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Building and providing access to digital libraries
Starting from some natural science pre-prints made downloadable from a server, building
digital libraries has become an occupation for "e-librarians" in many organisations.
According to a working definition of the Digital Library Federation (DLF) from 1998,
digital libraries should in fact be seen as organisations "that provide the resources, including
the specialised staff, to select, structure, offer intellectual access to, interpret, distribute,
preserve the integrity of, and ensure the persistence over time of collections of digital works
so that they are readily and economically available for use by a defined community or set of
communities". (Waters, 1998)
In the last years, digital library collections have been a field of much development and
achievement as well as uncertainty and concern for the library world. For example, Daniel
Greenstein, Director, Digital Library Federation, summarising findings from a DLF-survey
in 2000 to identify the major challenges confronting research libraries, writes:"With
astonishing unanimity of opinion and clarity of voice, respondents pointed to digital
collection development as their single greatest challenge."Yet, the whole issue "seemed to
exist under a cloud of profound and unsettling uncertainty" (Greenstein, 2001), with regard
to matters ranging from necessary library staff qualification to long-term access and
preservation of e-material.
Coming to terms with e-material really demands looking into the radical changes in the
publication and communication processes in the scholarly world and beyond.There is
already the "scholarly publishing crisis" due to an imperfect marketplace, and a sense among
the academic community "that the entire system of scholarly communication is in danger of
collapsing unless there is concerted action by and within the community to promote less
expensive channels for publication, dissemination, and archiving of scholarly research".
(Webster, 2000) Suggestions for solutions to this crisis point decisively to electronic means
of publication and in particular to the creation of online peer review mechanisms.
Although, the publishing crisis might have an cathartic effect on publishers, libraries, and
authors, there are also other challenges ahead. Commercial publishers and professional
societies today produce publications not only in print form but also electronically.They
aggregate and organise their e-material, including the vast stock of their older digital
material, and set up or commission subscription-based services like searchable e-repositories
that replace traditional library functions (e.g. or challenge
will be further addressed in Chapter 8,"Exploitation".
Finally, the impact of the "informational turn" referred to above will, particularly from
the view-point of the scientific communities, be much broader than becoming hybrid and
develop new digital information channels and services.The question is, whether the "digital
libraries" of the future will also provide the necessary tools and environments (including
bandwidth) for:
intelligent searching, filtering, visualisation, and various usages of information
resources (e.g. annotation, comparison),
new forms of collaborative online work, bundling of information resources, peer
review, and citation of information resources,
virtual reality demonstrations, simulations, and other new forms of information
A major question (mostly for scholars) therefore is, how far the concept of the "digital
library" will expand into a digital information service centre, i.e. also include and come to
terms with the emerging new toolboxes of knowledge workers and the new forms and
relationships of their products.