Thursday, July 30, 2009

What is a digital library? I need YOUR definition.

What is a digital library? The answer seems easy, but is it?

In Building Digital Libraries: A How-to-do-it Manual , Reese and Banerjee use these words when talking about a digital library:
It is not just the information itself, but the organization, structure, and presentation of that information, that give a repository its value.
Many others have also tried to describe a digital library, such as:
CESA8 in Wisconsin:
A digital library is a collection of documents in organized electronic form, available on the Internet or on CD-ROM (compact-disk read-only memory) disks. Depending on the specific library, a user may be able to access magazine articles, books, papers, images, sound files, and videos.
World Technology Evaluation Center Inc. (WTEC):
an integrated set of services for capturing, cataloging, storing, searching, protecting, and retrieving information
Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science (ODLIS):
A library in which a significant proportion of the resources are available in machine-readable format (as opposed to print or microform), accessible by means of computers. The digital content may be locally held or accessed remotely via computer networks.
ConfusionAll of these definitions are similar, but there are differences. For example, the ODLIS includes non-digital content in its definition. WTEC includes activities that occur outside of the public eye, like cataloguing. Intriguing.

In reality, many things are named digital libraries. A library may name its online presence a digital library. A specific online collection may be called a digital library (e.g.). A database may be considered a digital library (e.g.).

So given the differences in definitions that exist and how the term is actually used, how should we be defining digital libraries? Is it true, as David Lankes has insinuated, that that the more we know about digital libraries, the harder they are to define?

And so my challenge. I would like to collect from you how you define digital libraries and what you use as good (and bad) examples of what a digital library is. Not only do I want your words and examples to help educate us all on what digital libraries are, but I also want to point graduate students to your ideas as they learn about DLs.

With all of that in mind, I hope you'll take up my challenge....

Please create a blog post, audio (podcast) or video (vodcast) where you talk about your definition of a digital library and provide examples that support your definition. Please include a little information about yourself and what you do, which will help to provide context for your definition.

And please include in the resultant web page a link back to this blog post, which will help me (and others) find your work.

If you do not have a blog and would like to do a blog post defining digital libraries, please contact me about having your post become part of Digitization 101.

Question? Let me know!

Now I'll begin sitting on pins-and-needles waiting for your thoughts on this!

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Anne said...

what a shame these questions were not answered they would have helped me with my assignment.

benjamin ogwosar said...

Am so glad that this answers have enabled me do my course work which was giving the difference between library digitization and library automation.
I am undergraduate student at Makerere University Uganda studying bachelors of Library and Information Science.

Matt said...

How would you differentiate between digital libraries and databases? What are the differences between both of them?

Jill Hurst-Wahl said...


That it is not a straightforward question because it depends on your definition of a "digital library". I believe that most definitions would include databases as a digital library. In fact, the second definition above definitely would.

Anonymous said...

Jill thank you for the nice work on the blog post. IT is a nice reference for anyone.