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Overview: Definitions

“Increasingly, a library is not defined by what it contains within its physical walls but by the coherent access to information that it provides to its patrons, regardless of where that information may originate... The efficiency of networks and the accompanying relative ease of publishing and sharing information is having a significant effect on many aspects of society, in economics, culture, and science" (Lannom, 2014).

boysWhen you look at today’s libraries, you begin to see how much overlap there is among library types (i.e., school, academic, public, special). It’s important that all librarians learn from each other rather than getting entrenched in one library world. This is particularly true in the area of digital libraries.

Beyond traditional library areas, librarians, archivists, and museum personnel all need to collaborate for digital collections to be a success.

In addition, it’s essential to keep in mind the many other potential players from historical society volunteers to scientific data curators who are interested in everything from personal archiving projects to scientific repositories.

The Course

This Digital Libraries course was designed for all library types and focuses on both existing digital collections (e.g., e-book and e-magazine subscriptions, databases, streaming video, digital music) and services that become part of any library’s “virtual presence”. It also examines building digital collections from scratch such as digital photo collections, oral history collections, scientific specimen collections, institutional repositories, and others that become part of a library’s original content offerings. It will also investigate management and evaluation strategies as well as important issues associated with digital libraries. Finally, the course will explore possible futures as we shift from an emphasis on physical collections to one of digital collections. What’s the impact on the role of the librarians and library services?

Although I love the look and feel of physical books on a shelf, digital collections will play an increasingly important role in all library settings. The Internet is already changing how people use all library types. According to Zickuhr and Rainie (September 10, 2014),

“among those ages 16-29, the percentage who visited a public library in person in the previous year dropped from 58% in November 2012 to 50% in September 2013, with the largest drop occurring among 18-24 year-olds. 36% of younger Americans used a library website in the previous year, up from 28% in 2012, with the largest growth occurring among 16-17 year-olds (from 23% to 35%)”.

While most libraries continue to house traditional print materials, even this aspect of libraries is changing. Some new libraries are fully digital and contain no physical books at all.

Read Hays, Alicia D. (May 16, 2014). The nation’s first fully digital public library: how a Texas county made it happen. Public Libraries Online.


Read Stein, Letitia (August 25, 2014). Florida College Opens A Library Without Books. Business Insider.


Libraries Defined

Before jumping into the course materials, it's important to agree upon some basic definitions. As an emerging area in librarianship, many of the terms are still in flux.

We're all familiar with libraries. For the purpose of this course, we'll define a library as a collection or collections of creative and informational sources such as books and other materials selected, organized, and maintained for use in study, research, or leisure. Services are provided that facilitate access and use of materials to meet user needs. The emphasis is generally on current, up-to-date materials. The increase in electronic materials has made it possible to access library resources from anywhere, anytime.

Skim Calhoun, Karen (2014). Glossary. In, Exploring Digital Libraries: Foundations, Practice, Prospects. ALA Neal-Schuman.

Read Calhoun, Karen (2014). Emergence and definitions of digital libraries. In, Exploring Digital Libraries: Foundations, Practice, Prospects. ALA Neal-Schuman. This chapter provides an excellent, global overview to digital libraries.


Digital Libraries Defined

There are many definitions of digital library. While some are simple, others are more detailed. Witten, Bainbridge, and Nicholas (2010, 7) point out that the term "digital library" means different things to different people.

"Many people think of libraries as bricks and mortar, a quiet place where books are kept. To professional librarians, they are institutions that arrange for the preservation, collection, and organization of materials, as well as for access to it. And a library's material is not just books: there are libraries of art, film, sound recordings, botanical specimens, and cultural objects. To researchers, libraries are networks that provide ready access to the world's recorded knowledge, where-ever it is held. Today's university students of science and technology, sadly, increasingly think of libraries as the World Wide Web - that is, they misguidedly regard the Web as the ultimate library."

skyEdward Fox and others (2011b) defined a digital library as

"An organization, which might be virtual, that comprehensively collects, manages and preserves for the long term rich digital content, and offers to its user communities specialized functionality on that content, of measurable quality and according to codified policies."

According to Joan Reitz (2014), a digital library is

a library in which a significant proportion of the resources are available in machine-readable format (as opposed to print or microform), accessible by means of computers. The digital content may be locally held or accessed remotely via computer networks. In libraries, the process of digitization began with the catalog, moved to periodical indexes and abstracting services, then to periodicals and large reference works, and finally to book publishing.

