Open Journal Systems

A Library Without Borders A Library Without Borders

Abstract: This article discusses the organization, goals, and accomplishments of the Digital Library for International Research (DLIR), a Web-based digital library that receives library and technology assistance from the Center for Research Libraries. The DLIR, comprised of a union catalog and digital presentations, is based on the library holdings of overseas research centers that participate in the Council of American Overseas Research Centers (CAORC). The article includes details regarding the consortium, the services provided by the CAORC and its members, and the current efforts of the DLIR to work more closely with academic communities in their host countries.

floral device Background

In line with its objective to collect, preserve, and provide access to international scholarly resources, the Center for Research Libraries (CRL) began hosting the Project Coordinator for the Digital Library for International Research (DLIR) in 2002. The DLIR is a virtual international library without the geographic borders that separate its member overseas research centers. Its members are permanent research centers that support American scholarship in many countries of the world. They are part of the consortium that is organized by the Council of American Overseas Research Centers (CAORC), a not-for-profit enterprise based in Washington D.C. In 1999, CAORC initiated this consolidated, Web-based digital library focusing on scholarly materials in its member centers’ libraries. The DLIR’s Web site ( contains the members’ union catalog plus the Web presentation of digital projects. The DLIR includes bibliographic records, selected full-text materials, article-level indices, archival descriptions, and databases. It also contains digitized versions of maps and photographs, and access to archaeological data, local language archives, and other unique research resources. By identifying, prioritizing, preserving, and disseminating this content, the DLIR makes accessible important, often unique primary and selected secondary source materials. By centralizing project coordination and collaborating with organizations sharing similar goals, the DLIR achieves economies of scale while maximizing public access to the libraries’ resources for teaching, research, and information.

floral device The Council of American Overseas Research Centers

The Council of American Overseas Research Centers is the administrative body for the DLIR and its member centers. Founded in 1981, CAORC is a private not-for-profit federation of independent American overseas research centers that promote advanced research, particularly in the humanities and social sciences, with a major focus on conserving and recording cultural heritage. Overseas research centers serve as a base for virtually every American scholar undertaking research in the host countries. CAORC provides programmatic and administrative coherence among member centers, and works to expand their resource base and service capacity. Working with the centers, it fosters research projects across national boundaries and encourages collaborative research. CAORC was launched with grants from the Andrew W. Mellon, Rockefeller, and Exxon Foundations and the J.P. Getty Trust. CAORC is funded in part by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Smithsonian Institution, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, institutional memberships, and center membership dues.

Two hundred and eighty American universities, colleges, museums, and research institutes and societies hold 527 institutional memberships in CAORC’s 22 member centers. CAORC and the centers annually grant more than 200 fellowships for overseas research to students and faculty at these and other American institutions. In addition, an average of 500 researchers from the Fulbright programs, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Social Science Research Council, and group projects, as well as independent scholars, affiliate each year with the CAORC overseas centers for facilities and research support services.

floral device American Overseas Research Centers

The centers are the primary vehicle through which American scholars carry out research vital to our understanding of and interaction with other cultures. Some centers, such as the American Academy in Rome and the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, have existed for more than a century while others were founded in the decades following World War II in response to American scholarly needs and host country invitations. All are consortia of American universities, colleges, museums, and other institutions. They sponsor research that is significant in volume and academic impact, interdisciplinary in nature, interregional in extent, and generated from the aggregate research agenda of American academia.

All centers are independently incorporated in the United States as private, not-for-profit organizations. The overseas centers serve their institutional members, individual fellows, members, and affiliated scholars through a broad range of research- and teaching-support services, including:

  • providing research libraries, technical services, and living accommodations;
  • serving as a base for field expeditions;
  • supporting publication of papers, books, serials, newsletters, and information bulletins;
  • sponsoring joint scholarly projects and offering conferences, lectures, seminars, concerts, and exhibitions;
  • providing a place for contact and exchange between American researchers and their host-country counterparts, as well as third-country colleagues working in the host country;
  • acting as liaison with host country governments and universities in obtaining access to research sources; and,
  • monitoring and offering advice on the research climate in the host country.

