pi The ERCIM Digital Library Initiative
ERCIM News No.39 - October 1999

Delos logoThe ERCIM Digital Library Initiative

by Carol Peters and Costantino Thanos

The ERCIM Digital Library Initiative began in 1996 with the setting up of the DELOS Digital Library Working Group. The aim was to promote European research into the further development of digital library technologies, to stimulate the efficient and cost-effective implementation of digital library systems, to encourage collaboration between research teams working in the field, and to promote the transfer of knowhow and technology to the relevant application areas. We illustrate the main activities of the ERCIM DLI over the last three years, and discuss the intention to establish a forum for Digital Library activities in the future through the creation of a Network of Excellence.

Digital libraries represent a new infrastructure and environment that has been created by the integration and use of computing, communications, and digital content on a global scale. However, to explore the full benefits of the digital library (DL), the problem for research and development is not merely how to connect everyone and everything together in the network but rather to achieve an economically feasible capability to digitize massive corpora of information from heterogeneous and distributed sources; then to store, search, process and retrieve relevant information from them in a user friendly way. Several driving technologies are now rendering the creation of such digital libraries practicable, i.e. multimedia information storage, retrieval, filtering, networked database systems, distributed computing, hypermedia, etc. The digital library domain is thus an essentially multidisciplinary area covering a range of research topics including interoperability, metadata, information access, multilinguality, intellectual property rights, economic charging mechanisms, preservation and security issues.

For these reasons, ERCIM identified the digital library sector as being an area of particular interest to its member institutions and decided to sponsor its own Digital Library Initiative. The aim was to promote European research into the further development of digital library technologies, in particular to stimulate research activities in areas which are relevant for the efficient and cost-effective development of digital library systems, to encourage collaboration between research teams working in the field, and to establish links with on-going DL projects and activities in industry and other public and private institutions.

In order to support these activities, in spring 1996, the DELOS Working Group was launched. Most of the ERCIM institutions are members: CLRC, CNR, CRCIM, CWI, FORTH, GMD, INRIA, SZTAKI, SARIT, SICS, SINTEF; non-ERCIM members are INESC, the University of Michigan, and Elsevier Sciences. DELOS has been funded by ESPRIT Long Term Research (LTR No. 21057) within the Fourth Framework Programme of the Commission of the European Union.

Main Activities of DELOS

During its three year lifetime, DELOS has undertaken an intense programme aimed at stimulating R&D in the DL area. The main efforts have concentrated on the organization of a series of thematic workshops, the formulation of a collaboration with the US National Research Foundation (NSF), the sponsoring of European Conferences for Research and Advanced Technologies in Digital Libraries, the creation of an ERCIM technical reference digital library service and the development of a test-bed collection for the experimentation of new DL technologies by ERCIM scientists. A publicly accessible Web site has been maintained providing information not only on the DELOS activities but also on DL initiatives and projects throughout the world.
Thematic Workshop Series
Since March 1996, the DELOS Working Group has held nine workshops on research issues recognized as being of paramount importance to the DL community. Close ties with scientists of recognized value and with representatives of industry and user communities (from both European and non-European countries) have been established and their contribution has helped to make the workshops a success and has provided a springboard for the exchange of ideas. The following topics have been addressed: metadata and interoperability, multilingual information retrieval, image indexing and retrieval, collaborative filtering, preservation of digital information, electronic commerce, user interfaces, digital libraries and distance learning, audio-visual digital libraries. The Proceedings of the Workshop have been published by ERCIM; they are also available at the DELOS Web site.

National Science Foundation - European Union Collaborative Working Groups

A digital library is the integration of multiple components which do not initially fit together in a seamless fashion for a number of reasons. Firstly, the necessary components come from a background of different communities and, secondly, they should enable new functions which were not considered when the individual single components were first designed and implemented. This means that the realisation of large-scale globally distributed digital libraries depends much on collaborative effort both across disciplines and across geographical boundaries.

DELOS, in collaboration with the US National Research Foundation, thus decided, to set up a group of EU-US working groups with the mandate to jointly explore technical, social and economic issues and plan common research agendas with respect to a set of key DL research areas:
• interoperability between digital library systems
• metadata
• intellectual property rights and economic issues
• resource indexing and discovery in a globally distributed digital library
• multilingual information access.