Ian Witten, David Bainbridge, and David Nicholas (2010, xvi) point out that digital libraries are simply a new way to deal with knowledge. They define digital libraries as

"focused collections of digital objects, including text, video, and audio, along with methods for access and retrieval, and for selection, organization, and maintenance... these collection are formed from different kinds of material, organized in different ways, presented in different media and different languages".

For the purposes of this course, a digital library will be defined as an organization which identifies, selects, manages, and provides access to information sources through well-organized digital collections along with providing a variety of services to support user interests and needs.

Although definitions vary, it's useful when the library defines the mission of its digital library. For instance, The University of Chicago Library provides a Digital Library Program page that explains the activities of it's Digital Library.


Digital Collections Defined

“One way to distinguish between a digital collection and a digital library is that a library provides a variety of services in addition to an organized collection of objects and texts” (Babeu, 2011, 8).

Digital collections house the information sources provided by digital libraries. These collections may contain a wide range of digital objects including texts, images, audio, video, and many other types of materials.

According to Joan Reitz (2014), a digital collection is

"a collection of library or archival materials converted to machine-readable format for preservation or to provide electronic access. Also, library materials produced in electronic formats, including e-zines, e-journals, e-books, reference works published online and on CD-ROM, bibliographic databases, and other Web-based resources".


Keep in mind that a digital collection can contain a wide range of materials types. However, the collection is usually focused on a particular theme. For instance, the Bear Lake Monster Digital Collection (Utah State University - Merrill-Cazier Library) contains newspaper articles, interviews, images, and other materials related to the infamous Bear Lake Monster.

Notice that the Smithsonian Digital Library contains lots of different digital collections housed in many locations.


Digital Library Spotlight
The Smithsonian Digital Library is composed of books online, digital collections, and online exhibits. Although the books are cataloged at the Smithsonian and WorldCat, most of the book collection is actually housed at the Internet Archive then embedded on the Drupal website. Each digital collection seems to have been developed independently rather than using a shared file management system. Most of these systems used ColdFusion over MSSQL databases. Also, check out the Smithsonian Libraries page. It contains links to many more digital collections. With so many different entities, the Smithsonian has taken a piece-meal approach to their digital library. Their FAQs acknowledge this approach stating that the
"digital library is the Smithsonian Libraries' way of referring to the online resources we've created for use by the public. These resources often use digitized collections items - digitized books, photos, videos, etc."

Many digital collections use specialized software to organize their digital objects. CONTENTdm from OCLC is a popular commercial package. In the image below you can see the collections are "powered by CONTENTdm".


Digital Library Spotlight
The Center for Digital Scholarship (IUPUI) houses a wide range of digital collections powered by CONTENTdm. One of the advantages of using a software solution specifically designed for digital collections is the consistent layout and common search tools.

try itTry It!
Explore the Indianapolis Public Library Digital Collections. According to their website, "the purpose of these collections is to provide access to digital images and recordings of cultural and historical interest to Indianapolis residents as well as students, researchers and others. The Library offers these collections to allow free access to digital versions of increasingly valuable, fragile and hard-to-use originals."


denshoDigital Collection Spotlight


: This digital archive includes hundreds of video oral history and 10,000 photographs and historical documents. In addition to the archive, the project also includes additional resources include a timeline, terminology, and

: Curriculum materials are available that explore key questions related to the Japanese American Internment experience and help teach with primary source documents.

Featured Digital Objects:
Archives - http://www.densho.org/archives/
Encyclopedia - http://encyclopedia.densho.org/
To visit the collection, go to http://www.densho.org/
To explore the curriculum materials, go to http://www.densho.org/learning-center/.

Digital Library Services Defined


What differentiates a digital library from a digital collection is service to end users. A digital librarian facilitates use of the library collection by providing technical assistance, tutorials, guidelines, pathfinders, and other resources aimed at the library's audience.

Many librarians use their library blog as a bridge to their information sources. They might post new ebooks that are available, a recently developed tutorial for using a music download service, or information about an upcoming digital project.

For instance, the Louisiana Purchase: A Heritage Explored provides a wealth of resources to support users including teacher guides.

The Library of Congress has an entire teacher section to assist educators wishing to use digital collections with their students.

The National Archives provides the DocsTeach resources that can be used to help teachers and their students use primary source documents more effectively.

