Academic journal article Library Philosophy and Practice

Geo-Referenced Digital Libraries: Experienced Problems of Purpose and Infrastructure

Academic journal article Library Philosophy and Practice

Geo-Referenced Digital Libraries: Experienced Problems of Purpose and Infrastructure

Article excerpt


In a panel discussion at the 5th European Conference of Digital Libraries, Freeston (2001, p. 458) challenged, "what's holding up the development of georeferenced DLs [digital libraries] in advancing beyond collections of digital maps?" Is it, he continued,

a. an aspect of cognition (e.g., understanding the meaning and usefulness of geospatial searching, display, and evaluation);

b. culture (e.g., established ways of doing things and identification of geospatial indexing solely with GIS),

c. a type of technology (e.g., geospatial search functionality and representation of spatial location); or,

d. funding (e.g., magnitude and availability of funding needed to geo-reference items and redesign systems)?

In the same year the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council (SHEFC) awarded 688,000 [pounds sterling] to Aberdeen Geo-referenced Digital Library Project (Aberdeen-ADL in Scotland (SHEFC, 2001) leading us to collaborate with Alexandria Digital Library (ADL in the US.

It has been two years since then and, what is now holding up development in Aberdeen-ADL project? Research collaboration in coping with the complexity in the development is critical. Indeed, it is known that projects are often based on key funding initiatives. Over the past ten years digital library (DL) programs have been actively pursued in the US and the UK. As Rusbridge (1998, p.1) explains, projects in the two countries have been very different:

   [The US DL Initiative] has been mostly a large-scale computer
   science research programme. The participants aimed ... to be
   innovative and freethinking, leaving aside the constraints of
   existing practice. The results are exciting and extraordinarily
   interesting, but it is very hard to determine how many of these
   ideas might be effectively deployed in real life situations.

By contrast, the eLib program (funded by the UK's Joint Information Systems Committee [JISC]) characterized itself right from the start as "development" rather than research. JISC does not fund research in the same way the National Science Foundation (NSF) does (or, for example, the UK Research Councils do). Rather, the mission of the JISC is to stimulate and enable the cost effective exploitation of information systems and to provide a high quality national network infrastructure for the UK higher education and research councils communities.

Most recently, such discrepancies seem to remain pandemic. See, e.g., Greenstein (2002) conducted a survey of the digital library biography in the US; The NSDL (2003) intends to grow into the world's largest digital library of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics resources and services for education. However, this paper is not going to address how to establish a unified framework on interest of more collaborations that many individual researchers have proved to be absolutely crucial, see, e.g., Peterson (2001), Parry (2003), Smiths (2000), Poland (2000), Bunker (1999), to name just a few.

Rather, the author's experiences warrant great concern that a strategic need alone is insufficient justification to launch the project; We have the problem of purpose, as Levy (2000) and Williams (1988) would say, and a problem of infrastructural commitment and a plan that enables us to foresee a reasonable likelihood of resources to establish a scalable infrastructure, so the research can be continued.

We shall introduce the project in question in section 2. Before reporting the lessons learned, we shall explain a few infrastructural terms from the computing perspective in section 3. We shall then understand in section 4 that, ADL is essentially concerned with infrastructural problems and currently holds no content of the maps collected; Aberdeen ADL is based on strong research collaborations in areas of large databases and spatial image processing; We are concerned with the contents and their usages, but not the infrastructures, as infrastructures are not something we traditionally study. …

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