Digital Library Definition for DLI2

Because we often speak in jargons that are unique to our various fields, there is a lack of common understanding of the phrase "digital library." Therefore, Nan Seamans and Gail McMillan have begun to define it--in their own words and borrowing from others*. Please modify the definition so that it expands to meet your definition also.


The "digital library" is not merely equivalent to a digitized collection with information management tools. It is also a series of activities that brings together collections, services, and people in support of the full life cycle of creation, dissemination, use, and preservation of data, information, and knowledge. The challenges and opportunities that motivate an advanced digital library research initiative are associated with this broad view of digital library environment.

A digital library should be a seamless extension of the library that provides scholars with access to information in any format that has been evaluated, organized, archived, and preserved. Access to this evolving collection of digital information is provided through personalized systems as well as through the services of information professionals. The digital library adds value and saves time while shifting the times of access. It reduces need for proximity to information resources, but still emphasizes the quality of those resources. It is a library that can be individually customized and, ultimately, will be easy to use.

One goal of the digital library is to improve teaching and assignments through the incorporation of library materials. The information resources that are important to a class should be format independent, whether the class is taught in a campus classroom or at a distance to a distributed and asynchronous class. To accommodate both classroom teaching and distance education (for neither will completely replace the other in the immediate future), students will need access to information resources and not all are, can, or will be digital. Because a resource is not digital, does not mean that it cannot be used in distance education. Digitizing an article may be one practical solution; another solution, however, may be linking to an existing article database. In some situations, sending a library book to a student's home may be the best way to get the information resource to the student, and making that possible through online requests should be a component of the DL, as it is the library. In some situations, the digital format may have restrictions placed on it (e.g., broadcasting, simultaneous number of users, etc.).

Libraries are more than their information resources, their collections, the buildings that house them, the systems that they run on, or the services they provide. Libraries have information professionals that make judgments and interpret user needs; they provide services and resources to people (students, faculty, and others, and organizations). One of our goals is to expand the computing functions from efficient, timely, and quantity based systems. Some traditional library services can be replicated in the DL, partially or wholly, but some cannot be replicated. Some works will not be digitized but are still of use to DL users. Online instruction is important, but sometimes meeting face-to-face, or having a telephone conversation, between student and information professional is the best method. Information seekers should not be denied any library resource or service because it is not available online. The DL and the library should be complimentary, intertwining systems that exist to serve the user community on the highest order.

While emphasizing individual research interests, the Virginia Tech DLI2 grant should address user-centered issues, collection-centered issues, and system-centered issues. Attached are two library scenarios. The "Library Reference Scenario" demonstrates the advantages of the personal reference interview as intellectual access vs. electronic access. The "Whole Library Scenario" outlines the cycle of library activities from an instructor planning a course and determining what associated information resources are necessary, to library acquisitions and reference services for those resources.


DLI phase 1 participants meeting, March 1997

Griffin, Stephen M. (Program Manager of the Digital Libraries Initiative, NSF) interview: "Taking the Initiative for Digital Libraries, "The Electronic Library, vol. 16, no. 1, Feb. 1998: 24-27. libraries provide for collection development, organisation, access, annotation and preservation, and deal both with information in digital form as well as digital management of information residing on physical media. My definition places additional emphasis on the need to consider users and usage as part of any analytical framework used to study digital libraries.

McMillan, Gail. Librarian, associate professor, director of the Scholarly Communications Project

Seamans, Nan. Librarian, assistant professor, co-director, New Media Center, and head of the Center for Alternative Media
June 5, 1998 (GMc)

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