Informal Prospectus

Digital Documents Consortium

C. M. Sperberg-McQueen

2 October 1997

This document represents the opinions of the author and has not been endorsed by any organization, body, or committee.

Table of Contents

The explosive rise in the use of digital documents and wide-area networks in research and teaching poses enormous challenges to users of electronic documents. This document describes a proposal for a consortium of academic and other institutions to enable us to address some of these challenges cooperatively.

1 Purpose

The purpose of the consortium is to cooperate in solving fundamental practical problems which arise in using digital documents in teaching and research.

The consortium will initially have three main areas of work:

1.1 System Assembly and Integration

Library electronic text centers and other bodies responsible for providing access to some large collection of digital documents cannot rely on turnkey solutions to their problems. The requirements of teaching and research are too various, and too remote from typical commercial and industrial practice. Software powerful enough to serve the needs of research and teaching not only allows, but almost invariably requires, substantial customization to make it match the needs of the individual center.

The customization and adaptation of complex software products is not intrinsically beyond the capability of libraries or other organizations but does require substantial staff time and technical expertise. The software support provided by vendors seldom suffices to make the customization process simple; as a result, academic users of complex software can often learn more from each other than from the vendor. The experiences of schools like the Universities of Michigan, Virginia, and Chicago show that cooperation on problems of system integration can bear significant benefits.

The consortium will provide a framework for cooperation on problems of system integration and adaptation, including:

1.2 Training, Workshops, and Information Resources

The consortium will offer a full range of training courses, workshops, and information resources relevant to its areas of interest. For example:

Web resources will also be maintained, to ensure the availability of non-proprietary information on issues of interest to consortium members.

As far as possible, training courses and workshops should be self-supporting; participants from member institutions will pay lower fees than participants from non-member institutions. (Special arrangements may be made for independent scholars.)

Consortium funds may be used to provide scholarships for promising students.

1.3 Technical Standards and Infrastructure

The consortium will contribute directly to the maintenance of standards relevant for the use of digital documents in research and teaching. In particular, it will

2 Governance

The consortium will be governed by its members (details to be arranged).

3 Budget and Dues

Three budgets are described below: a startup budget (the minimum needed for launching the consortium to make sense), a minimal budget (sufficient for the consortium to survive, but not to allow it to engage in all desirable activities), and a `normal' budget (sufficient to support the activities described here).

3.1 Dues

Dues will be between $3000 and $10,000 per institution, depending on enrollment, degrees offered, research budget, etc.

3.2 Startup Budget

To start the consortium, it's necessary to have funds sufficient to pay for

for a period sufficient to allow the consortium to grow into self-sufficiency.

The consortium should be formed if at least ten institutions commit to becoming charter members, and to maintaining their memberships for (three or) five years. The activities of the consortium in the startup phase should be concentrated on workshops, a low level of support for TEI activities, and work to expand the membership.

In budgetary terms, a start-up budget of $60,000 should be allocated something like this:
Salary, executive director (50% FTE)$29,000
Salary, secretary$19,000
Fringe benefits, executive director (50% FTE)$5,500
Fringe benefits, secretary$1,200
Executive director travel $5,300

3.3 Low-level Budget

As the consortium and the budget grow, the additional money should be devoted to support for technical work first, and later to additional staff.

The consortium will be self-sustaining when it can provide enough services to persuade members to maintain their memberships in sufficient numbers to pay the staff necessary to provide the services. Any plan for the staff needed to create a self-sufficient consortium is necessarily speculative in part. One possible level of staffing would be:

At such a staffing level, the budget needed to support the consortium might be:
Salary, executive director (100% FTE)$58,000
Salary, editor (50% FTE)$29,000
Salary, secretary$30,000
Salary, technical assistant (50% FTE)$25,000
Fringe benefits, executive director (100% FTE)$11,000
Fringe benefits, editor$5,000
Fringe benefits, secretary$5,000
Fringe benefits, technical assistant$4,000
Work group travel $40,000
Executive director travel $10,000
Work group travel $30,000
Total Direct Costs$217,000

3.4 Normal Budget

The staffing level needed for full-scale operation of the consortium is even more speculative than that needed for minimal self-sufficiency; it might be something like the following:

This amounts to 8.5 FTE, but should be taken only as a ballpark figure.

4 Host Institution

The central consortium offices will be located at one of its member institutions (the host institution). The host institution will

The payment of indirect costs from the consortium to the host institution is a matter for separate negotiation.

2 Oct 1997