D-Lib Magazine
May 2001

Volume 7 Number 5

ISSN 1082-9873

Digital Library Initiatives of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft


Dr. Ewald Brahms
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft

Red Line



The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) is the central public funding organization for academic research in Germany. It is thus comparable to a research council or a national research foundation. According to its statutes, DFG's mandate is to serve science and the arts in all fields by supporting research projects carried out at universities and public research institutions in Germany, to promote cooperation between researchers, and to forge and support links between German academic science, industry and partners in foreign countries. In the fulfillment of its tasks, the DFG pays special attention to the education and support of young scientists and scholars [1].

DFG's mandate and operations follow the principle of territoriality. This means that its funding activities are restricted, with very few exceptions, to individuals and institutions with permanent addresses in Germany. Fellowships are granted for work in other countries, but most fellowship programs are restricted to German citizens, with a few exceptions for permanent residents of Germany holding foreign passports.

DFG Library Funding

In recognition of the importance of providing information for excellent research, academic libraries have been eligible for funding from the DFG since its inception in 1949. As a result, today the DFG is one of the major institutions in Germany that systematically supports academic libraries and archives [2]. The aim of the funding is to promote efficient and user-friendly library (or archive) services in order to ensure the quality of information infrastructure necessary for successful research. The DFG awards grants for pilot schemes testing novel technical and organizational developments, issues recommendations and guidelines for new initiatives, and serves as a consultant to politicians.

A library committee, consisting of representatives from various types of libraries and archives, scholars, and scientists, plays an essential role in the planning, coordination, expert appraisal and control of programs and projects. The library committee and its sub-committees operate the programs on a peer review basis as policy guidelines and decisions on project proposals are agreed upon by the experts.

For all the activities in the field of libraries, archives, and research infrastructure, the DFG spent DM 55 million in 2000. The budget for 2001 is DM 56.1 million (about $ 25 million). Approximately 38 % of the total budget will be made available to support collection development in a network of special subject libraries [3].

Whereas the grants for collection development focus on the acquisition of (paper-based) foreign language publications, support for digital library projects is a reaction to the hybrid information environment in which we live that requires improved and new library services based on innovative information technologies. The amount of funding made available for digital library projects has been increased considerably over the past years, ranging at a little over DM 21 million for 2001.

Digital Library Initiatives

When in 1996 a group of computer scientists proposed to the DFG a five-year priority program for basic research on "Distributed Management and Handling of Digital Documents", the computer science department and the department of academic libraries and information systems of the DFG collaborated in the development of this priority program. Computer scientists and librarians were encouraged to cooperate, so that librarians would transmit their requirements to researchers, and researchers would be provided with real-life testbeds for their solution concepts. This cooperation is regarded as one means of speeding up transfer of research results into practical applications and product innovations. In mid-1997, this priority research program started with about 25 projects. In eight of these research projects libraries are involved as managing partners [4].

Also in 1997, the program structure for library funding was redesigned and extended in order to guarantee flexibility towards new demands and developments brought about by electronic information networks and multimedia publications. Thus a new priority area of project funding for academic libraries was established, an action line called the "Distributed Digital Research Library" [5]. It comprises three distinct funding programs, which are integrated and closely coordinated under the new heading:

  • Modernization and Rationalization in Academic Libraries
  • Electronic Publications in Academic Libraries
  • Retrospective Digitization

"Modernization and Rationalization in Academic Libraries" focuses on technically-oriented projects that improve electronic library services. However, grants are also available for pilot projects that aim at organizational changes in library operations.

"Electronic Publications in Academic Libraries" targets pilot developments of services for the provision of electronic publications and multimedia in academic libraries. So, while the first program focuses on technology, this second program centers primarily on content. The basis for its inception was a paper on the role of electronic publications in the supply of literature and information in academic libraries published by the DFG in 1995. The paper gave an outline of recent and expected developments in licensing, acquisitions, indexing and archiving, and their impact on the organizational structure of libraries. The paper also provided specific outlines for projects that could be funded by the DFG under a special program with the general aim of improving the supply of electronic publications in academic libraries.

