Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

Geolibraries: Geographers, Librarians and Spatial Collaboration

Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

Geolibraries: Geographers, Librarians and Spatial Collaboration

Article excerpt

Introduction--The Map Library and the Geographer

There was a time when it was not possible to ask if libraries would or should exist in the not too distant future. The all-consuming preoccupation of society with computing and emerging technologies, intermixed with the Internet, has fostered a climate in which such ideas are no longer laughable (Lyman 1999; Hawkins 2001). Even the idea of the map library as a sustainable institution grounded in the paper paradigm has been called into question (Keller 2001). However, news of 'our' demise is both greatly exaggerated and premature. The development of geolibraries provides us with a metaphor that allows for the integration of the more traditional aspects of map libraries with the need to extend the reach of digital geospatial information. The relationship between geographers and map libraries, albeit viewed as 'traditional', has given rise to the digital expression of information access, management and use associated with metaphors such as 'geolibrary', the 'spatial infrastructure' and (most recently) 'digital Earth'.

Libraries and librarians have changed since the founding of 'libraries' as institutions and the profession of librarianship. Disciplines adapt with knowledge fields in a constant state of flux. Boundaries are fuzzy, and the boundaries between knowledge systems are breaking down. An explicit goal of digital and physical libraries is to create the opportunities to break down those temporary walls surrounding various knowledge fields (Fleet 1998). Technologies--specifically computing and telecommunications technologies, lumped into our idea of the Internet--are today's prime drivers of such change. This change, if it is to have a sustainable and positive impact, must move beyond the technical to the 'sociotechnical' (Buttenfield 1996; Hughes 2001).

Libraries are at the forefront of change in how information is both viewed and managed, but they are not seen as being there. Several explanations for this exist, but at present one should keep in mind a distinguishing characteristic of 'libraries-in-transition'. Along with partner institutions--such as archives and museums--and allied fields in records management and computer science, libraries view the Information Age in broader and longer terms than most. Within our institutions, the past, present and future have always been and will remain an 'information age'. Instead of suggesting that the map library must become digital or face being irrelevant, we should be promoting the notion of digital geolibraries as merely a new form of expressing very old institutions. 'Old' should not be equated with 'bad'; tradition has a place in modernity.

Defining 'information' broadly, with the continuum running from raw data through information (processed data) to actual knowledge (analyzed and contextualized information), libraries view information as one form of knowledge. Libraries have perspectives associated with information access and use that are similar to those of geographers, GIScientists, cartographers and others in spatially allied fields. We are concerned with how the user views 'information', how they gain repeated or perpetual access, how access (through description/metadata) can be made intuitive and information discovery a more accurate process and other issues that have connections with cognitive science (areas such as human/computer interaction). Moreover, librarians have perhaps the longest history of dealing with issues such as copyright, licensing, information privacy and confidentiality, and with our colleagues in archives and records management, we view the preservation of information as an equal part of the lifecycle of information.

The functional and philosophical areas briefly listed above have been placed at the fore in the development of geolibraries and in discussions surrounding further ideas of geospatial information access and management. There are, however, a few other concepts associated with libraries that need to be listed in terms of their linkage to the transition to the digitally based information age. …

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