By David Porreca Research libraries have long faced a tension between two of their main missions - providing broad access to their collections while preserving rare and fragile documents. But thanks to scanning technology that converts photographic images of documents into the digital language of ones and zeroes, this tension may eventually become a relic of the analog age - a byproduct of an era when patrons had to be physically present in a library to use its research collections. The UI Library, long interested in the possibilities of digital technology, has embarked on two experimental projects with the Follett Corp. that could bring this enticing digital prospect a step closer to reality. Since last September, the Library has collaborated with Follett on the development of two prototype CD-ROMs, one consisting of images drawn from the Library's Motley Collection of Theatre and Costume Design, and the other featuring selections from the Map and Geography Library's collection of Illinois maps dating back to 1650. The prototypes were completed in early March, and field testing of the CD-ROMs will last until the end of this year. If the prototypes are well received, Illinois high school students could soon learn about the state's history and geography through digital images of rare 17th-century maps, while specialists in theater and costume design could enjoy virtual access to original drawings from the Motley Collection - something they don't have now. "Many of these original materials are difficult to identify and to access," said Beth Sandore, the Library's coordinator for imaging projects. "In the case of the Motley Collection, you probably couldn't just walk into the Rare Book Room any time to look at the original drawings. You would first need to use a catalog to identify what you want to see from the collection. They are rare and valuable materials. Both parties were interested in how we could provide greater access to difficult-to-find material." As part of the field testing, the Library will place both projects on the World Wide Web for members of the university community. In addition, the UI has granted Follett the right to use the images during the trial period. If Follett, a River Grove, Ill.-based developer and distributor of educational software, decides that the prototype CD-ROMs are commercially viable, then the company will negotiate the payment of license fees to the university. "Follett is considering the possibility of publishing digital image databases," said Herbert Cohen, Follett's on-site manager for the projects. "Follett might say, 'We don't see a business here.' But before it says that, the company wanted to be certain that all the appropriate research and collaboration was done. A lot of time and money has been spent by Follett that might never see the light of day as a commercial enterprise." University Librarian Robert Wedgeworth first suggested the idea of a collaborative effort between UI and Follett during conversations with company executives in February 1993. The partnership began to take shape after follow-up discussions in September 1993. "The Library was interested in digital imaging projects to support the humanities and social sciences, especially projects using our collections," Sandore said. "We knew there were lots of opportunities. This is an area where a lot of interest has been expressed." After further conversations, representatives from the two institutions decided that the Motley and map collections, with their visually rich material, would serve as fruitful test projects. The Motley prototype would be geared toward a highly specialized audience of scholars and advanced students, while the map prototype would be intended for a broader high school audience. Although the Library was no novice in the field of digital imaging, as evidenced by its participation in both the National Science Foundation's Digital Libraries Initiative and the J. Paul Getty Trust's art digitization project, its work with Follett wasmeant to be experimental. "The projects are small in scale and exploratory in nature," Wedgeworth said. "We wanted to gain experience with the technology." Detailed planning began last summer. Cohen temporarily relocated to Urbana-Champaign in early September to help supervise the work for Follett, remaining until the projects were finished in early March. Sandore directed the work for the UI. Up to 25 people from the UI and Follett (including freelance specialists hired by the company) worked on the projects. In barely seven months, the project members combed through several thousand items in the Motley and map collections, selected the best items for inclusion, photographed them, scanned and converted them into digital images, constructed detailed indexes and databases, linked each image to a web of related information, and designed easy-to-use search engines to enable users to navigate quickly through the data. Despite the experimental nature of the undertaking, the project members created digital image bases whose detail and crispness do justice to the originals, according to Wedgeworth. "I think the quality of the images is quite stunning," he said. The Motley CD-ROM consists of 114 images selected from the collection's 5,000 original drawings and sketches. ("Motley," which comes from a line in Shakespeare's "As You Like It," was the name adopted by three Englishwomen who designed theatrical costumes and sets for more than 150 productions from the early 1930s to the mid-1970s.) The images were selected from costume designs for six Shakespearean productions staged between 1934 and 1967. The Motley images are indexed and linked to a wealth of information about each drawing, including details about the production in which each costume was featured. Users can even call up comments from drama critics who mentioned the costumes in their reviews. UI English professor Michael Mullin and theater professor James Harris selected the images and provided review material for the data base. Anna Hulseberg, a student in the UI's Graduate School of Library and Information Science, performed the indexing, with assistance from a professional indexer brought in