CAORC’s 22 member centers, named below in alphabetical order by location, maintain a permanent international presence in their host countries. Note that some centers have two or more branches. Those participating in the DLIR union catalog are marked with an asterisk [*].

Bangladesh — American Institute of Bangladesh Studies (AIBS)
Cambodia — Center for Khmer Studies (CKS) *
Cyprus — Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute (CAARI) *
Egypt — American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) *
India — American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS) *
Iran — American Institute of Iranian Studies (AIIrS)
Israel — W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research (AIAR) *
Italy — American Academy in Rome (AAR) *
Greece — American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) *
Jordan — American Center of Oriental Research (ACOR) *
Mexico — Mexico-North Research Network (MNRN)
Pakistan — American Institute of Pakistan Studies (AIPS)
Senegal — West African Research Association (WARA) *
South Asia — Center for South Asia Libraries (CSAL)
Sri Lanka — American Institute of Sri Lankan Studies (AISLS) *
Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia — American Institute for Maghrib Studies (AIMS) *
Turkey — American Research Institute in Turkey (ARIT) *
Yemen — American Institute for Yemeni Studies (AIYS) *
West Bank — Palestinian American Research Center (PARC)
Developing Centers
Afghanistan — American Institute of Afghanistan Studies (AIAS)
Iraq — The American Academic Research Institute in Iraq (TAARII)
Mongolia — American Center for Mongolian Studies (ACMS) *

CAORC’s Services

CAORC supports its member centers by:

  • providing secure funding for 80 percent of its member centers;
  • facilitating the establishment of new research centers;
  • securing funds for and supporting fellowships;
  • exploring new technology to support international scholarship;
  • fostering communication and collaboration among centers to strengthen academic programs and administrative procedures;
  • speaking in support of overseas research centers;
  • helping expand member centers’ resource bases and raise their profiles;
  • fostering research projects across national boundaries; and,
  • serving as advocate for area studies.

CAORC has a long-term commitment to help maintain, improve, and expand each institution’s overseas library and research collections in all formats and media. It also helps develop the centers’ capacity to serve the research needs of U.S.-based scholars, students, and the general public.

floral device The Digital Library for International Research

The DLIR is a cost-effective, centralized, Web-based mechanism for standardizing and delivering electronically important bibliographic and full-text primary- and secondary-source material at the member centers. The high quality and unique character of the libraries’ scholarly material, its overlapping regional, historical, and thematic importance, and its inaccessibility to those outside the centers make electronic accessibility through the DLIR imperative. The project goals are to preserve rare primary materials, to create new and much-needed catalogs and indices, and to make widely accessible rare, important, and seriously underused resources. While the DLIR realizes these common goals, the project is also useful to the individual centers in various ways. For larger centers that have expert cataloging staff and in-house library systems, the DLIR catalog is used to extend their reach and promote their collections. For the centers with small library staff and only a local database of holdings, it is a way to achieve an academic library catalog with minimal effort. Centers receive standard MARC library records, a research catalog, and an international library presence in exchange for the raw bibliographic data they submit to the project. In addition, all centers can suggest projects and participate in regional projects that are organized by CAORC with member input. These materials can contribute directly to enhancing the scholarly and public understanding of history, culture, and current events in other regions of the world.


Dr. Mary Ellen Lane, CAORC Executive Director and founder, provides DLIR project leadership. Dr. Maria de Jong Ellis, Executive Director, American Institute for Yemeni Studies, and Dr. David Magier, Director of Area Studies, Columbia University Libraries, co-direct the project. Project Coordinator Diane Ryan (based at the Center for Research Libraries) provides technical expertise to member centers and their partners in managing their library and information resources. The DLIR’s central structure through CAORC allows centers to concentrate on collecting, while CAORC manages functions that generalize across centers. The project is overseen by CAORC’s Board of Directors, composed of distinguished representatives from each member center, with expertise across the humanities and humanistic social sciences and experience working in the countries where the libraries are based. The Board-appointed scholarly advisory committee provides expertise and direction on priority areas.

