Resources for education in digital libraries
Tefko Saracevic, Ph.D.

School of Communication

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Digital Library Research

Digital libraries deal with human knowledge records in electronic forms and networked environments. Computers are very effective with well-defined problems. Dealing with human knowledge and human knowledge records is not a well-defined problem. Thus, digital libraries present a formidable set of problems for research to establish an effective alliance between modern technology and use of libraries containing modern human knowledge records.

Among others, technical problems are much larger and complex than anticipated. This includes problems of representing, storing and retrieving of library objects, particularly if originally designed to be printed and then digitized; problems of operationally managing large collections where issues of scale matter a lot; and problems of dealing with diverse and distributed collections, lacking in heterogeneity.

A variety of research issues have been raised, some subject to more and some to less research scrutiny. Here is a general list:

understanding objects in digital libraries in many formats including non-textual materials and representing them; metadata, cataloging, indexing; conversion, digitization; organizing large collections; managing collections, scaling; preservation, archiving; interoperability, standardization; user interfaces and human-computer interaction; information discovery, search, retrieval, browsing; natural language processing; reliability, robustness; metrics, performance, evaluation; social, legal & economic issues; impact on scholarship, education and other areas; impact on differing populations.

A number of research initiatives dealing with digital libraries were established in many countries. The Digital Library Initiatives (DLI) in the US (so far funded at a tune of some $80 million) were a prime vehicle for defining and funding research in the area. As it turned out, the majority of DLI projects were and are primarily devoted to technical issues and computer science. Other countries took different approaches; for instance UK and Germany under research fund practical applications and cooperative ventures and approaches. The considerable funding for digital library research by the European Union mirrors to a large extend the US approach trough DLI.

In contrast, the program of the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), US Department of Education funds projects that are more oriented toward users and use of digital libraries; some of these projects are related to research, but more to demonstration or operations.

Great many digital libraries have been established and are functioning throughout the world. So far there has been little visible connection between research on digital libraries and operational digital libraries. The translation has yet to come.


DLI Phase One

National Science Foundation. Digital Libraries Initiative. Phase 1 Home page.

List of sponsoring agencies and participants in Digital Library Initiative 1 (DLI 1).

Projects in DLI 1:

Carnegie Mellon University. Informedia Digital Video Library.

Stanford University. Stanford Digital Library Technologies Project.
Links only to current project in DLI Phase 2 only. Report on DLI 1 project: Building the InfoBus: Interoperation mechanisms among heterogeneous services, at:

University of California at Berkeley. Environmental Planning and Geographic Information Systems.
Links only to current project in DLI 2. Hard to find results from DLI 1 project. Through publications.

University of California at Santa Barbara. Alexandria Digital Library Project.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Federating repositories of scientific literature.

University of Michigan. Intelligent agents for information location.

DLI Phase Two

National Science Foundation. Digital Libraries Initiative. Phase 2 Home page.

"Digital Libraries Initiative Phase Two is a multiagency initiative which seeks to provide leadership in research fundamental to the development of the next generation of digital libraries, to advance the use and usability of globally distributed, networked information resources, and to encourage existing and new communities to focus on innovative applications areas."

National Science Foundation. Digital Libraries Initiative. Phase 2. Funded  projects.

Links to projects in DLI 2.

A sample of projects in DLI 2:

University of Arizona. High Performance Digital Library Classification Systems: From Information Retrieval to Knowledge Management.

"To develop techniques to enhance information retrieval and knowledge management of large digital collections."

U of California - Berkeley. Reinventing Scholarly Information Dissemination and Use.

" developing the tools and technologies to support highly improved models of the scholarly information life cycle. Our goal is to facilitate the move from the current centralized, discrete publishing model, to a distributed, continuous, and self-publishing model, while still preserving the best aspects of the current model such as peer review."

University of California Davis. A Multimedia Digital Library of Folk Literature.

"A multimedia archive of ballads and other oral literature in Judeo-Spanish." A rich and searchable archive.

University of California at Los Angeles. Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative.

" efforts of an international group of Assyriologists, museum curators and historians of science to make available through the Internet the form and content of cuneiform tablets dating from the beginning of writing, ca. 3200 B.C., until the end of the third millennium."

