The Cornell University Library seeks the support of the National Science Foundation in planning a digital library for the field of mathematics. This Digital Mathematics Library (DML) will be an international collection of digital information and published knowledge. It will serve researchers, scientists, faculty, and students by presenting a large body of historical printed materials. It will also be possible for mathematics or library communities to enhance these raw materials to develop a wide range of derivative and extremely useful libraries of concepts, formulae, algorithms, and other data of importance for the advancement of science. Ideally, the raw materials of the DML will be freely accessible to all on the Internet.
The Value of Mathematics as the Foundation for Scientific Advancement
Mathematics is a discipline with rich legacy materials that continue to have validity in contemporary research. Mathematicians probe past literature for new insights and unsolved problems, and it is a strong practice among them to refer to past research material to build on the achievements of earlier mathematicians. The white paper “Twenty Centuries of Mathematics,” commissioned by the Director of the NSF Division of Mathematical Sciences from John Ewing, the Executive Director of the American Mathematical Society, presents a cogent explanation of the particular importance of past literature in mathematics research.
The scientific domain of mathematics is structure, order, and relation. It deals with logical reasoning and quantitative calculation, and its development has involved an increasing degree of idealization and abstraction of its subject matter. Since the 17th century mathematics has been an indispensable adjunct to the physical sciences and technology, and in more recent times it has assumed a similar role in the quantitative aspects of the life sciences.
Highlights of Retrospective Digitization Projects in Mathematics
Recently the number of uncorrelated digitization projects of mathematics materials has burgeoned, not only in the US, but also in the European environment with its independent national initiatives. Prominent in providing retrospective literature are JSTOR (http://www.jstor.org/), a collection of digitized journals important to academics; Gallica (http://gallica.bnf.fr/), the digital collection of the Bibliothèque nationale de France; DIEPER (Digitised European Periodicals) (http://gdz.sub.uni-goettingen.de/dieper/), a virtual network and a central access point for periodicals that have been retrospectively digitized in Europe or elsewhere; and NUMDAM (NUMérisation de Documents Anciens Mathématiques) (http://www-mathdoc.ujf-grenoble.fr/NUMDAM/index.html), the project of the Centre national de la recherche scientifique in France. Cornell’s Project Euclid (http://projecteuclid.org), designed to provide current journal literature, will also have a historical component. In the area of monographs Cornell provides online access to Historic Monographs in Mathematics (http://moa.cit.cornell.edu/dienst-data/cdl-math-browse.html ), almost 600 books that were scanned from originals held by the Cornell University Library, and the State and University Library Göttingen is digitizing monographs to add to its online collection of journals as part of its ERAM (Electronic Research Archive for Mathematics) project (http://www.emis.de/MATH/JFM/JFM.html).
The Need for a Coordinated Program to Build a Digital Mathematics Library
The total output of these fragmented initiatives is small compared to what needs to be done, and a systematic application of overarching technical standards is lacking. Because the historical literature is being digitized by separate institutions and is accessed in unique systems, each offering a different user interface, a different navigational methodology, and various levels of functionality, users have difficulty in both discovering and using this literature online. There is no systematic approach to digital preservation of these online materials. There is a need to coordinate projects, and even more important, to collaborate in building a sum which is greater than its parts by not only increasing the amount of digitized material, but also by adding common processes of distribution, functionality, and ease of use for the user. To accomplish this in a straightforward, consistent, cost-effective, and expeditious manner, it is necessary to plan systematically.
Although the vision of a comprehensive digital library encompassing the universe of mathematical texts published to date is simple and compelling, actualizing it requires achieving a smooth fit of its many components. Initial planning will be key not only to establishing an effective mechanism for converting and delivering the literature, but also to securing a successful future for the undertaking. Decisions must be made on creating an effective governance structure, setting technical standards, building the economic model, dealing with complex international copyright issues, adopting a reasonable timeframe for creation of the DML, and making provisions for updating and maintenance. Ewing’s white paper concludes with a call for a small group of interested people, including potential international partners, to engage in this detailed planning. He suggests that a planning grant to assemble representatives from institutions, libraries, scholarly societies, and publishers be administered by a single organization.
