularly as most of the funding has gone to university groups with expertise in undergraduate education but lesser understanding of K-12.

A second major difference was to mix the two missions of the NSDL in a single solicitation. The stated aim was to implement a digital library, but the funding program was more suitable for a broad program of research and development. In the early years of the NSDL, only twenty to thirty percent of the funding went to support the library building view of the program. The bulk of the money went to a range of smaller projects with labels such as, “services”, “collections”, or “research”. Most of these early grants were to groups whose primary interest was in innovation. While the services and collection projects were expected to contribute to the goal of building a digital library for science education, the structure of the program provided few incentives for them to integrate their work into the broader NSDL.

The 2000 solicitation postponed the selection of the team that would build the central parts of the library. It funded six short-term projects, intended to create separate demonstration systems to show how the library might be built. The plan was that they would be followed by a single Core Integration project, with long-term funding, to combine the various activities of the NSDL into a coherent library. In the event, only the projects at Cornell University and the University of California at Berkeley actually built demonstration systems.


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Entry filed under: NSDL Core Integration. Tags: , , .

Welcome to NSDL Reflections! Reflections on NSDL by Frank Wattenberg

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Flora McMartin  |  March 18, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    Bill writes that NSDL has been faced with two challenges: supporting education at all levels and mixing the missions of innovation and implementation. He adds that the “aim was to implement a digital library, but the funding program was more suitable for a broad program of research and development.”
    Given the broad and mixed mission, does NSDL need to focus its resources in particular areas to ensure longer term sustainability? What would those areas of focus be, and can digital library services be created that provide value to some set of users or funders?

  • […] explaining its 1996-1997 roots in NSF-funded planning studies (see NSDL Reflections Weblog, “Implementations and Innovation in the NSDL” by William Arms). Dr. Linda Slakey, NSF Division of Undergraduate Education Division Director […]


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Welcome to NSDL Reflections!

We are collecting the "reflections" on the collaborative development of the National Science Digital Library (NSDL). This site is a place for NSDL participants to “tell the story” of how they think NSDL was formed, grew and is continuing to grow. And for the community to discuss and learn from these reflections.

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