ERCIM News No.27 - October 1996
by Stephen M. Griffin
The NSF - DARPA - NASA Digital Libraries Initiative -
The Digital Libraries Initiative (DLI) projects sponsored jointly
by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and the National Aeronautics and Space
Administration (NASA) are now mid-way through the initial four-year funding
period. This article focuses on the success of these projects in building
partnerships with other organizations and influencing the broader digital
The six DLI projects function and are managed as a collaborative effort
with the common goal to dramatically advance the means to collect, store,
organize and use widely distributed knowledge resources containing diverse
types of information stored in a variety of electronic forms.
Each of the DLI projects has a research and testbed component and brings
together multidisciplinary teams of researchers and users from a lead university
with those from partnering organizations. Partners include major US computer
and communications com-panies, academic institutions at all levels, libraries,
publishers, government and state agencies, professional associations, and
other organizations with a stake in the development and use of digital libraries.
The projects are centered at:
DLI Projects and Digital Libraries Research
Research in digital libraries explores the development and use of large-scale
networked knowledge repositories. The goals are to efficiently and effectively
capture, store, search and retrieve knowledge from distributed electronic
collections. The collections might contain text, images, maps, audio recordings,
video and film clips and combinations of these (multimedia). The DLI projects
are exploring a broad range of cutting-edge research topics including semantic
interoperability, image retrieval by content, new models for distributed
documents, strategies for rights management, network economics and billing
and social aspects of digital libraries.
The DLI projects have been exceptionally successful in building partnerships.
These have resulted in technology exchange, transfer of knowledge and resources,
collaborative research, and valuable personal interaction. Through partnerships,
the DLI projects have been able to enlarge their topical scope, increase
staffing, expand testbed content and functionality and gain additional support
for basic research. Individual projects report more than fifty persons directly
participating in research activities and cost-sharing exceeding two hundred
percent of their base Federal funding.
Partner relationships differ in degree and in type, change over time and
involve differing levels of interaction. For the projects a partner might:
In return the projects involve partners in the experiences of their effort,
making them early users of research products and offering opportunities
for intellectual enrichment.
- contribute to funding base technologies and infrastructure
- provide access to advanced technologies
- send researchers to work on-site at the university
- contribute content for the testbed and/or information services.
A short list of major DLI technologies partners includes Xerox, IBM, Hewlett-Packard,
Digital Equipment, Sun, Ricoh, Hitachi, Bell Atlantic, Intel, Illustra,
Oracle, SoftQuad, OpenText, et.al. Content providers include Elsevier, John
Wiley, MIT Press, Open University, Telecom Italia, numerous professional
societies and federal and state agencies.
Outreach and Community-level Activities
An essential component of the Digital Libraries Initiative are those activities
designed to engage the broader community. D-Lib Magazine, coordinated by
the Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI) and funded by the
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is an example. The WWW
home page is http://www.dlib.org.
The DLI has supported a number of workshops on technical topics:
IITA Workshop on Digital Libraries. (http://www.hpcc.gov/reports/reports-nco/iita-dlw/main.html)
UCLA-NSF Social Aspects of Digital Libraries Workshop. (http://www.gslis.ucla.edu/DL/)
Thirty-Seventh Allerton Institute Workshop (http://edfu.lis.uiuc.edu/allerton/95/)
DLI Metadata Workshop (http://alexandria.sdc.ucsb.edu/metadata/)
SGML Mathematics Workshop
Future Programmatic Directions
Based on experiences of the first two years of the DLI, numerous topics
have emerged as prime areas for expanded effort and resources. The list
continues to evolve both in terms of membership and ranking of importance.
An overall observation is that as projects mature and digital libraries
research advances, views on digital libraries design and assessment are
expanding from strictly techno-centric to include human-centric perspectives.
Digital libraries are one manifestation of the human-centered information
systems of the future. A partial list of promising topics would include:
To this list must be added topics of particular concern to the international
community: foreign language query and search, OCR, navigation and multilingual
translation tools for effective and timely access to global knowledge bases.
- new information objects, knowledge representations, integration schemes
- domain-specific repositories
- processes of human understanding of information from content, structure
- intelligent agents on networks
- metadata, including terms and conditions
- rights management of intellectual property including naming and secure
- new forms of collaboration and social informatics.
Agency program managers meet regularly to discuss current developments and
consider future directions. Several guiding principles are observed in contemplating
the structure and scope of future activities:
- planning processes should be pluralistic, with broad representation
and community involvement
- future digital libraries research is best considered within a large
analytical framework which includes knowledge, information, systems, users,
and communities in the broad sense of the term
- topical considerations should shape individual projects and programs,
not the reverse
- agencies should look to alternative research modalities for collaborative
development and use of digital libraries.
New digital libraries capabilities point to high future demand for new services
throughout the world. Network-based knowledge repositories promise to revolutionize
many aspects of modern societies. The Digital Libraries Initiative will
contribute to these exciting transformations by generating new knowledge,
promoting innovative thinking, and accelerating the technology transfer
process across industrial, commercial, scholarly, educational and social
dimensions of societies. Ultimately, these efforts will help make vast amounts
of useful information easily available to large numbers of people with diverse
The material in this article represents the views of the author and does
not necessarily reflect National Science Foundation policies.
For more information: http://www.cise.nsf.gov/cise/IRIS/IRISHome.html
Stephen M. Griffin - Division of Information, Robotics and Intelligent Systems
Program Manager: Digital Libraries Initiative
Tel: +1 703 306 1930
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