Digital Library Spotlight
In additional to digital collections, the University of Minnesota's Digital Library provides many more services. The Digital Collections section features a wide range of original digital objects.
The University Digital Conservancy holds tens of thousands of open access articles, university documents, dissertations, and data sets.
The UMedia Archive delivers digital objects and rich media. It also provides a user-managed system for contributions.
DASH (Digital Arts Sciences+Humanities) is a cross-disciplinary project organized around emerging digital tools and methodologies for scholarly, pedagogical, and artistic projects.
The Digital Preservation section explores activities related to extending the life of digital files and protecting them from failure and obsolescence.
The university library provides a Strategic Digitization Program that solicits proposals from its library units for digitization projects.
Finally, they provide Digitization Services.


Try It!
Go to Bibliotech in San Antonio Texas. Compare this fully digital public library to a traditional library


In some cases, digital collections are specifically designed for learning. For instance, the Civilization Learning Object Collection was a joint project between the Brigham Young University Harold B. Lee Library, the Department of Humanities, the Department of History, and the Center for Instructional Design for use in humanities courses and research.

A large number of digital collections related to language, literature, and history of the ancient world are available online. These collections normally consist of a browsable list of authors and works that are used to access digitized images along with texts that have been typed manually. Increasingly libraries are providing tools and services that enhance the experience of library users. These services (Babeu, 2011) include

Read ONE of the two articles:

Babeu, Alison (August 2011). ‘Rome Wasn’t Digitized in a Day’: Building a Cyberinfrastructure for Digital Classics. Council on Library and Information Resources. Available online.
Tobar, Cynthia (July/August 2011). Music to my ears: the New York Philharmonic Digital Archive. D-Lib Magazine, 17(7/8). Available online.
Sympson, Melanie Garcia (Spring 2012). Roman de lad Rose Digital Library. Digital Philology: A Journal of Medieval Cultures, 1(1), 116-169.

Massive Digital Libraries Defined


In some cases, digital libraries are portals for access to multiple digital libraries and their collections. While they may provide access to collections they developed and maintain themselves, they also coordinate a consortium of digital libraries or maintain digital library partners for access to many more digital libraries and collections. The Digital Public Library of America and Europeana are examples.

Andrew Weiss (2014, x) notes that massive digital libraries are a relatively new phenomenon. He defines a massive digital library as

"a collection of organized information large enough to rival the size of the world’s largest bricks-and-mortar libraries in terms of book collections."

In 2004, Google announced that they would begin digitizing millions of books and placing them online. Although other groups such as the Gutenberg Project had been digitizing books for decades, Google envisioned their project as much more massive. This marked a shift for companies. Instead of just selling hardware, software, and services, companies like Google wanted to join the "scholarly communication community" and become publishers and libraries. These early innovators were part of the Very Large Digital Library (VLDL) movement (Weiss, 2014).

Weiss (2014, 35) has identified the following characteristics of massive digital libraries.

Read Henry, Geneva (July 2012). Core Infrastructure Considerations for Large Digital Libraries. Council on Library and Information Resources. Available online.

europeanaDigital Collection Spotlight

EUROPEANA COLLECTIONS is a large digital object portal providing access to over 54 million digital items.

Contents: Sponsored by the European Union, the comprehensive website features cultural heritage materials from across Europe. Items include artwork, books, videos, and sounds. Users can search the collection or browse resources by color, source, topic, or person. Collections and Exhibitions provides users with organized access to thematic topics related to key people, events, time periods, and themes. The website blog features items and collection of interest. Tags and categories can be used to easily explore these digital items.

Connections: Librarians will find this resource valuable for students studying topics related to Europe culture and history. Users will need to be reminded that many of the primary source materials are not available in English. However, some materials include transcripts.

To visit the website, go to http://www.europeana.eu/portal/en.

Changing Roles for Librarians

Digital libraries are changing the roles of librarians. In many cases, library users communicate with librarians through email, chat, texting, and other virtual methods rather than face-to-face. Instead of working independently, many libraries rely on partnerships when providing digital information sources to their users.


Librarians As Partners

Librarians are partners. Whether working with state department representatives to access electronic databases or collaborating with the local historical society on heritage digitization projects, librarians rarely work in isolation. Increasingly, librarians are reaching outside their library to develop strategic partners to build high-quality, dynamic digital collections and services. While school and academic librarians work with faculty members to build quality learning experiences, medical librarians may be collaborating with physicians on data curation projects.

Read Green, Lucy Santos & Jones, Stephanie (March 1, 2014). Instructional partners in digital library learning. Knowledge Quest, 42(4), E11-E17.


