Implementation and Innovation in the NSDL by William Arms

September 18, 2008 at 2:07 pm 2 comments

The changes in 2008

In 2007, NSF’s directorate of Education and Human Resources had a new assistant director. This led to a review of the NSDL program and the solicitation in 2008 had some important changes.

The goal of the NSDL program was subtly redefined. With minor changes, the annual solicitation from 2000 to 2007 had stated that the aim of the NSDL was “to found a national digital library that will constitute an online network of learning environments and resources for science, mathematics, engineering, and technology (SMET) education at all levels.” In 2008, there was no longer any mention of founding a national digital library. The aim was simply, “to establish a national network of learning environments and resources…”

The solicitation continued to emphasize the importance of the Pathways track, with funding for new projects and continuation grants for the earlier ones, and emphasized the responsibility of each Pathways project to provide “a stewardship role on behalf of NSDL for the educational content and/or the services needed by a broad community of learners.” A portion of the Pathways’ budgets will support technical integration, but their explicit commitments to the integrated goals of the NSDL are minimal, simply a requirement to provide metadata to the central repository. In essence, the NSF appears to view the Pathways as a federation of independent digital libraries, each responsible for an area of scientific education, rather than tightly integrated branches of a single national library.

By encouraging earlier Pathways projects to apply for continuation grants, the NSF is recognizing the realities of sustainability. Despite numerous plans, meetings, and workshops, nobody has been able to propose a realistic financial model for educational digital libraries other than support from the governments or other external sources. The NSF is always reluctant to make commitments that imply it will support any activity indefinitely. This reluctance is part of its overall success, but sometimes it goes too far. The cost of the Pathways is small when compared with the amounts that are spent on educational resources by the federal and state governments, and by universities and other organizations. Educational technology has a history of excellent projects that are lost when initial funding expires. If the Pathways can collect and provide access to these resources over the long-term, the program will be an excellent investment.

Since the original Core Integration grant expired, the NSF has wrestled with the question of what comes next. With long-term projects, the NSF’s culture is to give other organizations opportunities to submit proposals. There is no reason why UCAR, Cornell, and Columbia should run the Core Integration indefinitely. One option that the NSF explored was a “management entity” that would be responsible for the contractual aspects of the major NSDL grants and a focus for the sustainability efforts. There were several one-year extensions of the original Core Integration grant and during 2008 the NSF is winding up the original Core Integration team. In its place, the 2008 solicitation asked for separate bids for a Resource Center and a Technical Resource Network Services project. These two activities will continue much of the work that has been carried out at UCAR and Cornell respectively, but with a greater emphasis on the operational aspects of the services.


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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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