EU-NSF workshop

The groups studied the state-of-the-art and current trends in their area and produced a set of recommendations and priorities for future R&D activities. Each group met twice over a two-year period. These meetings served as a basis for the researchers to define critical research questions through which it is hoped that joint research proposals will emerge within the framework of the expected agreement for collaboration on DL isssues to be signed by the EC and the NSF. The final reports of the Working Groups have now been released and are posted on the DELOS Web site.

European Conferences on Digital Libraries (ECDL)

These conferences provide an important opportunity for European scientists interested in and/or now working on DL-related research issues to come together, compare and discuss their activities and results with colleagues from outside Europe. Major aims of the conference are to stimulate young scientists to explore new areas of interest in digital library development (through fellowships offered to young researchers) and to establish a forum for discussion of issues particularly relevant for Europe.

So far three very successful conferences have been organised: Pisa 1997; Crete 1998; Paris, 1999. An interesting trend is that, while at the first conference papers submitted mainly focused on research topics of relevance to DL applications, many of the papers submitted for the Paris conference discuss actual on-going DL experiences. This shows how real-world activities in this area have increased over this short time span.

ERCIM Technical Reference Digital Library (ETRDL)

Towards the end of 1997, the decision was taken by the ERCIM DLI to create a digital collection of the technical documentation produced by ERCIM scientists and to provide on-line distributed public access to this collection. This service offers a similar service to that provided in the United States by NCSTRL, the Networked Computer Science Technical Reference Library. The aim is to assist the ERCIM scientists to make their research results immediately available world-wide and provide them with appropriate on-line facilities to access the technical documentation of others working in the same field. The intention is also to make the ERCIM digital collections available as testbeds for the validation of research in the DL domain.

ETRDL interface

The service runs on an infrastructure based on the DIENST system used by NCSTRL, which has been extended by the addition of new functionalities to meet the needs of the European IT scientific community. These include the adoption of a common metadata description standard, the introduction of common classification schemes and methods to manage them, and the implementation of interfaces for languages other than English. An author interface has been included to facilitate the insertion of new documents by the users themselves.

For more information on the ETRDL project and documentation on the system, see http://www.iei.pi.cnr.it/DELOS/EDL/edl.htm.


The ERCIM DLI within the framework of the DELOS DL Working Group has played an important role over the last three years in promoting the creation of a European Digital Library research community. It has provided a forum where a number of communities, i.e., libraries, cultural heritage, electronic publishing, electronic commerce, information infrastructure, software industry, etc. have had the possibility of collaborating intensively with the DL research world, exchanging new ideas, experiences, and research results. It has succeeded in establishing strong collaborative links with the US DL research community, through the National Scientific Foundation (NSF), as well as with other research teams from countries outside the European Union (Russia, Czech Republic, Japan). It has also succeeded in arousing awareness within the European funding agencies of the priority DL research issues and has encouraged the creation and funding of DL projects.

Future Directions

The efforts of the ERCIM DLI have helped to change the DL scenario in Europe over the last few years. The research community has grown in an impressive way and in many application areas there is an increasing awareness that the building of very large heterogeneous digital information repositories, interconnected and accessible through global information infrastructures, requires R&D in the digital library domain. We have, thus, an application and industrial context that favours scientific and technological developments in this area. We feel that it is very important to maintain this momentum. It is thus our intention to continue and extend the activities conducted by DELOS through the creation of a Network of Excellence for Digital Libraries.

This Network should play a key role in the evolving DL scenario. It can promote an international agenda for future research activities in the DL domain which takes into account the most recent developments in the field. It can constitute a point of reference for all the DL projects funded by the 5th Framework programme of the European Commission by facilitating the exchange of experiences, the testing of technologies, and the evaluation of models, techniques and approaches. It will involve the application community in the technological advances, and study and test appropriate models to facilitate industrial exploitation. It will also create a dense network of relations with other international DL communities.

In order to achieve these objectives, the Network intends to:


DELOS public website: http://iei.pi.cnr.it/DELOS/
ERCIM Technical Reference Digital Library: http://www.iei.pi.cnr.it/DELOS/EDL/edl.htm

Please contact:

Costantino Thanos – IEI-CNR
Tel: +39 050 593 492
E-mail: thanos@iei.pi.cnr.it

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