Librarians As Publishers

Librarians are publishers. Libraries are seeking new ways to build their digital collections and expand access to information. While some projects may involve publishing the work of students and faculty members, others could involve meeting with scientists to share research findings or connecting with corporate executives to share company information.

Okerson and Holzman (2015, 4-7) note that librarians live in a changed world precipitated by the following factors:

Library publishing is defined as “the set of activities led by college and university libraries to support the creation, dissemination, and curation of scholarly, creative, and/or educational works” (Library Publishing Coalition, 2012, 1). According to Okerson and Holzman (2015, 8-9),

“generally, library publishing requires a production process, presents original work not previously made available, and applies a level of certification to the content published. Based on core library values and building on the traditional skills of librarians, it is distinguished from other publishing fields by a preference for open access dissemination and a willingness to embrace informal and experimental forms of scholarly communication and to challenge the status quo… Grey literature, journals, books, databases, special collections materials, scholarly and scientific data collections, digital representations of archives of papers and documents, and more will be found to exist as library publications. The boundary between activities that merit the name publishing and less formal and coherent enterprises is fluid and contestable… Publishing describes a broad spectrum of activities. At one end are large and established enterprises of the sort described previously (with peer review, sophisticated budgets, marketing plans, business goals, and so on), but there is no agreement where to draw the line for the other end of the spectrum (for example, grey literature, data sets, articles in institutional repositories)".

Library-related publishing programs include Project MUSE, HighWire Press, University of Michigan’s Publishing, Columbia International Affairs Online, Project Euclid, University of California’s eScholarship, York Digital Journals Project, Rice University Press, and Long Civil Rights Movement Project (Okerson & Holzman, 2015).

Skim Okerson, Ann & Holzman, Alex (July 2015). The Once and Future Publishing Library. Council on Library and Information Resources. Available online.


Skim Skinner, Katherine, Lippincott, Sarah, Speer, Julie, & Walters, Tyler (Spring 2014). Library-as-publisher: capacity building for the library publishing subfield. The Journal of Electronic Publishing, 17(2). Available online.


Librarians as Producers

Librarians are producers. Increasingly, libraries are on the front-lines of product development. From cool widgets to high-end open source software, many libraries are involved in creating and sharing tools that help make libraries more effective in the digital age.

Through exciting digitization projects, librarians are also producing a wide range of digital objects across disciplines.

Read Huwe, Terence K. (July/August 2015). Building digital libraries. Computers in Libraries, 35(6), 22-24.


The Importance of Digital Libraries

The public is ready for digital libraries. In a 2012 Pew Internet study, 73% of Americans indicated that they were very or somewhat likely to use librarian-assisted online research series, 63% indicated that would be very or somewhat likely to use apps-based library services, and 64% notes that they would be very or somewhat likely to use Amazon-style customized book/audio/video recommendations schemes. More than half (53%) indicated that libraries should definitely carry a broader selection of e-books (Zickuhr, Rainie, & Purcell, 2013).

africaDigital libraries are important and have the potential to change the world. In the past, only those living close to a library building could experience the power of a library's information sources. Today, digital libraries can be accessed from the most rural counties of America and the most remote areas of the world.

Children in Africa can read ebooks and adults in the remote regions of Alaska can study for a college degree. Scholars from around the world can read the latest scientific papers in their field the instant they are uploaded to their library's digital repository. Teens around the world can all enjoy the same popular music.

Advantages of Digital Libraries

Diane Kresh (2007, 2-3) described the advantages of digital libraries:

Read Foley, Catherine (Spring 2014). Developing materials for a digital library gallery. Islamic Africa, 5(1), 83-90.

The Challenge of Digital Libraries

bookscanAlthough digital libraries are here to stay, there are challenges to digital librarians and librarianship.

“As the public library shifts from a repository for materials to a platform for learning and participation, its ability to provide access to vast amounts of content in all formats is vital. Libraries face two immediate major challenges in providing access to content in all forms:

•  Being able to procure and share e-books and other digital content on the same basis as physical versions
• Having affordable, universal broadband technologies that deliver and help create content

Dealing with both challenges have been high priorities for public libraries throughout the country. The challenges have been particularly acute for small libraries, those in rural communities and in some urban areas where limited budgets make access to e-books and upgrades to high-speed broadband difficult despite high community need for and interest in both. Ensuring access to e-books, other e-content and more-than-adequate highspeed broadband is a big concern going forward because it impacts the public library’s ability to fulfill one of its core missions—to procure and share the leading ideas of the day and enable everyone to participate in the world’s conversations.” (Garmer, 2014, xi)

In addition to accessing digital content, digitization of locally available information sources is a challenge.

