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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


      Since the Middle Ages universities and libraries have been closely related. There are important libraries that are not associated to universities, as for example the national libraries and the libraries affiliated to religious institutions. In these groups, some libraries can be mentioned – the Library of Congress in the United States, the Bibliothèque Nationale in France, the Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana in the Vatican City and the Biblioteca Nacional in Brazil.

      It is a fact that excellence in an institution devoted to teaching and research cannot exist if a good library system is not one of its assets. All good educational institutions worldwide have good libraries whose collections have not only periodicals and text books but manuscripts, historical items, iconography, etc. Some examples may be cited – the University of California in Berkeley, Stanford University, the Imperial College of Science and Technology, and the University of Padova.

      A visit to their Web sites shows the close relation of these universities to their libraries. For example, Yale University has 21 libraries and their collections range from the Africana and Judaica Collections to the Electronic Text Center and medieval manuscripts. At Yale University’s homepage the menu options are presented as books on a shelf. The opening page of its library homepage is the beautiful image shown in figure 1. This image suggests that entering a library is like traveling the world (there is a map on the background) and through time (there is a medieval scene and a computer keyboard). The traveler is reading a book and the library is the guide. This is clearly stated in the bottom line: A GUIDE FOR YOUR JOURNEY.

      On the other side of the Atlantic, the University of Padova, founded in 1222, shows its close ties to libraries on the opening page of its library system – Sistema Bibliotecario di Ateneo. The second paragraph on this page states that the “library is considered an essential service to the support of teaching and researching and it is, formally, defined as a pedagogical-scientific-cultural laboratory.” This site can be visited at: The library system of the University of Padova has 75 libraries. Its collections hold 1,350,000 books, annual acquisitions of 30,000 new titles, 27,000 periodicals (11,000 are current).

      These two examples illustrate that good and traditional learning institutions are closely related to good libraries. Many others all over the world can be cited.

Figure 1 – Image of the opening page of the Library System of Yale University  –

See Graphic.

      Information technologies in general and computers in particular have increased their role in libraries as well as in schools since the sixties. In both cases, computers were initially used to fulfill administrative tasks and in libraries they had the additional mission of supporting the OPAC’s (Online Public Access Catalogs).

      The use of OPAC’s lead the library community to establish standards to exchange catalog information (MARC Format – Machine Readable Catalog Format – ISO2709 - 1973) and to connect systems (ANSI Z39.50 - 1988). (Web sites at, , and

      The use of computers in education, for non-administrative purposes, is newer and the education community is in the process of discussing the standards to connect WEB-based course servers, such as the IMS Project and the work of the IEEE Learning Technology Standards Committee. Further information is available at the following Web sites,, and Currently, there are proposals for metadata, functionality requirements and technology standards, similar to those discussed in Chapters 4, 5 and 6 for digital libraries.

      The creation of microcomputer networks and the Internet made available information and services that were previously only used by people who had access to corporate networks of mainframes. Technology is changing very fast and unpredictably; future solutions will create whole new ways of relating to information, as presented in IEEE Spectrum Special Issue on Technology - Analysis and Forecast (Eden 2000).

      The evolution of information and communication technologies (ICT) for libraries and education, though based on the same platforms, has been differentiated as far as the end user applications are concerned. There are products for library automation, for digital libraries and for distance education. A concept that has not widely been explored is the integration of the ICT supported education and libraries.

      The following sections present the basic concepts of this integration and comment on the results of such an implementation in the Maxwell system at PUC-Rio (