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On Monday and Tuesday, I attended my first meeting of CNI, the Coalition for Networked Information. Wake Forest joined as an institution last fall. The rules are that two official representatives are allowed per institution – one from the Library and one from Information Systems. The annual dues had always seemed prohibitive but after attending this first meeting, it was well worth it and I wish we had joined years ago. Cliff Lynch is Executive Director of CNI and a well known tech guru in the profession. I attended his orientation session on Monday morning and came away with this nugget of a philosophy, “you can get a lot done if you don’t insist on taking credit for it.” Tru dat.

There were two kinds of sessions at the meeting: very high level abstract presentations and very detailed, working level presentations. The opening keynote was my favorite. James Duderstadt is President Emeritus of the University of Michigan. As a Michigan grad, my observation is that he is a lot like Jimmy Carter, a more effective former President than sitting president. His topic was “Reinventing the Research University to Serve a Changing World.” He talked about massification (extending college degree attainment), league table rankings (achieving world-class research capacity and quality), exponentiating technologies (cyberinfrastructure, open learning, social networking) and shifting public priorities (viewing education as less a public good than a private benefit). Big research universities are becoming an endangered species – many groups in society want to benefit from the basic and applied research that they do (business, government, private citizens) but no one wants to pay for them anymore. Flagship state universities are in particular danger and across the nation are talking about going private or entering public/private partnership. Duderstadt sees radical change as the only long term answer: new paradigms of learning, scholarship and engagement to change the public purpose, mission and character of the university itself. Great stuff. Somebody needs to worry about this kind of thing!

My second favorite session was from James Hilton, current CIO at UVA and coincidentally formerly at Michigan, working for Paul Courant back when they were inventing Google Books and Hathi Trust. He spoke passionately about a proposed initiative called the Digital Preservation Network (DPN, pronounced “deepen”). DPN attempts to address risk to the very long term preservation of the scholarly record by creating a federated approach of three uber repositories: Hathi Trust, Stanford Digital Repository and Academic Preservation Trust. Together, they would form a meta archive of the collective scholarly record and would reduce risk by increasing replicated content. Costs are estimated at $15 million for the first year, similar to what it takes to run Internet 2. He is making a pitch at the next meeting of the prestigious Association of American Universities in order to enlist support. He is so passionate about it, you want to sign right up.

[Part Two of CNI tomorrow]