Read Breeding, Marshall (November 1, 2014). Ongoing challenges in digitization. Computers in Libraries, 34(9), 16-18.

Read Harris, Christopher (November 2014). Fact or fiction: libraries can thrive in the digital age. Phi Delta Kappan, 96(3), 20-25.

Related Institutions

girlsArchives, museums, and other institutions have direct ties to libraries and particularly digital libraries.

Digital Archives

An archive is a repository of records. The mission is to collect, organize, preserve, and provide access to non-current documents stored in a repository. The focus is on non-current materials.

Increasingly, archival materials are being digitized to provide easier information access. Although people are welcome to use their collections, their emphasis is on preservation.

According to Reitz (2006), an archives is

"an organized collection of the non-current records of the activities of a business, government, organization, institution, or other corporate body, or the personal papers of one or more individuals, families, or groups, retained permanently (or for a designated or indeterminate period of time) by their originator or a successor for their permanent historical, informational, evidential, legal, administrative, or monetary value, usually in a repository managed and maintained by a trained archivist...

The term is also used in academia to refer to a repository of electronic preprints, working papers, and similar documents, commonly called e-print archives. Used in this sense, there is no implication of archival management, which has caused some confusion, for example, around the purpose of the Open Archives Initiative (OAI)."

Digital Museum Exhibits and Collections

museum is an institution dedicated to preserving and displaying collections of physical artifacts and specimens that have value within a particular context. Exhibits are created to facilitate study and enjoyment of these physical collections. In some cases, items such as books, manuscripts, scrolls, maps, letters, diaries, and other documents are maintained by museums. In some cases, the definition extended to historical monuments, aquaria, arboreta, botanical gardens and other large areas with many artifacts and specimens. Increasingly, museums are digitizing their artifacts and specimens so they can be shared online.

Museum collections can be useful in many disciplines. Increasingly, visitors can make use of virtual exhibits. There are more than a dozen museum types including art, archaeological, design, maritime, military, natural history, and science museums. There are also botanical gardens, living history museums, and zoological parks. Many museums contain both libraries and archives.

Similarities and Differences Among Archives, Libraries, and Museums

Libraries, archives, and museums store and preserve documents. All three may house important information sources. The key difference between a library and an archive is what is contained in the collections and how it was acquired. Libraries seek out creative and informational sources to meet the current needs and interests of its users. When materials are no longer useful, they may be discarded or transferred to an archive. Archives are used to safe-guard records that have been generated during the course of doing business. From handwritten notes to advertising posters and email, a wide range of items are produced every day. All records identified by the archive's collection policy as "permanently valuable" are carefully preserved and stored. These are not items currently being used in the course of everyday business.

While all three institutions may be totally separate, in some cases a single institution may house a library, archive, and museum. For instance, the American Museum of Natural History including many libraries and archives in addition to its famous museum. Increasingly, collections are being shared online.


Confused? Let's use a couple examples. You'd find a link to this year's tax form in a digital library, however you'd find the tax forms from prior years in a digital archive. You'd find a digitized version of the United States Constitution in both locations because it might be referred to in a current court case, but it would also be permanently preserved in an archive.

Unfortunately, the terms repository, collections, exhibition, digital library, among others aren't being used consistently causing confusion. Regardless of what they're called, digital libraries are connecting with all the digital resources that make sense for the mission of the institution.

Choose ONE of the following articles to read related to archives.

Georgitis, Nathan (January-April 2015). A case study in folklore archives management: the Randall V. Mills Archives of Northwest Folklore at the University of Oregon. Journal of Folklore Research, 52(1), 85-98.

Marciniak, Joe (April 2015). Growing an Archives Department. Computers in Libraries, 35(4), 16-19.

Fong, Grace S. (Fall 2014). Ming Qing women’s writings: a digital archive and database of women’s literature and history in late imperial China. Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, 33(2), 217-225.

Digital Repositories

Repositories are collections intended to preserve intellectual property. Increasingly, repositories include digital objects and provide access to their resources beyond walls of a particular organization.

These digital repositories may allow others to contribute their work. For instance, arXiv contains over a million e-prints in math, science, and technology.

Institutional repositories are collections intended to preserve intellectual property of a particular institution or university. IUPUIScholarWorks is an example.

