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SLU Digital Collections, An Introduction

Through its Google Books endeavor Google has undertaken one of the largest and best publicized projects to turn print materials into digital artifacts.  Now, Google sees this project as successive the digital object is created specifically to replace the print. As Google co-founder Sergy Brin wrote in a New York Times piece defending the Google Books, “More important, even if our cultural heritage stays intact in the world’s foremost libraries, it is effectively lost if no one can access it easily.”[i] Something of a grim view of Americans if we want a cultural heritage only if it’s easy, but moving past that technologically induced pessimism, the point of contrast is the digital collections initiatives here at St. Lawrence are about building not replacing.  Building is the key concept: our digital collections give us an opportunity to integrate select collections into the curriculum in new ways that come inherent to digital formats.  With digital artifacts come the ability to manipulate terminology to form precise and inventive searches, with digital artifacts comes the ability to move material over a shared network, with digital artifacts come digital collections, an important element in the SLU Libraries collections and their place in the curriculum.

When we speak of digital collections, we speak of two kinds of materials.  The first are online publications that the library buys access to through one format of another, and the second are those materials in the SLU Libraries Collections that we are scanning and making digital.  The former have been part of the collection for years, and include such databases as Artstor, Project Muse, Literary Reference Center, and Science Direct.  Over the last fifteen years these digital collections have become central to our access to serials.  However, it has never been or is not now a matter of throwing computers at acquisitions.  Collection Development Librarian Michelle Gillie explains that the acquisition of digital materials “…is part of a holistic approach to collection development. We’re not looking to build a digital collection, we’re looking to build our collections through acquiring digital and print content. Ultimately what’s important is a collection where all the parts and pieces make sense in relation to the curriculum.”

[i] Brin, Sergy. “A Library To Last Forever.” New York Times. New York Times, 8 Oct. 2009. Web. 20 Jan. 2011.

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