Definition of Digital Libraries Still in Debate

From this weeks reading, it seems that the definition of digital libraries is still in flux.  The reason for this is that two different groups of people are working on this definition, one consists of computer programmers and researchers and the other consists of librarians.  They differ on their definition based on their backgrounds and what they see the purpose of digital libraries being.  Part of this disconnect seems to stem from the fact that they have no common ground.  Librarians are not computer programmers and vice versa.  I agree with Twidale and Nichols idea of computational sense.  Librarians do not need to become experts in programming but they do really need to understand the basics of programming so that they will be able express to programmers exactly what they expect out of their digital library.  Others have also reiterated this idea within the library community.  An example is the new library director at Madison Public Library, Greg Michaels.  He came to our Information Management course last semester to discuss his experience and he expressed the need for librarians who are knowledgeable in computer programming as they could be very valuable in this technological age.  Additionally, if the two groups were able to communicate more effectively, then the definition of digital libraries would be more concrete.

The definition that I tend to agree with is the librarians’ idea that digital libraries should exist as a branch or extension of the library system.  The digital library should offer many of the services that any other non-digital library would offer. A question I have is what is the current definition of digital libraries? Since the most recent reading this week was from 2009 and many were from 2000 or earlier, has anything changed in this debate and has the definition become more agreed upon?

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3 responses to “Definition of Digital Libraries Still in Debate

  1. The final question is a great one to think about as we go into our unit on DPLA. You may wish to keep an eye for how the people involved in that initiative are coming together around a shared concept of “digital library” – if, indeed, they are!

  2. Good points and I agree with you (and Nichols/Twidale) that there seems to be plenty of room for a new group of librarians who are not experts in computer programming but who do have a strong “computational sense.”

    It also seems like the Twidale/Nichols article sets the stage for some more concrete decisions about what exactly librarians need to know to help bridge the gap between them and programmers. Twidale and Nichols talk about extracting “some of the skills traditionally acquired.. ..from long experience of programming” and teaching them to librarians under the title “computational sense.” (p. 557). What are these skills? Their spreadsheet analogy gave me an idea but I still feel like I’m searching for the non-expert-yet-still-able-to-work-with-ever-evolving-technology magic cocktail. My guess is that most LIS programs are still searching for it as well.

  3. I agree with your thoughts that two different groups (librarians vs. programmers) are each working on their own, separate definition of a digital library. I also agree that librarians would benefit from at least learning a bit about the technical side in order to better communicate needs and issues between end-users and technical staff. It could also be beneficial for back-end staff to communicate with librarians and end-users to optimize access and usability issues.

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