The dawn of the printing press in 1452 ushered in an era of transposing movable type to paper that continues to this day. The emergence of desktop publishing in the mid 1980s as a viable alternative to traditional printing techniques may have diminished demand for those methods, but it hardly hindered the cachet associated with being published. If anything, the more immediate accessibility of publishing tools fed a desire among all writers to make their ideas available to the masses.
By the early 1990s, however, anyone with something to say could conceivably share it with the world via the Internet, which ultimately gave countless writers-in-search-of-publishers a forum in which to share their work with others. Known as "self-publishing," the process has turned the traditional publishing paradigm on its ear.
While much of the content published on the Internet is far from valuable (or only valuable to a very few), a growing number of Web sites are purveying content that, in business applications, is considered mission critical and, in academic contexts, furthers understanding of the discipline for which it was generated. Unlike traditional book and academic publishers, who reject millions of manuscripts each year, online publishers are more inclined to publish content—at considerably less cost and with far fewer strings attached. Indeed, writers of all kinds of content are now finding an audience online who may never have seen their work otherwise.
The academic world has been particularly traumatized by the rising costs of the traditional publishing paradigm. Because institutions of higher learning are fueled by the pursuit of knowledge, their need for access to research is unparalleled: faculty cannot advance scholarship if their research efforts are not made available to colleagues and other interested audiences, and students cannot grasp difficult concepts within their chosen disciplines without having access to a broad selection of resource materials.
Every university and college is constrained by these challenges, but few have attempted to reinvent the wheel. The University of California is one of those few.
With 100-plus libraries on 10 campuses housing more than 31 million items, the University of California reportedly operates the world's largest research collection. As digital technologies evolved and campus budgets constricted in the 1990s, UC librarians, researchers, and administrators began acknowledging three challenges that could not be ignored: the economics of publishing were changing rapidly; scholarly communication needed to innovate; and sustaining comprehensive collections was becoming increasingly harder to do.
With these challenges in mind, UC representatives began conceptualizing a plan "to harness the system's resources at a time when the budget was very bad and the possibilities of technology seemed endless," explains Catherine Candee, director of scholarly communication initiatives for UC's California Digital Library. "The whole notion from the start was, ‘Let's improve the capacity of the library to support the university's mission, which is research and teaching.'"
Conceived in 1997 as UC's 11th library and launched in 1998 to help realize one library vision, CDL leverages the intellectual and cultural resources of the University of California, supporting the assembly and creative use of scholarship and knowledge for all UC libraries and the communities they serve. Opened to the public in January 1999, CDL's current mission is to provide a centralized framework to efficiently share materials held by UC, offer greater and easier access to digital content, and join with researchers in developing new tools and innovations for scholarly communication.
"What was unique about the way CDL was formed was the recognition that the capacity of libraries was being extended considerably because of the Digital Age," Candee continues. "A new element of these libraries' missions, therefore, was to support the production and dissemination of research output. One piece of that mission for CDL was concentrated in the launch of eScholarship, which was a vehicle for branching out into this new realm of publishing and access.
"Through very close consultation with the faculty," she adds, CDL discovered "a real hunger to put all of UC's knowledge in one place and to make sure that someone would take care of it. We had a good sense of the technical possibilities, but we needed to find out what faculty members were doing already [in terms of publishing their own research and accessing the work of others] and what they wanted to be able to do."
The goal, she continues, was "to support faculty and researchers' needs for faster, cheaper, and more reliable communication of research findings. We ended up with about a dozen projects spanning all disciplines and all manner of technologies. We found by the end of a year-and-a-half of work that we were going to be pulled in a dozen different directions. Nothing would be scalable or financially feasible without ‘genericizing' it a bit. That's how we arrived at the repository—we had to come up with a new publishing paradigm that would work for 8,000 faculty."