One of my RLG colleagues today brought us a question from an institution that was considering their options for what to do with a large mass of digitized content they were planning to create. The question was basically this: would they be better off just making it accessible themselves and letting the search engines guide people there, or join up with a large aggregation such as the World Digital Library?
This is certainly a good question, and one worth considering carefully, since it is a foundational question that has numerous ramifications down the road. But all things being equal (and they aren’t necessarily so stay tuned for more on this), more access is better.
That is, I would neither put all of my eggs in a “local only” basket nor in a “one big aggregation” basket, but both if at all possible. That is, retain control over your own stuff, but also syndicate it out to other places such as the World Digital Library, if that floats your boat, and other places that make sense as well. The one sticking point here is that you will need to know what is required to play well with those other locations and factor that into your planning. So if I were them, I would find out what the World Digital Library would want from me, as I would with any other aggregator I wanted to play with. Then I would do something locally that allows me to easily spin out the various versions required. I think this model provides the most flexibility and sustainability going forward than relying on any single solution, no matter what it is. Plus I would get the added benefit of being in many places at once.
So as I alluded to above, all things are often not equal, and here are some of the differentiating factors. It will likely take additional effort to make your metadata and/or content comply with the needs of aggregators. Depending on your local situation, this could require a significant investment (although I would argue that if it does you were probably planning on doing something locally that is not as flexible as it should be). Another is that if the aggregator, such as the World Digital Library, wishes to host the content as well (and not just the metadata), then you will have split usage statistics. But before deciding you can’t handle being in more places at once I would urge careful consideration of the benefits and drawbacks. The easier it is for people to find your content the more it will be valued. People can’t appreciate stuff they can’t even find.