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University of Oxford
Director of University Library Services and Bodley's Librarian

Interesting Times: Chairman's Welcome to the RLG Annual Meeting on Rethinking the Humanities in a Global Age

Boston, 5 May 2003

There is no doubt, I think, that we are living in those interesting times which were invoked in the old Chinese curse. Economically, technologically, socially, and politically, the opening years of this new millennium have introduced new pressures and new challenges that are heralding many major changes for our world.

Meeting these challenges and moving with the times has become an important preoccupation for us all, including for organizations like RLG which came into being in very different circumstances. Appropriate change is now an absolute necessity. It is not just an optional extra for any of us.

I am pleased to say that during the four years that it has been my privilege to chair the RLG Board, I have been impressed by the proactive way in which RLG is embracing the 21st century by seeking every opportunity to develop new paradigms of service for the support of the international research community. If re-engineering is a term with many undesirable overtones in the business world, it is nevertheless, I think, an accurate representation of the determined way in which RLG is seeking to transform its various legacy systems and to develop contemporary means of delivering timely and immediate research information against a background of rapid external change. In practical terms this new sense of direction has taken a variety of forms, but each one of them has the promise of real effectiveness.

When we met in Ottawa two years ago, RLG's Cultural Materials Initiative was barely off the drawing board. Today it is a working production service with an ever-growing number of participants, a truly remarkable user interface, and a body of primary research materials in digital form which is fast approaching critical mass. It has been built with such skill that we can be confident, I think, that it will come to be appreciated and used as one of the most innovative and valuable ways of maximizing the heritage collections of RLG's worldwide membership.

The effective support of research scholarship, which is after all what we are all about, should also be enormously enhanced in the years to come as a direct outcome of RLG's current efforts to redefine the nature of the library catalogue. With the generous support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the RedLightGreen project - based on the massive resources of RLG's Union Catalog - is well under way toward creating an on-line information service which could be available for widespread use on the open Web. This development, once it moves into its production phase, is capable of transforming RLG's effectiveness in many unique and valuable ways and will help us to stay well ahead of the game in terms of delivering quality information to our increasingly Web-dependent users.

In other ways, too, RLG is taking steps to re-engineer both its information delivery and its support to members: the move to an ISO-compliant interlending model; the all-important background work on models and standards for digital archiving; the root-and-branch redesign of the organization's Web site; and the opening of the New York office to give more on-the-spot support to so many of our East Coast members along the lines of RLG's highly successful UK operation. All these developments speak volumes about the ability of the organization to change with the times.

All of which brings me to conclude that, notwithstanding the continuing challenges, RLG is in good shape in these interesting times, and I believe that we can have every confidence in its collective future as a consortium.

Reg Carr