University of California Santa Barbara. Alexandria Digital Library Earth Prototype.

Not much information on the projects involved.

Carnegie Mellon University. Informedia-II: Auto-Summarization and Visualization Over Multiple Video Documents and Libraries.

"The Informedia Digital Video Library project ... studies how multimedia digital libraries can be established and used. The Informedia project has pioneered new approaches for automated video and audio indexing, navigating, visualization, search and retrieval and embedded them in a system for use in education, information and entertainment environments."

Columbia University. PERSIVAL: Personalized Search and Summarization over Multimedia Information.

" PERSIVAL stands for PErsonalized Retrieval and Summarization of Image, Video And Language Resource. Healthcare consumers and providers both need quick and easy access to a wide range of online resources. The goal of this project is to provide personalized access to a distributed patient care digital library through the development of a system, PERSIVAL."

Cornell University. Project Prism: Information Integrity in Digital Libraries.

" to investigate and develop the policies and mechanisms needed for information integrity in digital libraries. The project focuses on the following areas: Preservation, Reliability. Interoperability. Security, and Metadata.

Eckerd College. Digital Analysis and Recognition of Whale Images on a Network (DARWIN).

" ...continued development and refinement of software suitable for the automated recognition and identification of individual dolphin from digital photographs of dolphin dorsal fins. The primary goal of the project will be focused on improvements in the accuracy and reliability of the recognition process in existing computer vision software which provides an interface to a database of dolphin dorsal fin images." Sounds interesting but no response from the link.

Harvard University. An Operational Social Science Digital Data Library.

"An operational, open-source, digital library to enable the sharing of quantitative research data, and the development of distributed virtual collections of data and documentation."

Indiana University. Creating the Digital Music Library.

"... aims to establish a digital music library testbed system containing music in a variety of formats, involving research and development in the areas of system architecture, metadata standards, component-based application architecture, and network services."

University of Kentucky. Digital Atheneum Project. New techniques for restoring, searching, and editing humanities collections.

" will develop new digital libraries, tailored to the requirements of scholars in the humanities, from aging and damaged portions of the Cottonian Collection at the British Library. The project will deliver state-of-the-art technical approaches to restoring severely damaged manuscripts, searching them as images, and presenting electronic editions for a widely distributed digital library of restored and edited, previously inaccessible, manuscripts".

Michigan State University. Founding a National Gallery of the Spoken Word.

"... is creating a significant, fully searchable online database of spoken word collections spanning the 20th century—the first large-scale repository of its kind."

Oregon Health Sciences University. Tracking Footprints through an Information Space: Leveraging the Document Selections of Expert Problem Solvers.

" help an expert problem solver find needed information in a large, complex information space, locating sufficient information to solve the problem at hand without the distraction of redundant or irrelevant information. We focus on one example of expert problem solving, the health care field, where the medical record of a patient can be a large, complex, and geographically distributed collection of documents, created by a diverse array of health professionals, for divergent purposes, over an extended period of time."

University of Pennsylvania. Data Provenance.

" The manner in which databases depend on one another can be complex, and a problem now confronting a user of one of these databases is that it is difficult or impossible to discover by what process some piece of data got into the database. We call this the problem of data provenance."

University of Texas at Austin. A Digital Library of Vertebrate Morphology, Using High-Resolution X-ray CT.

"... our broadest common interest is the manipulation, interpretation, and dissemination of high-resolution X-ray CT datasets, and the associated problem of assembling and serving libraries of large-volume digital datasets." Great pictures from a variety of eras and sources.

Tufts University. A Digital Library for the Humanities.

An ongoing project, including sources from antiquity to modern times. " Perseus is an evolving digital library, engineering interactions through time, space, and language. Our primary goal is to bring a wide range of source materials to as large an audience."

University of Washington. Automatic Reference Librarians for the World Wide Web. the link disappeared!

"... to create software agents that posses reference intelligence --- a limited understanding of complex technical topics, but a very sophisticated understanding of how and where to find high-quality information on the World Wide Web."

