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OCLC Unifies Digitization Forces with Its Acquisition of DiMeMa
Posted On August 21, 2006
In the face of what Cathy De Rosa, vice president of OCLC Marketing and Library Services, referred to as the "exploding" market for digitization by libraries, OCLC ( has acquired DiMeMa ( DiMeMa, Inc. (Digital Media Management) developed CONTENTdm, a leading digital collection management software suite, which it has marketed and distributed exclusively through OCLC since 2002. By acquiring the company, OCLC can integrate DiMeMa products and staff with its other digitization service lines. DiMeMa will continue to operate out of its Seattle offices, working with OCLC headquarters and other regional and international offices, including the RLG offices in California.

DiMeMa began as a project researching digital image database technologies for the Center for Information Systems Optimization (CISO) at the University of Washington. The project began working with libraries in 1995. The University of Washington Libraries became the first testing ground for the software that Greg Zick and his team were developing to handle digital content in multiple forms and formats. CONTENTdm debuted in 1999 as a product line to make the tools available for other organizations. In 2001, DiMeMa, Inc. was formed to support users and continue research and product development. The staff includes experienced programmers and user interface and Web designers, some of whom have worked in this area since the mid-1980s.

Now, according to Jay Jordan, OCLC president and CEO: "As part of OCLC, the DiMeMa team will be better positioned to explore new ways to help libraries and other cultural heritage organizations manage their digital collections and make them accessible worldwide." Zick, founder of DiMeMa, will become vice president of OCLC Digital Services. Zick hopes that the integration within OCLC will mean that "Together we will be able to reach more libraries and other organizations interested in managing and exposing their unique content to the worldwide information community." De Rosa saluted the timing as right. "We've had good successes. We've advanced together. It's logical. DiMeMa is a great organization. By having a tighter relationship, we can produce more integration, more leveraging of our capabilities."

OCLC's market for the CONTENTdm software suite extends beyond libraries to other cultural heritage organizations and nonprofits. According to Zick, DiMeMa had its own clients as well (primarily in the legal arena); service to these clients will continue. However, when it comes to plans for market expansion, De Rosa indicated that OCLC would continue to focus on libraries, museums, archives, and cultural heritage organizations of all types. It has no special plans for serving corporate markets, except for some corporate libraries. "Maybe sometime in the future," said De Rosa, "There's such a lot of historical material that needs preservation and learning about, so much to be digitized. We've estimated there are some 16 billion volumes in libraries worldwide. There's no way we could digitize it all, but there's lots of opportunity." De Rosa even alluded to opportunities in social networking areas.

The CONTENTdm Digital Collection Management Software can store, manage, and deliver all kinds of digital collections, e.g., historical documents, photos, newspapers, PDF files, audio and video, and even collectibles (two-sided and six-sided objects). It can make the content available for Web delivery or internal networking. More than 300 libraries and other nonprofits license CONTENTdm to handle more than 2,500 digital collections. When asked for exact figures, Zick responded: "We've been growing so fast, it's hard to say. When asked that question, I always just say that we have hundreds of sites that support thousands of collections with millions of documents." (For examples of how CONTENTdm works with a range of digitization projects and different kinds of settings, go to

Metadata from CONTENTdm collectionsóincluding full text from users choosing the OCR (optical character recognition) option for treating imagesócan open library digitized content to the Web and Web search engines. Much of it is already available among the 1.3 billion items tracked in OCLC's new site. (Read Paula Hane's NewsBreak, "OCLC to Open WorldCat Searching to the World," at De Rosa admitted that "Some, but not all[, of] the digitized content is in WorldCat. We expose the full-text content on if contributing libraries want to be a part of it. However, not all [of] the WorldCat collection is necessarily open to search engines. Libraries can put their own collections on the Web individually, as many have with CONTENTdm over the years. They may then attach the content to Open or the search engines depending on how it works."

DiMeMa's staff will work closely with other OCLC digital initiatives. Such initiatives include the following:

  • The Content Cooperative pilot project designed to help member libraries store, organize, publish, and preserve unique digital content via WorldCat through Connexion and related tools
  • The Digital Archive with the Web Archives Workbench, supporting multiple file formats and easy interfaces for harvesting, organizing, and archiving digital assets using the OAIS ISO standards and the METS metadata standard
  • Participation in the LOCKSS (Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe) Alliance, a library consortium and user community providing open-source archiving software to build digital collections
  • Membership in CLOCKSS (Controlled LOCKSS), a community of more than 53,000 libraries in 96 countries to create more secure, "dark" archives capable of handling catastrophic interruptions of service or supporting orphaned or abandoned works
  • The OCLC/DLF Registry of Digital Masters, a central master list of monographs, serials, and other digital content, currently digital or scheduled for digitization, developed by OCLC and the Digital Library Federation
  • The newly introduced OCLC Terminologies Service, already integratable with CONTENTdm, which allows users to create metadata for both digital and print content, bringing multiple thesauri together into a single interface

It's too early to say what the integration process will look like. Zick commented: "All [of] OCLC's initiatives have pieces of the larger vision. I know some more than others. I'm just starting to learn about some. The long-range vision is to be able to deliver primary resources either as open information or to constituents who should have access. In the past, as we worked with a number of libraries putting information online, we listened to them to help us create new features and functions. Our motto was to invent the tools and let the information professionals use them. Now that we're integrated with OCLC, we'll develop the tools equation from a much broader process. Throughout the whole process, we'll work to ensure [that] all efforts are compatible and complementary."

The missionary tone continues to permeate comments from leaders at OCLC and its new acquisition. Zick said that what still excited him was the idea that we can now get "primary sources to the public level. No longer do you have to be a special scholar to get into a special collection at a library. This invigorates more people. The possibility of discovery is unlimited with the integration of collections from all over."

De Rosa pointed to how fast technology had moved to enable new developments. "A couple of years ago, the discussions were about what percentages of library collections should be digital or print or something other. Now all is digital. The real issue is to create collections, to present them in a logical way. To share what we all have is so much more efficient, particularly with the declining cost of coordination. Even physical delivery platforms have improved dramatically. This is part of what we do and what we have to do to stay relevant. That's our collective responsibility."

Barbara Quint was senior editor of Online Searcher, co-editor of The Information Advisor’s Guide to Internet Research, and a columnist for Information Today.

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