Instruments necessary for the retrieval or storage of information have been developed, as well as environments for an electronic library. A number of projects concern electronic publications, i.e. developing technical, institutional, organizational and legal regulations, concepts and standards necessary before submitting "dissertations online", or solving problems arising from a nation-wide provision of electronic journals on a document-delivery basis.

The final and perhaps most important feature is the attempt to build subject-oriented virtual libraries which bear some resemblance to subject gateways. The background is closely connected with the network of special subject collections. One of the main concerns today is to transpose this successful system into the digital age. The goal is to supplement the current system, traditionally oriented to paper-based documents and interlibrary loan, with access to electronic resources. Libraries participating in these projects develop an organizational structure for such a virtual subject library by bringing together Internet resources, other electronic resources, and services, thereby creating a truly hybrid library. At the same time, libraries attempt to find partners, as the range and number of available resources is huge. Partners may not only be found among scientists and academics, but also may be found in the private sector and international institutions [6].

"Retrospective Digitzation" is the third component of the funding concept for the "Distributed Digital Research Library". This program focuses on the retrospective digitization of selected library holdings to allow direct and electronic access to resources that are important for research and teaching. Another focus is the digitization of holdings that are difficult to access or material that has been little known so far.

In preparing for this funding program, technical guidelines and recommendations for content selection were issued. Two centers for digitization were set up, one at Göttingen State and University Library [7] and the second at the Bavarian State Library in Munich [8]. These centers offer know-how transfer and technical project support. Since 1997, more than 70 projects have received funding, and over 12 million pages have been brought online [9]. The digital collections are distributed to a large number of research libraries in order to avoid an overly centralist approach that would favor only a few large institutions. Many project initiatives are based on close cooperation between librarians and scholars or scientists, thus ensuring that the digital collections are actually significant for research. These collections could also provide a useful platform for multimedia-based teaching and for binding the teaching to research [10].

In 1999, another action line was added that addresses the options and challenges to academic communication and publishing arising from the digital medium. This new funding program, "Information Infrastructures for Research Cooperation Based on Networks and Digital Publications", is aimed at a wider audience than just libraries. The program's main focus is to improve research-related information infrastructures and support innovations in digital academic publishing.

International Digital Library Initiative

Among the most exciting of opportunities offered by a global information infrastructure are international digital libraries -- content-rich, multimedia, multilingual collections created from globally distributed resources by international groups engaged in collaborative efforts. While there are still uncoordinated efforts in many countries, cooperative programs of research and intellectual infrastructure development can help avoid duplication of effort, prevent the development of fragmented digital systems, and encourage productive interchange of scientific knowledge and scholarly data around the world. The digital library area is one in which all countries stand to gain from coordinated, cooperative activities.

To begin to address some of the research challenges associated with creating international digital libraries, the DFG issued a funding program for multi-country, multi-team projects involving at least one research team in Germany and one in another country. The DFG would support the German part of a joint project while the non-German parts would apply for funding from other sources [11].

The US National Science Foundation (NSF) was the first to join the DFG in this endeavor, and a joint funding initiative was issued [12]. The DFG/NSF arrangement was opportune for both organizations. It allowed DFG to broaden its traditional national focus, and NSF to draw on and connect with, in a direct way, the large set of research activities being sponsored under Digital Libraries Initiative Phase 2.

The overall goals of the DFG/NSF program are to foster common approaches to shared problems, promote common standards, share expertise and experience and build on complementary organizational strengths and approaches. Both DFG and NSF also look to gain valuable experience in setting up and running international programs.

In addition to the evaluation criteria applied to DFG and NSF proposals, special criteria were introduced to apply to the international collaborative research proposals. These criteria included the following:

  • how well the proposal represented new research in the area of digital libraries, and the presence of new scientific ideas and methods
  • how well the project demonstrated the need for, and advantages of, shared international activities
  • whether the project was a true collaborative effort, displaying complementary and comparable levels of professional expertise
  • whether the management plan provided mechanisms for effective communication, co-ordination, progress assessment, and flexibility
  • how many people would benefit from the new technology created by a successful project and to what extent the content would be made available to communities of users

At a joint panel session held at the DFG in Bonn, experts studied the evaluation criteria and weighed them in relation to their importance to the overall goals of the program. In the case of the international initiative, it was felt that the ability of the international partners to work together was one of the most important criteria. Proposals were studied very carefully to ensure that the projects recognised this issue and were proposing sensible and effective strategies to address potential problems.