Key Partnerships

Since 1999, our key partner in the DLIR project has been the University of Utah’s Marriott Library, an institutional member of many of the overseas research centers, which acts as the DLIR’s host and central control. The Marriott Library consolidates overseas bibliographic full-text and multimedia data as a distinct online resource, using its existing Web-based, library-catalog database operations and staff. In 2002, the DLIR project initiated partnerships with the University of Pennsylvania, the Center for Research Libraries, the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), and important international library networks, including the Middle East Librarians Association (MELA) and the Digital South Asia Library (DSAL). Being able to draw on the experience of these partners and, in particular, daily contact with CRL and its DSAL staff helped the DLIR achieve its goal of becoming a true digital library. The project coordinator relies on the CRL for advice on multi-lingual cataloging and current cataloging standards for international works. She also relies on CRL’s Web designer and information technology staff for technical solutions. The groundbreaking work on the DSAL site has also provided a model for implementation and presentation of digital works.

Description of the DLIR Catalog

The DLIR catalog contains materials held by the centers (and by contributing local partner libraries). These are described in the following nine format-based areas:

Published materialThe participating libraries contain more than 430,000 published items. The DLIR catalog currently provides bibliographic information for more than 200,000 items from these collections. Our goal is to provide information for all published materials.
JournalsThe DLIR’s goal is to provide article-level access to more than 25,000 Roman and non-Roman language journal articles held at the centers.
DissertationsPublished and unpublished dissertations are a key resource for scholarly research. The DLIR catalog currently holds records for 430 dissertations; we estimate there are at least 600 additional dissertations and theses in the centers’ collections to be cataloged and made available. Thousands of additional dissertations, not otherwise available in the U.S., are awaiting cataloging at participating local partner institutions.
MapsThe centers’ collections contain more than 5,000 maps, some of which we are digitizing and making available online. Many of these maps are unique and date from the fifteenth century to the present.
PhotographsThe DLIR has made more than 125,000 photographs from the American Institute of Indian Studies’ Center for Art and Archaeology freely available on our site. We have identified more than 50,000 additional unique photographs in other centers to be made available through the DLIR.
Sound recordingsThe DLIR has have identified more than 8,000 sound recordings and 10,000 hours of spoken and musical recordings at centers in Egypt and India alone that could be made available through the DLIR. Recording oral histories and speakers of uncommon and dying languages is a DLIR priority, and we are exploring the creation of digital archives of such materials via our centers in Mexico, Yemen and elsewhere.
Archives & special collectionsThrough member centers, the DLIR is identifying hundreds of important local institutional and private archival collections around the world and initiating or improving access to them online through selective digitization. We are also working directly with scholars to include additional surveys and digital archives.
Foreign language materialsThe DLIR is collecting foreign language materials for the use of language scholars, students, and newly-literate peoples, and providing full-text access to these works through the DLIR Web site.
Enhanced bibliographic accessThe DLIR staff and member centers are sharing their expertise by collaborating with related projects for international materials. Fledgling projects are benefiting from the DLIR’s experience, training, and resources for enhanced bibliographic access to their special materials.

DLIR Goals, Objectives, and Timeline

Phase I, 1992-2002

CAORC began planning the DLIR in 1992, when its Committee on Technology initiated surveys of members’ existing equipment, library materials, and Internet access facilities. From these efforts it determined logistical needs and established common goals. In 1997 it prepared detailed specifications and presented workshops for U.S.-based and overseas center directors. In 1998 CAORC began a series of U.S.I.A.-funded visits to selected centers to determine equipment, procedural, and staff training needs, collection priorities, and coordination mechanisms.

CAORC and its member centers officially launched the Digital Library for International Research (originally called the American Overseas Digital Library or AODL) in 1999. The DLIR’s overarching goal is to create a virtual library without borders that provides expanded, international access to the consolidated holdings in the centers’ libraries. During the project’s first phase (1999-2002), grants totaling nearly US$700,000 for project development and implementation were provided by the U.S. Departments of Education and State, UNESCO, and the Getty Grant Program.