by Follett. "The selections for both prototypes were expert driven," Sandore said. "We did a significant amount of consultation with the subject experts." The map CD-ROM consists of 86 images of Illinois and Northwest Territory maps made between 1650 and 1989. About 40 percent of the maps date from before 1800, and 5 to 10 percent were made before 1700. As with the Motley drawings, the maps are linked to an array of detailed information. Follett intends to design a prototype software system that will allow users to obtain rich information to accompany the map images. By calling up geographical, economic and political data in conjunction with the maps, users will see not only how the state has developed, but how the perception of Illinois has changed through the eyes of successive cartographers. Members of the UI geography department and Natural History Survey provided expert assistance with the construction of the map data base, as did members of the social studies department at University High School. Indeed, it was Barbara Wysocki, the head of Uni's social studies department, who suggested the use of maps. Digitization, in her view, offered the ideal means by which teachers could escape the limitations of traditional display maps. "Being a social studies teacher, you're limited by the standard maps that a company thinks a teacher needs," Wysocki said. "Usually it's only the students who sit close to the front who can benefit from them. I thought how nice it would be if there were a different form of projection, one that would give teachers more flexibility." For the proponents of digitization, "flexibility" sums up many of the technology's virtues. When information - any information, whether print, sound or video - is converted into digital bits of ones and zeroes, those bits can be compressed, stored, moved and shared. Material once accessible only in distant archives can be transmitted through fiber-optic cables, dispersed by satellites through the electromagnetic spectrum or encased within a compact disk. Once those digital bits are called up on a display screen, users can zoom in for a detailed look at an image, or pull away for an expansive view. Moving from link to link, users can raise and answer their own questions, learning by "pulling" at information rather than having it pushed at them. As Nicholas Negroponte of Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab has put it, "Being digital is the option to be independent of confining standards." The designers of the Motley and Illinois map projects hope that another advantage to "being digital" is that more people will gain access to valuable images and data on their own terms. "If people could look at surrogate images from their homes, classes, and offices and use them for their own purposes, this would significantly enhance the Library's access mission," Sandore said. In the long run, the work that went into creating the Motley and map prototypes could lead to the creation of "virtual collections" - collections of material that in the physical world are available only at separate institutions, but that in cyberspace could be bundled together on the World Wide Web or in a CD-ROM. "Take the Motley as an example," Cohen said. "Suppose there's a collection in England equal or complementary to the one here. Then suppose there are similar pictures at Harvard. Wouldn't it be great to put those three together as a virtual collection, which in the real world doesn't exist in one place? Needless to say, there's no substitute for the real thing. But for educational purposes, and for people who can't get around, what a marvelous way to provide these resources." The next step for both projects is to see how real-world audiences respond to them. For the next nine months or so, selected experts in the fields of theater and costume design will sample the Motley prototype. High school teachers around Illinois, including Uni High's Wysocki, will experiment with the map CD-ROM in their social studies classes. The UI and Follett project members, meanwhile, will continue to tinker with the prototypes, making adjustments in response to user feedback. "It's the right way to do software design," Sandore said. "Otherwise, you don't have a link with the audience. You're designing in a vacuum." At the end of the year, Follett will decide whether a market exists for the prototypes, while the Library will continue with its other ventures in digital imaging. But no matter what the verdict, Sandore and Cohen agreed that their institutions already have gained valuable experience. For one thing, they've learned that converting images into ones and zeroes only marks the beginning of a digital project. "It's one thing to make pretty digital pictures," Cohen said. "It's another to be able to retrieve them." As for teachers like Wysocki, the front-line educators responsible for incorporating digital technology into their classroom instruction, the projects offer a tantalizing glimpse at the possibilities of digitally based multimedia education. Wysocki herself plans to incorporate the map CD-ROM into her class on river civilizations. Her students, by navigating through the maps and hopping from one information link to another, will be able to see for themselves how Illinois settlements arose along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. Such an experience, Wysocki said, could bring home the historical importance of river settlements in a way that examples from ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia might not. But more than that, the successful merging of digital technology and classroom instruction would likely hasten the end of pedagogies based on "pushing" information at students. In their place, at some point down the road, digitally integrated pedagogies based on the collaborative teacher-student "pulling" of information would emerge - a development Wysocki said she would welcome. "The teacher is going to be the facilitator rather than the disseminator of information," she said. "I'm delighted to see this, but it calls forth a whole new set of energies for teachers. It's an exciting time to be a teacher with that kind of a challenge."