Digital libraries

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University of Alberta Library
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  • Updated.jpg This entry is out of date, and will not be updated, July 2018


See also Digital Libraries Glossary | Digitization | Dublin Core | EBooks | Google Books | Institutional repositories | Metadata | Resource Description and Access (RDA)

"What is a digital library? There is much confusion surrounding this phrase, stemming from three factors. First, the library community has used several different phrases over the years to denote this concept ...electronic library, virtual library, library without walls ...and it never was quite clear what each of these different phrases meant. "Digital library" is simply the most current and most widely-accepted term and is now used almost exclusively at conferences, online, and in the literature. — IFLA, 1998"

Digital libraries can be defined as " ... repositories of materials that are comprised of individual records for each item, each item of which includes a description of elements that use standardized fields for metadata". The difference between websites of digital materials and digital libraries is a digital library is based more on content curation, and is also supported by policies that recognize the importance of content maintenance and archival practices. Digital libraries are thus more likely to use advanced information systems to address the full life cycle of information curation and to use methods of asynchronous communication with users. As there is much interest in digital libraries, they are widely-discussed in the computer science, information and library science fields. While there are many definitions of the term digital libraries, some clear and some ambiguous, librarians have developed various approaches to their creation. In the early days of the web, all kinds of terms were used to describe a digital library such as a library without walls, electronic library, and virtual library. In the early 1990s, digital library (DL) became more widely-used and accepted.

Digitization of information has gained considerable momentum in the 21st century due to computer technologies and changes in scholarly communication. Many newer digital libraries are massive digitization projects such as the World Digital Library, Europeana (European Digital Library), the Open Content Alliance and the Million Book Project. Several digitization projects are partnerships between commercial vendors and research libraries, most notably Google Print and the libraries of Harvard, Stanford, Michigan, Oxford and the New York Public Library (known as the ‘Google Five’ which now includes five more partners). As these initiatives develop, most out-of-copyright paper publications will be digitized by 2030. New methods of finding digitized books will be required given the fragmentation of the collections, objects and data.

The development of services for academics and researchers alike will need to include citation linking tools, indexing and scoping collections for keywords to biographies and encyclopaedias and other tools (UMich Scholarship and Libraries in Transition, 2006). Other innovations or significant developments might include automated translation and interpretation of digitized images of handwritten documents. National libraries of smaller countries will play a role in ensuring that less popular materials are digitized and that global content meets local (national) needs. Some national libraries of smaller countries, such as Norway, have committed to digitizing the entire published record in their language. In many countries like Canada where English and French are the principal languages, national publications will be swept up by global digital projects such as those at Google. There is considerable scope for university libraries to digitize materials such as out-of-copyright print, and important limited-availability local materials.

Some digital library websites of note

  • Possible platforms: ContentDM, DSpace, Eprints, Fedora, Digital Commons, Hydra, Greenstone

Large digital library projects

  • Europeana links to 23 million digital objects from more than 2200 institutions and 33 countries including video, photos, paintings, audio, maps, manuscripts, printed books, and newspapers from the past 2,000 years of European history from over 1,000 archives in the European Union.
  • Gallica from the French National Library links to about 800,000 digitized books, newspapers, manuscripts, maps and drawings, etc. The digital library expands at a rate of 5000 new documents per month. Since the end of 2008, most of the new scanned documents are available in image and text formats. Most of these documents are written in French.
  • HathiTrust maintains HathiTrust Digital Library which preserves and provides access to material scanned by Google, some of the Internet Archive books, and scanned locally by partner institutions. It includes 10,415,838 total volumes; 5,481,428 book titles; 271,598 serial titles and 3,645,543,300 pages...
  • Internet Archive is a non-profit organization which digitizes 1000 books a day and mirrors books from Google Books and other sources. It hosts over 2.8 million public domain books, greater than the approximate 1 million public domain books at Google Books. Open Library, a sister project of Internet Archive, lends 80,000 scanned and purchased commercial ebooks to the visitors of 150 libraries.


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