Other important criteria were the development of content or new technologies that would be widely applicable and not just of benefit to the participating institutions, and well thought out strategies for disseminating the results of the projects. The US and German panelists reached unanimous agreement on the projects to be recommended for funding. This was a particularly gratifying result, as there had been concerns that the different national imperatives might lead to some level of disagreement.

Both funding partners have learnt a great deal from this joint initiative, not least that such initiatives can be set up and solid agreement on the content of the program can be reached. DFG and NSF have been extremely pleased with the outcome of the call and the quality of the bids received. Both parties have every intention of working together again and issuing a second funding initiative soon.

Out of the 11 proposals submitted, 4 projects were recommended for funding [13]:

The Archimedes Project: Realizing the Vision of an Open Digital Research Library for the History of Mechanics: Harvard University/ Max-Planck-Institute for the History of Science (MPIWG), Germany / University of Missouri at Kansas City / Tufts University


Prof. Mark J. Schiefsky, Department of the Classics, Harvard University, Department of the Classics, 204 Boylston Hall, Cambridge, MA 02138
Email: <>

PD Dr. Peter Damerow, Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Wilhelmstraße 44 10117 Berlin
Email: <>

Prof. Dr. Jürgen Renn, Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Wilhelmstraße 44, 10117 Berlin
Email: please mail to Ms. P. Schröter, Secretary: <>

Urs Schöpflin, Head of the Library, Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Wilhelmstraße 44, 10117 Berlin
Email: <>

Prof. Jeffrey Rydberg-Cox, Department of English, University of Missouri at Kansas City
Email: <>

Prof. Gregory Crane, Professor of Classics, Tufts University
Email: <>

The Archimedes Project will create a testbed for developing and exploring model interactive environments for the history of mechanics. It will also serve as a proof-of-concept project for open digital libraries for topics in the history of science designed to integrate research and knowledge dissemination in new ways. The project is a joint endeavor of the Classics Department at Harvard University, the Max-Planck-Institute for the History of Science (MPIWG) in Berlin, Germany, the English Department at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, and the Perseus Project at Tufts University. It also engages a wider network of scholars supported in particular by Project International de Cooperation Scientifique (PICS). Numerous treatises on mechanics as well as other forms of documentation of mechanical knowledge and practices constitute the corpus of the testbed. Ongoing research at the MPIWG on the long-term development of mental models of mechanical thinking and their manifestation in technical terminologies, inferences of practitioners, engineers, and scientists plays an important role in the testbed design. The testbed also requires a powerful, linguistically based information technology for handling the variety of languages occurring in the source materials. Source documents must be prepared with tools such as automatic morphological analysis of Latin, Greek and Italian, and semantic linking of sources to general and technical, historical and modern dictionaries and reference works.

The Development of a Distributed Digital Library of Mathematical Monographs: University of Michigan / State Library of Lower Saxony and University Library of Göttingen / Cornell University


John Price-Wilkin, The Digital Library Production Service (DLPS), The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109 USA
Email: <>

Prof. Dr. Elmar Mittler, Niedersächsische Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Göttingen, Platz der Göttinger Sieben 1, 37073 Göttingen
Email: <>

H. Thomas Hickerson, Cornell Institute for Digital Collections, Cornell University
Email: <>

The project will create a distributed repository of significant historical monographs in mathematics. The participation of these three institutions is significant not only because of their pioneering work in building digital libraries, but also because of their extraordinary collections in this topical area. Michigan will contribute 1,000 monographic volumes focusing on non-Euclidean geometry from its collection; Cornell has digitized 576 volumes of mathematical monographs, and will generate OCR to enhance access to their materials. Göttingen will contribute digitized monographs, dissertations and multi-volume works of the electronic Mathematical Archive and the database "Jahrbuch uber die Fortschritte der Mathematik", funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. Its collections are regarded as unparalleled in this area. The requested funding will be used primarily to develop an interoperability layer with the three strong digital library systems at these institutions. In doing so, the participants will focus on many of the issues central to the advancement of digital libraries, including distributed repositories and integration of digital resources, advanced access and retrieval, high levels of interoperability, and models for dissemination and use.

