Academic journal article Alexandria

Caribbean Digital Library Initiatives in the Twenty-First Century: The Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC)

Academic journal article Alexandria

Caribbean Digital Library Initiatives in the Twenty-First Century: The Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC)

Article excerpt


Almost sixty years ago, the value of a Caribbean collection was proposed by Dr Eric Williams, world-renowned scholar, historian and first Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, when he outlined the idea of a 'West Indian Library' (a collection of all libraries in the region) that would 'command respect, even when compared to such collections as the British Museum, the Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris and the Library of Congress'. He did recognize at that time it was 'hardly a practical proposition, however, though it may be possible at some time in the future to envisage a deliberately planned regional collection' (Williams, 1952).

The Caribbean

The definition of the Caribbean for the purposes of this paper would be that of the membership of the Association of Caribbean University, Research and Institutional Libraries (ACURIL), that is, 'those countries in the Caribbean basin, mainland countries including the Guianas, and the States of United States of America, which border on the Caribbean Sea or the Gulf of Mexico'. The countries which number about forty are separated by sea and represent a population of over 40 million people (Renwick, 2002). This area is referred to as the Caribbean and circum-Caribbean by the Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC) (Figure 1).



Digital initiatives may include digital libraries, digital repositories and digital archives. Versions of digital libraries were envisioned since the early twentieth century, by persons like H. G. Wells in 1938, Vannevar Bush in 1945 and J. C. R. Licklider in 1965. The technical and engineering basis laying the foundation for digital libraries started in the 1960s prior to the development of the World Wide Web (Lynch, 2005). Project Gutenberg, which started in 1971 and boasts of over 33,000 free e-books in 2010, could be considered one of the earliest digital libraries (Hart, 1992; Project Gutenberg, 2010). But it was not until around the year 2000 when evolving Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) allowed, not only for creating the digital content itself, but the increased and easier communication necessary for partnerships to thrive and greater ability to attract appropriate funding.


Time is taken to define a digital library as misconceptions continue to exist. It is not merely an automated library, access to bibliographic electronic resources or having a library website. In an early attempt, the Digital Libraries Federation ( defined 'digital libraries' quite aptly:

Digital libraries are organizations that provide the resources, including the specialized staff, to select, structure, offer intellectual access to, interpret, distribute, preserve the integrity of, and ensure the persistence over time of collections of digital works so that they are readily and economically available for use by a defined community or set of communities (Waters, 1998).

This definition provides a snapshot of how ambitious and complex the issues are when setting up and maintaining one, especially when the required level of ICTs and expertise is considered.

Digital libraries build on and supplement basic library functions i.e. they manage large amounts of information in electronic format, handle diverse types of information (text, audio, video and so on), make information services available to a wide public, but require cooperative input from partner institutions and users. The content can be made up of scientific publications (housed in institutional repositories), electronic theses and dissertations, educational resources, special collections, heritage collections, government and administrative information and basic development information (serving grass root needs) (Rose, 2007).

Key Functions/Features

Abid (2007) suggests that to manage digital collections calls for many skills and, whereas traditional librarians are mainly concerned with selection, collection, organization, preservation and providing access, information technology (IT) skills are needed for database management and retrieval. …

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