What's needed in future research?
For our first column, we have asked several prominent members of the digital library community to identify an issue that is not getting sufficient attention from researchers. Here's what they told us. Now, we would like to know what you think; send your thoughts, reactions, and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We have recently witnessed a tremendous explosion in the amount and scope of information available over the network, and there are no signs that this rate of increase is likely to stop. Firms are putting catalogs online, government information services are available, affinity groups use the network for posting information, large archives are being digitized and made available, newspapers, magazines and books are online, and technical reports and journals are being published online.
It is apparent that one of the major enablers of this explosion has been the widespread use of the world-wide web technology, infrastructure, and protocols. By having a common underlying set of transport protocols along with common methods for accessing and viewing documents, the leverage for any given software tool or information publication is greatly increased.
World-wide web technology, however, does not address many of the requirements for preservation, management, search, and access to large repositories of information (what we commonly refer to as "libraries"). There are a number of ongoing efforts to create the technologies that will support digital libraries of multi-media information. The primary thrust of each of these is to create the technologies supporting an effective, powerful, online digital library. A major enabler of the "national digital library", though, will be the capability for interoperability between these digital libraries, thereby supporting user access to the plethora of digital libraries in an effective way.
Accomplishing this will require a good understanding of the methodology along with the required common underlying infrastructure that will support such interoperability. For this reason, I applaud and support the formation of the Digital Library forum, which will facilitate the community working towards an understanding of those areas where broad consensus will lead towards an interoperable national and global information web.
Barry M. Leiner
Deputy Director, ARPA/CSTO
The "missing issue" is one of integration between electronic and non-electronic forms of communications and publications, specifically "traditional" library formats.
How will new digital collections be created in order to work with paper materials (other than providing listings of them)? Even more tricky: how will the existing collections have to be restructured in order to work well with the digital collections as the latter grow rapidly?
Before OPAC days, libraries maintained various catalogs for various formats (for example, books, slides, journals, maps, government documents). To some extent, these records may now be integrated in some libraries' online catalogs. But even where they are, we are still doing a poor job of integrating OPAC-recorded and non-OPAC materials -- if it isn't in the OPAC, it doesn't exist for most local library users. Then, if the OPAC isn't available on e-networks, it doesn't exist for external, potential users.
Now the task is magnified with digital materials, which are likely not listed in the "traditional" OPAC, at least in any meaningful way. It is possible we may simply add another medium rather than integrating all media together in this digital age -- if we do not design our activities now to avoid that unfortunate situation.
Ann L. Okerson
Director, Office of Scientific & Academic Publishing, Association of Research Libraries (ARL)
Digital library research tends to focus on institutional resources. Let's consider individuals and groups who produce information products. These information producers could be creators of simple documents, producers of structure products (indexes, taxonomies), brokers of queries, or brokers of information products produced by others. They consume and produce information, and their effectiveness is determined to a great extent by the quality of their own "foreground" information stores, or personal digital libraries. Foreground information is more than just a cache; it includes structure information that organizes information coming in and going out. What tools can help information producers manage foreground information?
William L. Scherlis
Senior Research Computer Scientist, Department of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University
I cannot limit my contribution to just one issue, so here are two for the price of one. I believe that the technical R & D community is very much underestimating the challenge of discovering and accessing networked resources and services. We are spending too much time on the attributes of the resources and services, and we need to spend much more time on the attributes of the users and uses. After all, the resources and services will soon outnumber the users and uses, and the users and uses are arguably the more stable class of entity. I also believe that the socio-economic R & D community is generally mistaking the distribution chain that links producers and consumers for the value chain that should link creators and users. We need to sharpen our focus on closing the gap between creators and users of resources and services, rather than on debating who wins and loses in the existing distribution pipeline of intermediaries between them.
Paul Evan Peters
Executive Director, Coalition for Networked Information
There's a major opportunity and demand for the retrospective capture of content. It's motivated by preservation concerns, accessibility and the sense of an emerging market. Bringing primary research materials into the distributed digital collection could transform research and teaching. But at the operating level, a large gap conditions the reality of retrospective capture. There are few service bureaus that can do the scanning and capture of maps, manuscripts, and other primary research materials. There are few that comprehend what is required to capture the frequently rare and unique materials of scholarship. We need standards and a campaign to educate the potential providers in meeting those standards. And to support a large volume, cost-effective business those service bureaus need equipment that allows bound volume scanning. Ideally there should be a scanner that provides a face-up arrangement with a cradle that maintains a safe angle and degree of lighting and camera movement to capture facing pages.
President, The Research Libraries Group, Inc.