With a multi-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Technological Innovation and Cooperation for Foreign Information Access Program (TICFIA), the project made available to the public a Web-based union catalog of the records for the 150,000 books held by the participating American overseas research libraries. Participating AORC libraries were brought up to a standard level of library activity, with the objective of making them self-supporting.

CAORC initiated a cost-effective process for creating MARC catalog records in partnership with Utah’s Marriott Library and OCLC’s WorldCat Quality Management Services. Using Microsoft Excel, participating centers entered basic bibliographic data in five-field worksheets. These five fields included primary author, title, publication date, ISBN, and local call number. The Marriott Library first matched the list against their catalog using the ISBN. Matching records were updated with the center’s location, collection codes, and their local call number, and then loaded to the DLIR catalog. Unmatched records were sent directly to OCLC for three semi-automated passes against WorldCat. Records matched at this point were similarly updated and forwarded to the Marriott Library for loading to the DLIR. Records unmatched by OCLC were sent to the DLIR Project Coordinator to await further processing.

During this phase CAORC initiated the critical retro-conversion of Mediterranean and Middle East center libraries’ catalogs, funded by the Getty Grant Program. This four-year project investigated solutions for the non-matches, using two vendors: D.K. Agencies of New Delhi and Backstage Library Works of Orem, Utah. D.K. Agencies manually searched titles in English and French and provided copy cataloging for 33 percent of the titles sent to them. Backstage Library Works matched titles in other languages electronically against their in-house database and Library of Congress and Harvard University catalogs and provided copy cataloging for 25 percent of the titles sent to them. To deal with the remaining unmatched titles, we returned lists to participating centers, requesting scans of basic bibliographic information from the original books. These scans were then forwarded to an appropriate vendor for manual cataloging. While some additional titles were cataloged this way, it proved time-consuming for the centers. After surveying the centers, we expanded the five-field worksheet to 16 fields. Data from these fields form the basis of minimal records that will allow unmatched items to be loaded to the DLIR catalog.

In Phase I, we also initiated a third project, the African Language Material Archive (ALMA), funded by two UNESCO grants. This digital project made literacy-building materials in three major West-African languages available on the Web for the first time. Thirty-five titles in Wolof, Pular, and Mandinka are now freely accessible through the DLIR catalog and on the DLIR Web site, and another twenty books are in process.

Phase II, 2002-2005

In this phase the DLIR expanded the union catalog as member centers regularly submitted data. The Marriott Library upgraded the Horizon database that holds the DLIR records and offered administrative access to the DLIR Project Coordinator, who was then able to offer new reporting and editing services to the centers. The Steering Committee began to work with the centers regarding maps, journals, and other library materials that needed more complex processing. In 2002, the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs provided a US$100,000 grant to develop “Traders and Travelers, Scholars, Soldiers, and Sailors: Mapping Mediterranean Lands in War and Peace” (MEDMAPS). MEDMAPS created inventories of all the maps at participating centers in the Mediterranean region, and the inventory records were mapped to MARC format for the DLIR union catalog. As part of this project we published an online exhibition of maps, curated by the cartographer-scholar Leonora Navari, and added teacher resources and lesson plans for selected maps to the MEDMAPS site.

In 2002, the Institute of Museum and Library Services made a grant to support the Middle East Research Journals project (MERJ), to catalog, preserve, and index journals at nine centers in the Middle East. To date, we have cataloged almost 2,100 journals, and the index and Web presentation of selected journals will be available in late 2006. We are preparing five journals for Web viewing, creating preservation microfilm for six, and have indexed three key titles. The initial plan included digital conversion from microfilm. An early problem was the lack of preservation microfilm vendors in some Middle East areas. Where vendors were available, the cost was much higher than in the U.S. As a result the centers are scanning titles in-house. We are using U.S. vendors to process scans for the Web and for filming. We will store the resulting digital and film products at CRL.

