Defining “digital libraries”

This week, there appeared to be four points that most of the articles touched on in their attempt to define digital libraries: 1) There are multiple meanings for the term ‘digital library’ depending on who is defining it (librarians vs. programmers). 2) Programmers see that digital libraries are created for a specific user community as a reflection of user needs, whereas librarians tend to view them as a service that is part of a greater whole. 3) Like “traditional” libraries, digital libraries are constantly evolving (but perhaps at a faster rate due to the nature of technology and the Internet). 4) The expansion of digital libraries ultimately means there are new roles being asked of librarians, which they must be willing to embrace. In addition, there was consensus among the articles that more research is needed to better understand the issues.


I find it interesting that although the readings span a number of years, the debate over what a digital library is (and/or should be) hasn’t changed much besides the development of software for DL implementation. Like others in the class who have posted, I find this kind of disheartening – why is the same debate happening that was going on in the mid-1990s? Is the difference between librarians and computer programmers so great that they will never be able to agree? It would appear that the ongoing debate over the role of digital libraries comes down to a fundamental difference in beliefs of how information is accessed and used.


That being said, although there may be a dispute between library and programming professionals over the definition of digital libraries, it seems they are able to agree on at least one thing: the importance of access to information. Both sides believe in this basic idea, so it seems that there should be a way for them to foster better communication and come up with a definition that will work for both sides. Hopefully there will be meaningful progress towards this goal as digital libraries become more established and user needs are better understood.


4 responses to “Defining “digital libraries”

  1. I like that you have concluded those 4 points from those articles. I also agree that both of the programmers and librarians want to increase the access of the information. From my point of view, I think because they play different roles on that issue, they look at digital libraries and users very differently. I am also very interested in how the debate would go in the future.

  2. I am a professional computer programmer. I really don’t see such a huge dispute between library and programming professionals. If I were hired by a library, I would mostly be in same page as librarians with respect to system requirements. I would discuss trade-off issues with librarians when there is different agenda. In some cases, I understand there could be style issue between the two. But it happens in all other application areas.

  3. I think you make a good point that both librarians and computer programs do want the same thing: people finding and using their information. By focusing on the end goal one hopes the individuals working on the project could work out their differences. I do hope that as more librarians learn about the technology which goes into building a digital library they will be better at understanding the point of view of the programers. And after 15-20 years of working with librarians I bet the IT department understands the needs of librarians better.

  4. “Nowadays,” at least after some of these articles have been written, there isn’t much of a difference between a digital librarian and a programmer, or at least not as much as there has been. This makes be believe that the discrepancy between each group defining what digital library is, is becoming smaller and smaller. Hsikaiyang says that he doesn’t see a huge dispute between programmers and librarians, but I bet he could also see that both groups are defining what a digital library is in similar terms, I know I have. This is probably due to more librarians being programmers and more programmers learning library concepts and I find it a little ridiculous it has taken this far for them to share their knowledge with each other. “Nowadays” a programmer and a librarian are becoming the same thing.

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