The predigital library

Sigfrid Lundberg's Stuff 2009-08-31

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The digital revolution is over wrote Nicholas Negroponte already 1998. According to one source, whose credibility I have not evaluated, Douglas Adams once described Nicholas Negroponte as someone who writes about the future with the authority of someone who has spent a great deal of time there. The declaration of victory for the digital appeared in Negroponte's last regular column in the Wired Magazine. He might've thougth: We've won, and now is time for giving one lap top to every child on the globe. That would indeed consolidate the victory.


After the digital revolution, it was natural for the library community to create a vision of moving The Library onto the Internet. The libraries were rising new buildings all over the globe called digital libraries. One particularly good one is California Digital Library. CDL was founded 1997, i.e., the year before the digital revolution ended. The CDL web site is very typical in many ways. In particular its home page. It starts with a corporate site, and on it there is a list of services powered by CDL. For example: Calisphere, eScholarship Editions, eScholarship Repository, Mark Twain Project Online and Online Archive of California (OAC).

There is much more available. I just took those from the top page. Most of these services are brilliant, they about the best you can find from any library on the globe.

We see here the main method of moving the library to the Internet: The creation of repositories. Just as we have structured the library into collections, the major ones may have seperate reading rooms, the digital library is split into seperate services. The information resources from California Digital Library are spread over many, different domains. I'm not critizing my colleagues over there. Rather I'm just stating a fact that more or less all digital libraries -- even the best ones -- are suffering from the same problems, of which the most important one is that all of us are building a new repository whenever we start a new project.


We see now a shift from the repository is the gravitational center for the digital library towards the resources themselves. There should be no need to go to the digital library, its content should be on the Web. There is no need to move the library to Facebook to be where the users are. It is sufficient to have the library resources on the Web -- which isn't the same as having the library there.

Carl Lagoze et al. uses this shift as a justification for proposing the new standard OAI-ORE. When discussing the differences between the old OAI-PMH and the new OAI-ORE, they formulate the trend in a very clear way:

It [OAI-ORE] also reflects a recognition of the position of digital libraries vis-à-vis the Web that sometimes seem to co-exist in a curiously parallel conceptual and architectural space.

We exist in a world where information is synonymous not with library but with the Web and the applications that are rooted in it. In this world, the Web Architecture is the lingua franca for information interoperability, and applications such as most digital libraries must exist within the capabilities and constraints of that Web Architecture. Because of the virtual hegemony of Web browsers as an information access tool and Google as a discovery tool, failure to heed to Web Architecture principles, and therefore requiring somewhat special treatment by these monopoly applications (which is rarely if ever granted), effectively means falling into an information black hole.


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My name is Sigfrid Lundberg. The stuff I publish here may, or may not, be of interest for anyone else.

On this site there is material on photography, music, literature and other stuff I enjoy in life. However, most of it is related to my profession as an Internet programmer and software developer within the area of digital libraries. I have been that at the Royal Danish Library, Copenhagen (Denmark) and, before that, Lund university library (Sweden).

The content here does not reflect the views of my employers. They are now all past employers, since I retired 1 May 2023.

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