Changes at the NSDL

Jeffrey Mervis, NSF Rethinks Its Digital Library, Science Magazine, January 2, 2009.  (Thanks to Garrett Eastman.)  Accessible only to subscribers.  Excerpt:

…[The] NSF’s National Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology Education Digital Library (NSDL) program…was launched in 2000 to help scientists and science educators tap into the rapidly expanding online world. Since then, the foundation has spent about $175 million “to provide organized access to high quality resources and tools that support innovations in teaching and learning at all levels.” In practice, that has meant three things: creating and maintaining a Web site with a vast assortment of peer-reviewed materials, including lesson plans, videos, lectures, examples, and teacher guides; providing support for more than a dozen disciplinary and sector-based portals, called Pathways, that offer suitable content to NSDL; and funding individual research projects…that are aimed at helping researchers and educators make better use of online learning….

Because NSDL serves several different purposes, the payoff from NSF’s investment, which has averaged almost $18 million a year…has been hard to quantify. Its biggest advocates admit that relatively few educators and researchers have even heard of NSDL, much less visited the Web site or contributed material….

Although NSF officials insist that NSDL has been a success, the agency is in the process of reducing its support for digital libraries. Last year, the initialism NSDL was redefined as the National Science Distributed Learning program and subsumed under a new, broader cyberlearning initiative for which digital libraries are only a small component. In September, NSF cut its support to the organizations that manage NSDL by more than half and described the new round of funding as a “rampdown … toward self-sufficiency.” The consortia operating the various Pathway portals say they don’t expect to get another bite of the apple. In 2007, NSF ended its funding of DLESE, a digital library for earth system education that is separate from NSDL but serves as an informal pathway for the earth sciences community….