DFG support programme Specialist Information Services for Science and Scholarship

DFG office in Bonn
DFG office in Bonn | Photo (detail):© dfg.de

The programme Special Information Services for Science and Scholarship of the German Research Foundation (DFG) supports the development of modern information services. Christoph Kümmel, programme director in the group Scientific Library Services and Information Systems, explains the new development plan.

Mr Kümmel, the DFG support programme Special Information Services for Science and Scholarship replaces the previous system of over 100 special collection areas at academic libraries.

The special collection areas were set up after the Second World War as a system for the distributed acquisition of literature from abroad. It was then a matter of rebuilding working holdings for research as soon as possible – and this task was pragmatically distributed over a number of libraries. In the following decades, and in view of the increasing number of publications, this proved to be a good solution. And so this system remained in many respects unchanged into the 2000s.

Faster adaptation to the digital world

What has changed now?

Dr Christoph Kümmel, programme director in the group Scientific Library Services and Information Systems Dr Christoph Kümmel, programme director in the group Scientific Library Services and Information Systems | © dfg.de In the new support programme, the opportunities for providing researchers with the needed literature will become more flexible. The special collection areas had the task of collecting literature from abroad on a specific subject as comprehensively as possible. Given the extent of what is now being published, the question arises whether this is still even possible. Moreover, that target is no longer appropriate in all subjects. In certain subjects, researchers need only the very latest literature. You then have to ask yourself whether a comprehensive archive is really the best approach.

To all this must be added the challenges presented by the digital world. Up to now the special collection areas have accessed less than three per cent of their funds for purposes of acquiring digital services. This is in stark contrast to what academic libraries spend today for digital services – often half of their budgets. Much is now published or read only electronically, especially in the natural sciences. But the procurement of digital services and making them available nation-wide is more complicated. What can be easily done with books through interlibrary loan is bound up with license negotiations and enormous costs in the digital domain. We have to adapt ourselves better to this, and the new support programme will help in creating the conditions enabling us to do so.

More flexibility for specialist needs

What exactly does the new system look like?

There are no longer any uniform rules. Each library can consider its own approach to how it will carry out its supplementary information function. In this way the services can be better tailored to specialized needs. In some subjects libraries will still want to collect extensive literature; in others they will withdraw due to lack of demand, or aim rather at providing access to current databases.

How will the nation-wide access to digital resources in Special Information Services be ensured?

To do so we must negotiate now with publishers who allow the making available of very special materials in electronic form beyond a single location. The DFG supports the establishment of a competence centre for licensing electronic resources as a central service of the Special Information Services. Our main partners here are the State Library of Lower Saxony and the Göttingen University Library, the Berlin State Library and the Central Office of the Joint Library Network. Individual libraries could then register at the competence centre products that they would like to have and it would negotiate with the publishers. It would be good if this work is bundled together in one place.

The first five Special Information Services in the humanities and social sciences were approved in 2013. Will the special collection areas automatically become Special Information Services?

No, as in the old system, applications must be submitted for all projects. But there are definitely continuities.

Can you give us a few examples?

One example would be the Special Information Service in art. Here the Heidelberg University Library and the Saxon Regional Library and the State and University of Dresden Library have teamed together. At their joint portal Arthistoricum.net, two former special collection areas have been sensibly combined. The joint information service encompasses many media forms and sources, but it will above all make further digital contents available to a greater extent – for example, through systematic digitalisation of books sand other publications from the 19th and 20th centuries – so as to enable researchers in Germany the easiest possible access.