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Number: 71
Year: 2002
Author: Johann Van Reenen, Editor
Title: Digital Libraries and Virtual Workplaces. Important Initiatives for Latin America in the Information Age


     Digital libraries extend and integrate approaches adopted in traditional libraries, as well as in distributed information systems, to yield high-end information systems, services, and institutions. Here we explore some of the parts or components of digital libraries and discuss several of the developments in this emerging field.

     Comprehensive digital libraries will help users manage all phases of the information lifecycle. This is illustrated in Figure 1, which summarizes much of the discussion of a US National Science Foundation funded workshop on Social Aspects of Digital Libraries (Borgman 1996). Of particular import is to simplify the authoring and creation processes so that wider populations can participate, adding all types of multimedia content directly into digital libraries. Downstream access allows readers to benefit from this type of computer-mediated communication, across time and space. Ultimately, it is hoped that knowledge will be shared and then lead to additional cycles of discovery, authoring, and utilization that are facilitated by digital libraries.

See Graphic.

NOTE: The outer ring indicates the life cycle stages (active, semi-active, and inactive) for a given type of information artifact (such as business records, artworks, documents, or scientific data). The stages are superimposed on six types of information uses or processes (shaded circle). The cycle has three major phases: information creation, searching, and utilization. The alignment of the cycle stages with the steps of information handling and process phases may vary according to the particular social or institutional context.

Figure 1. Information Life Cycle: Diagram from Workshop Report on Social Aspects of Digital Libraries, http://www-lis.gseis.ucla.edu/DL/

     Digital libraries are distinguished in that they afford services connected with each of the phases of the lifecycle. They integrate technologies from a variety of disciplines to help realize the designs articulated by early visionaries.


     Vannevar Bush was one of the first to clearly describe problems related to the modern explosion of information and to appeal to technology to help us meet our needs regarding scholarly communication (Bush 1945). Twenty years later, Licklider painted a more complete picture, identifying the needs for better distributed-processing, human-computer interaction, document management, and retrieval (Licklider 1965). Salton helped launch the modern era of automatic indexing and search through some 30 years of laboratory research (Salton 1968). But real development of digital libraries per se only began in the early 1990s, drawing upon such visions, as well as statements of needs and requirements from prospective users (Fox et al. 1993b; Heath et al. 1995). Work on early projects like TULIP (Dougherty & Fox, 1995), ongoing efforts to reach consensus and establish standards like the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative (Dublin Core Community, 1999; Weibel 1999), and several rounds of research funding (Lesk 1999), have all helped lay a firm foundation as a clearer understanding of the scope of the field has emerged.


     The scope and definition of the field of digital libraries has been the subject of intensive debate, which is well summarized in (Borgman, 1999). Here we simply remind the reader of the integrative nature of the field through three definitions that show such combinations:
  • Library++ = library + archive + museum + …
  • Distributed information system + organization + effective interfaces
  • User community + collection (content) + services
     However, to help clarify our subsequent analysis, we add our own favorite definition, drawing upon the 5S framework (Fox 1999b), with its 5 key constructs: societies, scenarios/services, spaces, structures, and streams. Thus, digital libraries are complex systems that: 1. help satisfy information needs of users (societies), 2. provide information services (scenarios), 3. locate and present information in usable ways (spaces), 4. organize information in usable ways (structures), and 5. communicate information with users and computers (streams).