Exploring a Passion for Karst

USF librarians provide a vital link between information resources, scientists and cavers.


By Ann Carney

Special to USF.edu

Tampa, Fla. (July 22, 2010) - Every day, roughly 20 percent of the world’s population – more than 1 billion people – depend on karst environments for their water supplies. And every day these vulnerable terrains face increasing risk for degradation.


Karst is a globally distributed terrain created by the dissolution of soluble rocks, such as limestone and dolomite. Dissolution occurs when rainwater infused with carbon dioxide passes through layers of soil and bedrock. The result is a striking landscape characterized by sinkholes, caves, disappearing streams and springs – a landscape at risk for contamination from pollution and human activity.


At the University of South Florida, scientists are working on a range of karst studies to solve complex interdisciplinary problems around the globe. And in the university’s main library, librarians are working to solve another type of karst problem – a fragmented and nontraditional literature base that includes significant contributions from non-scientists. Contributions like conference notes, government reports, images and newsletters from a caving club, as well as traditional published materials.


Since 2007, USF librarians have been working to create an open-access digital library linking scientists, managers and explorers with quality information resources concerning karst environments. Known as the Karst Information Portal, the digital library today contains more than 1,000 digital objects and more than 5,000 described resources. Though registration is not required, the portal boasts more than 245 registered users from 12 countries specializing in 30 areas of karst research.


The Karst Information Portal is a groundbreaking project that brings together a complex network of collaborations, including four leading partners: the University of South Florida Libraries; the National Cave & Karst Research Institute; University Libraries, University of New Mexico; and Union International de Spéléogie, as well as the Dr. Kiran C. Patel Center for Global Solutions – the catalyst for the project. USF is the project’s organizational partner, responsible for housing and organizing collections, managing the infrastructure, maintaining the technology, coordinating digitization activities and contributing content.


Todd Chavez, USF Libraries’ director of academic resources says the portal is a prime example of a research library “getting in front of an information problem.”

The problem is one that relates to a pressing area of interest to everyone. “Research in karst environments informs water and climate change issues, environmental policy issues and economic sustainability issues,” he says. And while technology drives the project, it is not the focus of the project. The Karst Information Portal is about relationships and collaboration.


“We are the link between the information resources, scientists and cavers who are passionate about karst environments,” Chavez says, environments that are crucial to the health and well-being of one out of every four people on Earth.


This story was originally published in the Spring/Summer 2010 issue of USF Magazine.