Implementation and Innovation in the NSDL by William Arms

September 18, 2008 at 2:07 pm 2 comments

The Pathways

The NSF solicitations from 2000 to 2004 gave almost eighty percent of the funds to small projects, chosen on their individual merit rather than their combined value as components of the NSDL library. As with any NSF program, many of these projects have been excellent and others have been disappointments. Some of the collections and services continued after the initial funding expired, but others failed to survive. Meanwhile progress was slow on the task of building a comprehensive digital library for education.

During 2003, several people suggested that the NSDL needed to put more of its resources into implementation. The strategy that emerged to support the equivalent of branch libraries, each with a focus in a specific area of scientific education. For example, one of the first ideas to be considered was the possibility of an undergraduate mathematics education, which is a discipline with a tradition of cooperation across universities.

These discussions led to the Pathways program, which was introduced in the 2004 solicitation. In the NSDL, Pathways are digital libraries that concentrate on specific areas of science education. Currently there are eleven of them. Compared with the smaller projects: they are funded at a higher level and for longer periods of time; they are expected to provide operational services; and they are charged with cooperation among themselves and with the Core Integration. Several Pathways concentrate on a specific level of education, such as K-12, middle school, or undergraduate.

I have been less involved with the NSDL in recent years, but the Pathways program appears to be a success. Usage statistics suggest that several of them are having considerable impact on education.

A curious feature of the Pathways is how loosely they are tied to the central NSDL web site operated by the Core Integration team [4]. The central site has a search service that indexes the content of all the NSDL projects, but currently it gives surprisingly little emphasis to the Pathways, beyond a web page that lists their separate web sites. Each Pathway acknowledges the NSDL on its home page, but the acknowledgements usually appear in lists of contributors, rather than as proclamations that they are branches of a single national digital library. One reason is that most of the Pathways receive support from several sources; their users value them as resources in their fields of interest, not because they are components of the larger NSDL.


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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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