"IUPUIScholarWorks Repository is a digital service that collects, preserves, and distributes digital material. Repositories are important tools for preserving an organization's legacy; they facilitate digital preservation and scholarly communication. Submissions in digital form include preprints, working papers, theses and dissertations, conference papers, presentations, student capstone projects, faculty-created learning objects, data sets, and more."

Read Lawton, Aoife & Manning, Padraig (March/April 2014). Managing a national health repository. D-Lib Magazine, 20(3/4). Available online.

Data Centers

Science data management plays an important role in today’s evolving science and technology libraries. Particularly in the sciences, there is a need to record, report, and access scientific observations. In the past, scientists used log books, field notes, and expedition maps to record observations. These materials were later referred to as scientists wrote reports, articles and books.

Today, data centers also known as data repositories help make “data more discoverable, accessible, and usable by more people.” Older materials may be scanned for inclusion in these repositories. However, these collections increasingly consist of digitally-born items that are uploaded directly from scientific equipment and hand-held devices.

In the United States, a number of federal agencies are responsible for management of data including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the US Geological Survey (USGS). Much of this data is open and free for public use.

The ESIP (Earth Science Information Partners) Federation is an open community of practitioners working to make data more discoverable and useful to researchers.

Blurring the Lines:
Library, Archive, & Museum Collections

With the rise of digitization, library, archive, and museum professionals are finding that their missions and activities often overlap. Terms like digital preservation, digital objects, and digital collections are all part of their everyday conversations. Increasingly, end-users users are unaware of difference between a special collection, an institutional repository, and an online exhibition. In many cases, a mixture of institutions sponsor digitization projects bringing together the expertise of people across fields.

This blurring of the lines among organizations is providing many opportunities for collaboration.

Digital Library Spotlight
The digital world is bringing many individuals and groups together. The Ojibwe People’s Dictionary is a fascinating example. A collaboration of scholars, librarians, museum professionals, students, Ojibwe speakers and technologists, this project shows what can be accomplished when all these groups work together. The collection includes audio recordings, images, video and documents. It includes both digitized and digital born objects.

try itTry It!
Visit the Ojibwe People’s Dictionary. Explore the website and think about the many different partners are required for a project of this magnitude.


Paul Marty (2014, 614) asks

"how can (or should) information professionals in libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural heritage organizations maintain the traditional distinctions between their collecting institutions while simultaneously providing access to information in ways that increasingly blur those distinctions for the users of their resources?"

Marty concludes that "the future of the information profession depends on the ability of cultural heritage information professionals to transcend the traditional boundaries between libraries, archives, and museums to meet information needs in the digital age" (Marty, 2014, 613).

Read Marty, Paul F. (Winter 2014). Digital convergence and the information profession in cultural heritage organizations: reconciling internal and external demands. Library Trends, 62(3), 613-627.

It's a time of tremendous change for those involved with libraries, archives, and museums.

"Changes in the nature of the record, books, libraries, and archives in the digital age present myriad opportunities and challenges for institutions… The academic library, an entity that has modest roots in the nineteenth century and was professionalized during the twentieth century, is extending its traditional services, both technical and public, into the digital domain in the twenty-first century. But as widely replicated content is managed increasingly at the network level, it is not clear how libraries will be defined in the future…

The academic library continues to have many unique and critical roles within academia. One of the most enduring of these is the library’s role as an archive. This role intersects with the mission of academic archives, the entities (often within a library) that are most qualified to appraise and manage unique, complex, and aggregated material. By becoming sites of creation and dissemination, through digital production and publishing services, libraries and archives can reposition themselves more aggressively within the archival cycle and evolve their institutions to support new forms of communication. And, by linking creation or distribution with preservation, academic libraries and archives can make important advances in preserving the archive. Through local, regional, and national collaborations, this can be pursued locally as well as universally. If libraries and archives do not assume greater presence and relevance in the digital age by expanding their activities throughout the archival cycle, then we may one day find ourselves lost in the Archive of Babel" (Paulus, 2011, 948)

readAcademic Librarians Read!
Read Paulus, Michael J. (October 2011). Reconceptualizing academic libraries and archives in the digital age. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 11(4), 939-952.

long islandCollaboration is the Key

The key to success for libraries, archives, and museums is collaboration. For instance, the Long Island Memories project includes schools, public libraries, college libraries, and historical societies.

