Lagozei et. al.’s paper prompted readers to ponder the uniqueness of digital libraries. How can they distinguish from web search engines? How are they different from general-purpose public libraries? I found Lagozei et. al.’s vision on digital libraries is closest to my imagination.
First of all, digitization is a necessary condition but not a sufficient condition for a library to be called “digital library.” Twenty five years ago, some research libraries already started to digitize their catalog systems. Some PhD dissertations were already stored as digital files. At that time no libraries claimed they were digital libraries. The term of “digital library” was even not coined yet.
Secondly, digitization is not the purpose in itself; rather, it merely provides a prerequisite for easy search and access. There is no doubt that the functionality of search and access is a pivotal benefit promised by digital libraries. However, it is still short of justifying the heavy investment. I agree with the authors that the mission of digital libraries should go beyond search and access.
To compete with web search engines, the paper’s authors claimed that digital libraries should “become a context for information collaboration and accumulation.” Digital libraries should serve their users for accessing, sharing, and exchanging knowledge. Digital libraries should allow their users to contribute knowledge either actively through annotations, reviews, etc., or passively through their patterns of resource use. The knowledge of the library community should be collaborative, accumulative and value-added.
For such goals to be achievable, I think digital libraries should carefully define their user community. A user community can be a company, a learning group, a special-interest group, and so on. The more clearly defined the target community to serve, the more chances to demonstrate value to stakeholders.
Under this definition of digital libraries, I think general-purpose public libraries are not our targets. As Levy pointed out in the paper entitled “Digital Libraries and the Problem of Purpose,” most of the patrons are more interested in popular entertainment-oriented materials. The existing infrastructures in those public libraries are already adequate to serve the purpose, whether all-digital or not.
I imagine that services provided by digital libraries should not be free. Even in research libraries, only registered community users have the access privilege. Within a well-defined “problem of purpose,” each digital library can develop and grow its knowledge base. Librarians with “computational sense” can play a central role in adopting and adapting underlying technologies to make sure their libraries have embedded the desired intelligence, such as inference, collaboration, maintainability, etc. Once the standard for interoperability gets more matured, digital libraries in the same category should be able to also operate in a collaborative way, further benefiting their individual user community.