Why try to define?

I think that there are still multiple interpretations of what exactly a digital library after more than two decades of research, development and innovation to perhaps be a potential strength or positive.  As with all aspects of the “internet-age”, digital libraries as a both an idea and an actual thing have had to evolve quickly in order to survive the lighting speed of change in technology, software, and use, but also have been able to take advantage of the incredible flexibility that these technologies afford.  The bottom line is that there may be endless interpretations of what a digital library is, and that is ok, and ultimately maybe a very good thing. However, because I tend to like to play the devil’s advocate too, I can also see the value and need to have more specific definitions, as Borgman encourages her readers to work towards.  We use words to communicate and the more abstract a word’s definition is, the more nebulous it is, the harder it is to effectively and efficiently communicate.  While digital library researchers and practitioners can use the flexibility of a vague definition to explore new and exciting applications of these technologies and concepts, in the world of grant writing, advertising, budget proposals, and reporting, precision in what we mean, expect, and predict is not just important but necessary in order to ensure that our institution or project is clearly understood, gets the funding it needs, and can be evaluated effectively. Getting administrative buy-in, or public support, means being able to effectively and efficiently explain what it is exactly that we aim to create when we say a digital library. 

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2 responses to “Why try to define?

  1. But couldn’t leaving it more free-floating allow you to re-align with the needs of the agency more quickly and completely? Or are the libraries an entity unto itself outside of the needs of the patrons?

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