The About page of the Washington Rural Heritage project states the importance of collaboration in developing heritage collections:

"Collaboration is a critical aspect of the initiative. Identification, research, and cataloging of objects is achieved in a collaborative manner, taking place on-site, within each participating community. Collaboration is encouraged between public libraries and strategic partners such as historical societies, museums, tribes, government agencies, schools and local subject experts".

try itTry It!
Go to the About page for the Washington Rural Heritage project. On the right side is a long list of contributors. Notice the wide range of schools, public libraries, universities, historical societies, archives, and museums participating. Notice that ALL of these groups are interested in digital collections.

Over the long history of archives, libraries, and museums, these institutions have come together at different points in time for specific purposes, so it makes sense that digital initiatives might once again unite these groups. Deanne Marcum (2014, 86) notes that "we have begun to see well beyond the confines of functional divides" between professionals. She suggests that even if these institutions aren't integrated together, "we certainly can combine digital representations of diverse collections for the benefit of all who seek knowledge" (Marcum, 2014, 86).

Read Marcum, Deanna (2014). Archives, libraries, museums: coming back together? Information & Culture: A Journal of History, 49(1), 74-89.

try itTry It!
Skim Clough, G. Wayne (2013). Best of Both Worlds. Smithsonian Institution.
Notice the interrelationships among the museums, libraries, and archives connected with the Smithsonian programs.

Preservation vs Access: Archives vs Libraries

Traditionally, archives have been more concerned about preservation, while libraries were more interested in access. Today, both are coming together. According to the Library of Congress, preservation focuses on long term access for both current and future users. Proven, reliable technologies are used to preserve digital objects across different generations of technology. Metadata is accumulated over the life cycle to trace to preserved content. Preservation systems are intended to create new versions of digital objects for access as needs change over time. However the goal is to ensure long-term access.

Libraries are generally more concerned with short term access. They want to provide current content to users now. The most cutting-edge technologies are used to provide the best, fastest, most reliable service to end users. Metadata is selected that helps understanding and use of content. The goal of access systems is to deliver digital objects with user-oriented systems.

Read Caswell, Thomas R. (January 2015). Unearthing strategic partnerships. Computers in Libraries, 35(1), 4-10.

Skim Manoff, Marlene (July 2015). Human and machine entanglement in the digital archive: academic libraries and socio-technical change. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 15(3), 513-530.

ninesDigital Collection Spotlight

NINES: Nineteenth-Century Scholarship Online contains nearly 900,000 digital objects from 139 federated sites.

Contents: This collection includes well-known materials by Jane Austen along with books, letters, diaries, and other fascinating primary sources. Tags are used to explore areas of interest.

Connections: The NINES Classroom area allows teachers to set up accounts for classes to create exhibits and discuss objects. Although it’s used primarily by colleges, any educator can set up an account.

Featured Digital Objects:
Costume resources - https://goo.gl/Qe1Qfu
Frankenstein resources - https://goo.gl/V8Gpjg
American Civil War resources - https://goo.gl/vKlCqc
To visit the collection, go to http://www.nines.org/.

A Framework for Digital Libraries

Beyond the work of librarians, the study of digital libraries runs deep into a variety of long-established disciplines including library science, information science, and computer science. It's important to acknowledge these connections as we try to bridge the gap between theory and research.

To better understand the elements of digital libraries, researchers developed the 5Ss of digital libraries including streams, structures, spaces, scenarios, and societies (Goncalves, Marcos Andre, Fox, Edward A., Watson, Layne T., Kipp, Neill, A., 2004). According to Fox (2011),

"DLs are complex systems that
• help satisfy info needs of users (societies)
• provide info services (scenarios)
• organize info in usable ways (structures)
• present info in usable ways (spaces)
• communicate info with users (streams)"

The chart below provides examples and the objective of each category.
Click the image below for a larger version.


Fox and others (2011b) describe the following elements of the 5S framework.

  • Streams are sequences of elements of an arbitrary type (e.g. bits, characters, images) and thus they can model both static and dynamic content. Static streams correspond to information content represented as basic elements, e.g. a simple text is a sequence of characters, while a complex object like a book may be a stream of simple text and images. Dynamic streams are used to model any information flow and thus are important for representing any communication that takes place in the digital library. Finally, streams are typed and the type is used to define their semantics and application area.
  • Structures are the way through which parts of a whole are organized. In particular, they can be used to represent hypertexts and structured information objects, taxonomies, system connections and user relationships.
  • Spaces are sets of objects together with operations on those objects conforming to certain constraints. This type of construct is powerful and, as suggested by the conceivers, when a part of a DL cannot be well described using another of the 5S concepts, space may well be applicable. Document spaces are the key concepts in digital libraries. However, spaces are used in various contexts – e.g. indexing and visualizing – and different types of spaces are proposed, e.g. measurable spaces, measure spaces, probability spaces, vector spaces and topological spaces.
  • Scenarios are sequences of events that may have parameters, and events represent state transitions. The state is determined by the content in a specific location but the value and the location are not investigated further because these aspects are system dependent. Thus a scenario tells what happens to the streams in spaces and through the structures. When considered together, the scenarios describe the services, the activities and the tasks representing digital library functions. DL workflows and dataflows are examples of scenarios.
  • Societies are sets of entities and relationships. The entities may be humans or software and hardware components, which either use or support digital library services. Thus, society represents the highest-level concept of a Digital Library, which exists to serve the information needs of its societies and to describe the context of its use.