In November 2004, CAORC officially renamed the project the Digital Library for International Research to reflect a new level of participation. We expanded coverage to include bibliographic materials from nascent centers in Inner Asia and Mexico, as well as materials from other library collections that were not at American research centers, but were in countries that host centers.

Phase III, 2006-2009

Plans to expand the DLIR through documentation and service-related projects are being implemented in the current third phase. Underlying these projects is a desire to work more closely with local institutions and provide services at the centers that can also benefit the academic communities of the host countries. The centers are collaborating with local organizations on a number of different projects.

Documentation Projects

In 2006 we initiated the Local Archives and Libraries of Overseas Research Centers project (LALORC) with support from the U.S. Department of Education’s TICFIA Program. For LALORC, 12 centers (in Cambodia, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Palestine, Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco, Mexico, and Yemen) are surveying their host countries for local archives and special collections that are important but not well known for international research. Participating centers are helping these small local institutions create data records or digital objects for the DLIR. The following projects are representative:

  • In Yemen we are working with the American Institute of Yemeni Studies and other local institutions to create a single online catalog of library and archival holdings on Yemeni art, architecture & archaeology, including Islamic manuscripts and bibliographic data from diverse, unique collections held by private and government organizations in Yemen.
  • In Cambodia, our center has partnered with local institutions to digitize 120 rare and at-risk items relating to the history of Cambodia.
  • In Mexico, we are working with the Mexico North Research Network to catalog broadcast recordings in indigenous languages in Mexico.

We are also supporting two separate documentation projects at this time.

  • In Sri Lanka, with the American Institute of Sri Lankan Studies, the DLIR is supporting a survey of key decorative arts collections including public museums, private historic homes, and other institutions. The Decorative Arts of Sri Lanka study will create digital documentation and a catalog of rarely-seen artifacts that will be disseminated through the DLIR.
  • In Morocco, we are helping our center catalog works of art from its diverse collection of seventeenth to twentieth century art that traces Tangier’s historical function as a conduit between Europe and North Africa. The collection includes hundreds of prints, paintings, and drawings from Germany, Holland, England, Italy, France, Spain, and Malta, dating from 1573 to 1913, as well as antique maps and historical photographs.

Service-related Projects

In January 2006, the DLIR Steering Committee surveyed the participating centers regarding cataloging services, reference services, and services provided to host-country students and scholars. As a result, the DLIR is seeking to provide new or enhanced cataloging, reference, and digital delivery services. To upgrade centers’ cataloging skills, the DLIR will offer centers more cataloging tools and training. While initial project efforts focused on building the catalog, this phase includes streamlining services, maintaining records, and establishing authority control systems. Current plans are to provide member centers with WorldCat access through FirstSearch and Connexion and a customized staff training package that will use distance learning tools and personal instruction.

Many center libraries have little or no access to online reference databases and full-text resources. The DLIR Steering Committee hopes to use the consortium’s strength to negotiate favorable terms and reasonable costs to access international scholarly resources for the centers. The DLIR has negotiated a first-year access and training package to JSTOR for many of the centers. We are now planning for delivery of these resources to the centers.

floral device Conclusion

The DLIR’s architecture and strategic work plan aim to provide time-saving finding aids and content heretofore inaccessible without extensive travel. The American overseas libraries have a long history of international cooperation, have strong connections in local governmental and academic spheres, and have accumulated or have access to unique collections of research resources in their regions. The DLIR achieves cost-effectiveness by strategic, one-time investments in infrastructure development and projects that have potential for self-sustainability through institutional support and cost recovery. Strong partnerships with the Marriott Library, CRL, major universities, and other TICFIA-funded digital projects predict a solid position for the DLIR in supplying digital access and content for international research.

About the Author

Diane Ryan is Project Coordinator of the Digital Library for International Research at the Center for Research Libraries.
E–mail: ryan [at] crl [dot] edu

© 2007 Diane Ryan

Top of Page | Table of Contents

Copyright (c)