Magazine article Information Today

Defining Digital Libraries

Magazine article Information Today

Defining Digital Libraries

Article excerpt

Digital Libraries William Y. Arms Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2000 ISBN: 0-262-01180-8

287 pages

$45 (softbound)

I'm sure that you've heard of digital libraries. But do you really know what that term means? Would you know a digital library if you ran into one? What are some of the important features of a digital library? How do they compare to traditional print libraries? If you'd like to get an overview of what digital libraries are and how they've developed, Digital Libraries by William Y Arms is the book for you.

Arms is a computer science professor at Cornell University. He has been involved in the development of various digital library projects and was also one of the founders of the online journal D-Lib Magazine, which has served as a forum for interdisciplinary communications in the field. In this book, Arms defines a digital library as "a managed collection of information, with associated services, where the information is stored in digital formats and accessible over a network." They range widely in size, specificity, and subject. Some are available free of charge and others are not, although Arms strongly supports those that are free.

Digital Libraries emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinary work in digital library development: "Computer scientists are often unaware of the deep understanding of information that librarians have developed over the years. Librarians and publishers may not know that the Internet pioneers have been managing online information for years." Arms sees this convergence of computers and information needs as the driving force behind the creation of digital libraries. "The real story of digital libraries is the interplay of people, organizations, and technology," he explains.

Arms is obviously quite impressed with the information prowess of librarians. Digital Libraries is full of praise for librarians and their traditional tasks of organizing information and helping people find it. He notes, "Libraries have a proud tradition as early adopters of new technology," and cites such examples as MARC and OCLC. He seems to have a good understanding of library principles and practices (for a non-librarian).

Digital Libraries is divided into 14 chapters, each covering a different area of digital library development and use. Arms' general practice is to give a brief introduction to a topic and then develop it, discussing details about specific aspects as he goes. Librarians may find the chapters about libraries to be too basic, but computer scientists and others may appreciate the insights there.

Throughout the book, Arms is typically enthusiastic about the possibilities presented by digital libraries. …

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