In a 2011 lecture, Fox (2011) provided a way to visualize the 5Ss and their relationships.
Click the image below for a larger version.


Goncalves, Marcos Andre, Fox, Edward A., Watson, Layne T., Kipp, Neill, A. (2000). Streams, Structures, Spaces, Scenarios, Societies (5S): A Formal Model for Digital Libraries. ACM Transactions on Information Systems (TOIS), 22(2), 270-312.

The Library Profession

What's the role of libraries in this age of digital libraries? Witten, Bainbridge, and Nicholas (2010, 8) point out that librarians play an important role because

"not all information is equal, and wisdom is what librarians add to the library by making decisions about what to include in a collection - difficult decisions - and by following up with appropriate ways of organizing and maintaining the information. Indeed, it is exactly these features that distinguish digital libraries from the anarchic mess that we call the World Wide Web."

Digital Libraries and the Library Profession

Over the past couple decades many digitization and digital library projects have emerged.

According to Joan Reitz (2014), the Digital Libraries Initiative (DLI) is

A multi-agency interdisciplinary research program of the National Science Foundation (NSF) that provides grants to facilitate the creation of large knowledge bases, develop the information technology to access them effectively, and improve their usability in a wide range of contexts.

In 1998, Phase 2 of the Digital Libraries Initiative was introduced.

According to Joan Reitz (2014), the Digital Library Federation (DLF) is

A consortium of major libraries and library-related agencies dedicated to promoting the use of electronic technologies to extend collections and services, DLF is committed to identifying standards and best practices for digital collections and network access, coordinating research and development in the use of information technology by libraries, and assisting in the initiation of projects and services that individual libraries lack the means to develop on their own.

The Digital Library Federation (DLF) website contains information about the organization and its activities. The Digital Library Federation is a "robust and diverse community of practitioners who advance research, learning, and the public good through digital library technologies". According to their website, the DLF "serves as a resource and catalyst for collaboration among its institutional members and all who are invested in digital library issues".

Digital Library Interoperability, Best Practices and Modeling Foundations (DL.org) is a project of the European Union to bring together information about digital libraries.

national digital platform

The National Digital Platform is a new initiative from Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and many other visionary partners. The goal is to provide access to digital content and services for all Americans.

"In the last three years, organizations like the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), HathiTrust, and the Digital Preservation Network have made major strides in demonstrating that an interrelated set of activities forming a decentralized ecosystem can unite memory institutions in pursuing a shared strategy" (Erway, 2015, 5).

Read Erway, Ricky, Hill, Chrystie, Streams, Sharon, & Harmon, Steph (April 28, 2015). IMLS Focus: The National Digital Platform for Libraries, Archives, and Museums. OCLC. Available online.

The National Digital Platform will involve libraries across the United States. According to Marx and Owens (2015),

"the platform isn’t an individual thing. It isn’t a piece of software or a website. The national digital platform is a way of thinking about and approaching the digital capability and capacity of libraries across the US. In this sense, it is the combination of software applications, social and technical infrastructure, and staff expertise that provide library content and services to all users in the US. That is, the national digital platform is a way of thinking about how all of the components and the knowledge required to use and contribute to them interact with other existing platforms (commercial and open) and meet the needs of the library and museum users across the US."

Read Marx, Maura & Owens, Trevor (June 11, 2015). The National Digital Platform for Libraries and Museums. American Libraries Magazine. Available online. from American Libraries. Think about the benefits of libraries and museums together together nationwide for the common good.

The Study of Digital Libraries

What topics does the study of digital libraries include?

Read Nguyen, S. H. and Chowdhury, G. (2013). Interpreting the knowledge map of digital library research (1990–2010). Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 64: 1235–1258.


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