Middle High German Interlinked: A Full-Text Archive and Medieval German Dictionaries Collaboratory: University of Virginia/ University of Trier


David M. Seaman, Electronic Text Center, Alderman Library, Box 400148 , University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22904
Email: <>

Prof. Dr. phil. Kurt Gärtner, Universität Trier, FB II Germanistik, Ältere deutsche Philologie, D-54286 Trier
E-Mail: <>

The project will explore and demonstrate the possibilities and advantages of international cooperation for the creation and delivery of complex literary and linguistic documents as encoded XML files. The University of Trier brings strong computer science, lexicographical, and philological expertise to the project. The University of Virginia Library and other departments have a long and successful record of applying SGML and XML encoding to humanities and other textual material, along with considerable capabilities for online delivery for tens of thousands of texts. This particular project will bring these strengths to bear on Middle High German Interlinked, a full-text archive and Medieval German Dictionaries collaboratory. Prior efforts at Virginia to interlink the Oxford English Dictionary with texts of Early American fiction have been of value in examining the influence of pre-1850 American fiction on the development of modern English language and usage. Part of the project will be focussed on evaluation and implementation of web interfaces for multiple user communities.

Open Archives: Distributed Services for Physicists and Graduate Students OAD: Universität Oldenburg / Niedersächsische Staats- und Universtiätsbibliothek Göttingen/ Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


Prof. Dr. Eberhard R. Hilf, Universität Oldenburg (Fachbereich 8: Physik), Department of Physics Carl von Ossietzky University 26111 Oldenburg
Email: <>

Prof. Dr. Elmar Mittler, Niedersächsische Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Göttingen, Platz der Göttinger Sieben 1, 37073 Göttingen
Email: <>

Prof. Ed Fox, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Dept. of Computer Science
Email: <>

Prof. Royce Zia, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Physics Department
Email: <>

The cooperation is based on the existing bundle of prototype-like services: from Virginia Tech a huge central repository of online copies of documents from University libraries (local, regional, national, worldwide); from the University at Oldenburg (UO) a driven search engine retrieving directly from the local repositories of worldwide physics departments and their servers at their local libraries or institutes; from the Göttingen State and University Library scientific document access services for the fields of general or exact sciences.

The project aims at:

  • Developing and implementing a joint set of the now quite different syntax and semantics of classification schemes. Implementation, usage evaluation, and work on the acceptance of a joint set of metadata in accordance with the newly founded International Dublin Core Special Interest Group: DC Research.
  • Negotiating the overall frame and joint standards of the new service with national learned societies (USA, Germany, Australia, Hungary, India, Russia, Ireland, etc.).
  • Enforcing compliance to standards of the new service by working with the international bodies (European Physical Society, ACPaSC: Action Committee for Publication and Scientific Communities; IUPAP: International Union for Pure and Applied Physics).
  • Assuring coherence by collaboration with the international bodies of adjacent fields by their national societies.
  • Setting up cooperation and collaboration with local University Libraries a) via the University Libraries UO and VT, b) via DINI as transfer organization to other German University Libraries for creating a future stable and accepted network of institutions to run the service structure aimed at by this application.
  • Setting up a stable operating mirror at the Göttingen State and University turned to serve as model for similar services for different fields, preferably included in General Exact Sciences.


[1] More information at <>.

[2] See <>.

[3] Further information at <>.

[4] See <>.

[5] <> contains a more comprehensive list of the projects, for which some descriptions are available in English.

[6] For currently funded virtual subject libraries, see <>

[7] See <>.

[8] See <>.

[9] Projects funded by the DFG are listed at <> and <>.

[10] Manfred Thaller rightly points out that more efforts towards this goal are needed. Manfred Thaller, "From the Digitized to the Digital Library", D-Lib Magazine, February 2001, vol. 7, no. 2.

[11] <>.

[12] <>

[13] The abstracts were provided by the investigators.

Copyright 2001 Ewald Brahms

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DOI: 10.1045/may2001-brahms