Looking back on the Bush and Borges readings through the lens of material covered this semester, my initial thoughts about the visionary and futuristic ideas presented are can be further supported and explained.
Vannevar Bush explored the proliferation, organization and access of information. Borges examined the library as a universal, “ab aeterno” or infinite place of knowledge. The ideas presented in both of these essays are relevant and applicable to digital libraries.
Organizations such as DPLA and HathiTrust exemplify the idea of a universal library based not on place but one a vast and growing network connecting collections over a broad spectrum of subjects and unlimited by geographic or physical place.
The process of making much of this knowledge and information accessible to users is complex in the face of current copyright law limitations that protect a few and inhibit many.
The efforts currently being carried out in this area by organizations such DPLA and HathiTrust are providing leadership and support to the library community, but collective action will be needed to sustain the momentum for change in this area.
This course, through readings, discussion and assignments, thoroughly covered the tools and standards used to construct the materials, collections and overall architecture in which digital libraries are stored, maintained and retrieved. Each digital item undergoes a process of selection, formatting and cataloging through which the class learned about in the forms of Internet standards, best practices and hands-on experience in developing a small digital collection. This map of study also provided guidance on how to make decisions regarding format, file type, metadata standards, and storage and content management systems. The section readings covered best practices, Internet and metadata standards, and Assignments 1 and 2 required students to apply this knowledge.
Bush wrote that the “record” must be “consulted” in order for it to be useful. This is partly true. Accessibility is the first step, but usability provides the foundation for consistent usage of the collection and successful information seeking. If a collection is available, but not useful, it loses some of its value. More than a concept, usability is something that needs to be considered within all phases of digital collection development. Further, assessment and evaluation identify problems and issues that impede navigation, searching and retrieval, and hopefully be addressed.
Digital information has affected a change in the library profession. The fundamentals remain rooted: selection and development of materials and collections that meet information-seeking needs, enabling access to those materials and providing guidance in the navigation and use of digital collections. However, the technology that enables digital data requires library professionals to acquire and develop the necessary related skills. Our exploration into digital librarianship careers confirms that specialized skills and knowledge ranging from metadata and conversion processes to information architecture and user assessment reflect current job qualifications, as well as the development of new job titles and positions.
Furthermore, digital libraries and projects are centered on collaboration between departments, organizations, administrative bodies, stakeholders and legal and government entities. The digital librarian must possess the ability to work with many types of groups and the communication skills to facilitate information between these workgroups. The collaborative nature and multi-layered responsibilities of digital libraries and projects prescribes a need for efficient workflow practice and project management skills.
Finally, academic library programs must adapt, develop and create curricula that prepare students to successfully enter the digital library environment.
The digital library has vastly increased the ability to search for knowledge, and this course has provided me with a wealth of experience and knowledge. As I reflect on my learning this semester, I am certain that libraries are relevant and needed organizations, and digital projects only reinforce this relevance and need. Digital libraries provide users with an expanded range in which to explore the cultural and historical record, advance intellectual inquiry and enable opportunities for discovery of new thoughts, ideas and works of all kinds.
Digital libraries are crucial to the expansion of the volume of digital information and ensuring accessibility, and in facilitating the navigation and search of this information.
Borges wrote, “The universe (which others call the Library)…its polished surfaces represent and promise the infinite.” Digital libraries have the potential to create and make accessible the endless amount of universal knowledge and embody the ideas put forth by Bush: “There is a new profession of trail blazers, those who find delight in the task of establishing useful trails through the enormous mass of the common record” and by which all people can profit from the “inheritance of acquired knowledge.”