Back in 2002, then-President Faulkner of the University of Texas at Austin shared a vision: to provide Texans with online access to educational and cultural materials located and generated at the university in a digital Knowledge Gateway. The Chronicle of Education wrote about this Gateway, as did other news outlets, and the project soon received funding from a variety of sources. The Knowledge Gateway promised a great deal:
Research, education and sheer appreciation alone are no longer limited by campus boundaries or travel time to Austin. The Knowledge Gateway will let you access UT’s resources from the comfort of your own computer. Browse through the Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art’s extensive Latin American Collection, examine a map of Afghanistan from the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection or bone up on aquatic trivia with the Texas Memorial Museum’s Fishes of Texas exhibit. The possibilities are virtually endless.
The Knowledge Gateway, soon renamed UTopia, was very ambitious and apparently worthwhile collection of digital materials. Things didn’t quite work out the way they were planned, as revealed in the June 28th “Coffee with the Vice Provost” notes. The Vice Provost of the University Libraries announced that UTopia will be losing support and funding in 14 months, after “an unambiguous and final decision” by President Powers and the University Budget Council. There will be an attempt to relocate some library staff to other areas… but I know this loss of funding will be a blow to the library’s digital services.
The Gateway had problems early in its existence, many of which had to do with it’s management (from an outsider’s perspective, albeit an outsider who interacted with some developers). Some of the early architectural and technological issues were hammered out, but then what? Management seemed to float between the gateway being it’s own entity, being managed by Information Technology Services, and being managed by the University (then General) Libraries. Eventually, it became housed in the Libraries, which inherited a pretty difficult set of tasks burdened by ambiguity and some odd decisions.
Here are a few other concerns that I and a few others I knew had about the project. UTopia depended on content provided by UT organizations and faculty, but apparently was to be aimed at the K-12 range. While commendable, this may have had an effect on how much faculty would be able to contribute as products of their research. Providing UTopia with content also meant that the provider agreed to keep the materials current in perpetuity. That certainly could prove difficult with limited time, money, and effort from the original providers. There were also a few strange copyright concerns (which may have just bothered me since that’s what I’m interested in). According to the FAQ, content could be used by anyone as long as the University was given attribution- but according to the faculty agreements with the UTopia group, the faculty only signed over authority for the University to use the materials, and did not give permission for other parties to do so. (The University allows faculty members to own the copyrights in educational materials they create.) The copyright problems could have been worked through, but I’m not in a position to know how other concerns could have been addressed.
I haven’t seen any official announcements- I was waiting for it and almost missed this reference- so we’re still waiting to see what happens with the existing collections/projects and the people who are currently funded by UTopia. I don’t know if this action reflects on other digital collection attempts or not, but I’ll be trying to figure out how people measure the success of digital collections…