To develop this vision into an implementable, sustainable program, the Cornell University Library solicits a one-year planning grant from the National Science Foundation. The Library proposes to serve as the coordinator of a working group of stakeholders who will meet twice over a twelve-month period to plan a scalable digitization and digital library program. The product of the planning grant will be a plan for a coordinated program of retrospective digitization of the literature of mathematics for which it will seek funding from the NSF and other international agencies. The meetings will take place in Washington, DC. Stakeholders will include mathematicians, scientific societies, librarians, funding agencies, publishers, and technological innovators. At the initial meeting the group will agree on the scope of the program, explore various models for development of the concept, and establish areas for research and analysis to be considered at a subsequent meeting. Topics for consideration will encompass the following:
We have identified a group of mathematicians, publishers, and librarians as potential planning group members. We hope the NSF will also invite representatives of international funding agencies, so the composition of the group will allow not only for planning the administrative and technical aspects of the project, but also for determining what is needed to achieve a global, coordinated effort with investments from outside funding organizations in addition to the NSF. Ewing’s white paper makes the innovative suggestion that a combination of different types of funding would enable the establishment and maintenance of the digital library. The heterogeneous composition of the working group will afford a multi-perspective examination and discussion of that concept and thus produce the most viable economic model.
Plan of Action and Timeline
The DML planning project will commission white papers on the areas of principal emphasis from experts in digital library development, mathematics, and economic modeling to lay out options in detail for the working group. The results of the initial meeting will be presented at the August 2002 International Congress of Mathematicians in Beijing. The group will reconvene approximately six to eight months after its initial meeting to discuss the white papers and any other relevant developments. During this two-day retreat, the group will outline the plan to create the Digital Mathematics Library and develop a proposal and budget for NSF consideration.
Concomitantly, during the planning year Cornell University Library will hold focus groups to solicit suggestions and advice from potential participants in the field and to promote the concept to the mathematics community. Video-conferencing will be used to bring together geographically dispersed participants. The Library intends to facilitate the activities of the working group so that its progress will be in a form suitable for public presentation by a representative of the NSF to test some of its emerging ideas and receive suggestions from the mathematics community at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Beijing in August 2002.
Suitability of Cornell University Library To Serve as Planning Coordinator
The Cornell University Library, because of its long-standing interest in digitization, has been a leader in digital library efforts for over a decade. It has created and maintained more than a dozen major digital library collections across a wide range of formats and disciplines, from the SGML/XML Encoded Archival Description through the Cornell University Geospatial Information Repository to the Core Historical Literature of Agriculture. Its experience and contributions in digital library development span the entire range of the technology—it has pioneered in techniques of text and image conversion, preservation initiatives, interoperability, security, metadata, and issues of providing easy access for the end user. (See its report to the Digital Library Federation for more detail on its efforts in digital library development [http://www.diglib.org/pubs/news02_01/cornell.htm].)
At the same time, the Cornell University Library has a long history of national and international collaboration in its digital ventures, particularly in the field of mathematics, sharing and exchanging knowledge for mutual benefit. It has created and maintains a mirror site of the major European mathematical indexing and reviewing database, Zentralblatt für Mathematik; it has partnered with Duke University Press in conceiving and operating Project Euclid, an electronic publishing infrastructure for current (and in the future, retrodigitized) mathematics journals; it is engaged in developing a distributed digital library of mathematics monographs in cooperation with the University of Michigan Library and the State and University Library Göttingen (funded by the NSF and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, it will not only provide the literature to mathematicians but also contribute to developing interoperability among systems); and it is joining with Göttingen, Tsinghua University Library (China), and Springer-Verlag (one of a number of participating publishers) to ensure preservation of mathematical literature through the Archimedes project. The latest possibility to be discussed is working with JSTOR to allow cross-searching of JSTOR and Project Euclid. This multiplicity of partnerships and experience in digitization of mathematics materials leads the Cornell University Library to a clear insight into the value of an international mathematics digital library and an enthusiastic desire to play an active, leading role in its planning and realization.
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