National digital library project to assist in transformation to electronic document delivery for university researchers

Guest Contributor
September 24, 2001

A three-year, $50-million pilot project for the electronic delivery of research publications promises to revolutionize the way in which university researchers access scholarly publication in the natural sciences and in medicine. As one of a handful of national projects funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), the Canadian National Site Licensing Project (CNSLP) links 64 universities and has been providing access to publications from an initial group of seven participating publishing houses since last February. An official September 11 launch in Halifax had to be postponed due to the recent attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.

The project funding is intended to help universities in making the transition from paper subscriptions to electronic delivery of publications, and to give those institutions time to find new resources or redeploy existing funds so that further investment is not required beyond year three.

“The project is to aid in transition and transformation,” says Deb deBruijn, CNSLP’s executive director. “If more government funding is required in the future, it will be targeted funding directed towards growth.”

The project is considered a key component in building Canada’s research capacity as it makes publications that were once available to select researchers accessible to all. It’s also a major step forward in the creation of new business and service models, as well as in boosting the leveraged buying power of the combined institutions by striking site licence agreements with publishing houses.

“Of the $50 million in funding the project received, $48 million is being spent on content,” says deBruijn. “The publishers have taken some fairly significant risks to make their materials available this way. They’ve had to change their business model and unbundle their print and electronic pricing. It represents an investment in our model and is a Made in Canada licensing agreement.”

The concept for the national digital library emerged when four separate proposals were submitted to the CFI in 1999. Cognizant of the complexity of such a venture, CFI officials sent back the proposals and instructed their backers to work together to develop a unified, national bid, which was resubmitted for funding in 2000. That bid incorporated a funding impact index to determine how the remaining 60% of funding would be allocated amongst universities according to their research intensity and size. The formula factored in the number of full time faculty of participating universities, the number of full time graduate students and the amount of research funding each institution received from all sources.

Geographic differences were also taken into account and quotas were set for each region of Canada, with responsibility left to the universities as to how the amounts were allocated among themselves. In the disadvantaged Atlantic region, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) was brought into negotiations, and it subsequently provided a major share of the funding for the four Atlantic provinces (see chart).

deBruijn was working at the British Columbia Electronic Library Network when she was approached to help develop one of the bids. She continued to work on the joint proposal until its submission and subsequently won the competition to head up the national project. deBruijn says the CFI decision to request that the various groups work on a national bid resulted in a far superior proposal which is both inclusionary and innovative, although she admits that the initial focus largely ignored the social sciences and humanities.

“Natural sciences and medicine are where the greatest pressure points are for universities, due to the high cost of scholarly peer reviewed publications. Many publications have had double digit increases annually for the past 10 years,”: she says.

“The science and technology field was crying out for a national strategy because the scientists and researchers who work in these fields rely heavily on these journals and they need up-to-date information. And we had to start somewhere, where all universities are in agreement and develop prototypes that we can apply to other disciplines. Eventually we hope for a dramatic expansion into the social sciences,” says deBruijn.”

Since the February launch, deBruijn has seen an impressive uptake in usage of the new electronic system and with greater visibility and awareness. She anticipates a successful transition by the research community. “I see it as a tool, a component to be integrated into the local fabric of institutions,” she says.


CNSLP Funding Breakdown

($ millions)
Canada Foundation for Innovation20.00
Provincial Governments:
British Columbia (BC Knowledge Development Fund)1.94
Alberta (Intellectual Infrastructure Partnership Program)2.16
Saskatchewan (Economic and Co-operative Development Dept)0.77
Manitoba (Manitoba Innovation Fund)0.83
Quebec (Ministère de l’Éducation)5.40
Nova Scotia (Ministry of Education)0.33
New Brunswick (Ministry of Education)0.16
Prince Edward Island (Ministry of Education)0.20
Newfoundland (Ministry of Education)0.20
Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA)1.66

Ontario (Ontario Innovation Trust - OIT) *

* The Ontario portion of matching funds was paid for by the universities. The OIT agreed to fund a parallel project, the Ontario Information Infrastructure that builds on the content licensed by CNSLP and tests an alternate delivery infrastructure.

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