Sample of undergraduate education projects

University of Maryland. Digital Libraries for Children: Computational Tools that Support Children as Researchers.

"Our project will develop visual interfaces that support young children in querying, browsing, and organizing multimedia information. In doing so, we will work with children as "design partners" to develop new digital library technologies that support the learning challenges of young children. Throughout our design experience, we hope to understand how new technologies can have an effect on learning, communicating, and collaborating in school environments."


"IMLS is a federal grant-making agency that promotes leadership, innovation, and a lifetime of learning by supporting the nation's museums and libraries. Created by the Museum and Library Services Act of 1996." "IMLS grant programs help libraries bring people the information they want and can use."

In the program National Leadership Grants for Libraries - Research & Demonstration IMLS provides, among others, support for research related to digital libraies and their impact. In the program Preservation or Digitization it provides for development of digital colelctions and services.

In Fall 2002 the Research and Demonstration program announced 15 grants to various institutions. Among others this involves the following projects (no link to project sites has been found as yet):

Drexel University, College of Information Science and Technology - Philadelphia, PA -

"In this three-year research project, "Everyday Information Seeking Behavior of Urban Young Adults," the College of Information Science and Technology at Drexel University, in collaboration with the Free Library of Philadelphia, will develop and test tools for improving service provision to young adults by examining their information-seeking behaviors in their everyday lives."

California Digital Library - Oakland, CA

"In this two-year demonstration project, the California Digital Library, in partnership with the UC Berkeley Library, will create a model preservation repository for multi-institutional digital materials following the Open Archival Information System (OAIS) reference model. The project will also explore and report on issues related to repository operation and policies."

University of California - Berkeley, School of Information Management & Systems

"In this two-year demonstration project, "Going Places in the Catalog," the School of Information Management and Systems and the Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative at the University of California at Berkeley will show how geographic location searching in library catalogs can be improved and extended to scholarly and educational resources in and beyond library catalogs. The project links on-line catalogs with on-line gazeteers and uses geographical map displays with latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates."

University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Library - Champaign, IL

In this three-year research project, the Library of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will create a collection-level registry of digital collections created with IMLS funding from 1998 to 2005 and will research, design and implement a prototype item-level metadata repository service based on the Open Archives Initiative Metadata Harvesting Protocol.


DELOS Network of Excellence on Digital Libraries.

DELOS is a European research and educational program "funded by the ESPRIT Long Term Research Programme within the Fourth Framework Programme of the Commission of the European Union. The objective was to promote research into the further development of digital library technologies. The activities of the Network are organised under Forums and are open to the European DL research world and the relevant application communities (electronic publishing, libraries, cultural heritage, archives,etc.)." Part of ERCIM - the European Research Consortium for Informatics and Mathematics (

UKOLN. The UK Office for Library and Information Networking.

" UKOLN is a national focus of expertise in digital information management. It provides policy, research and awareness services to the UK library, information and cultural heritage communities." Research and projects, among others, in metadata, interoperability, public library networking, distributed library systems, bibliographic management, and web developments. Supports projects like The Stories on the Web ( Considerable funding was allocated for the Electronic Libraries Programme (eLib) (

Canadian Initiative on Digital Libraries (CIDL).

An alliance of Canadian libraries interested in improving communication and coordination in the development of Canadian digital library resources. Some projects, more planning.

GLOBAL INFO - The German Digital Library Project.

Developing a structure for scientific information as digital libraries. Support for cooperation between major players (producers, distributors and consumers) in the process. Site in German. But an English description is given at The project ended, but provdes an example of a direction.


D-Lib Magazine. Centers for research on digital libraries.

Provides links to US and international centers, programs and projects.

President's Information Technology Advisory Committee. Panel on Digital Libraries. (2001). Digital Libraries: Universal Access To Human Knowledge.

A report to the President of the United States about the status and future of digital libraries, with four key recommendations to support, among others, research and development in digital libraries ... "because of the profound relevance of this technology to advancing quality education in every school, learning center, and home in the country." [In pdf, requires Acrobat Reader - a free download].

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last update 24 Sept 2002 Tefko Saracevic