Towards the European Digital Library - Introduction to the Special Theme

by Ingeborg Torvik Sølvberg and Costantino Thanos

The recent events in the European scene concerning the digital library field - the initiatives announced by Google and Yahoo aiming at making accessible vast online libraries of books, and the European Commission's plan for a European Digital Library recently unveiled - have put 'digital libraries' in the center of the debate and interest of the European research community.

That all citizens, anywhere, anytime, should have access to Internet-connected digital devices to search all of human knowledge, regardless of barriers of time, place, culture or language has also been the vision of DELOS, the European Network of Excellence on Digital Libraries, since its inception. DELOS believes that, in the near future, networked virtual libraries will enable anyone from their home, school or office to access the knowledge contained in the digital collections created by traditional libraries, museums, archives, universities, governmental agencies, specialized organizations, and individuals around the world. These new libraries will offer digital versions of traditional library, museum and archive holdings including text, documents, video, sound and images. But they will also provide powerful new technological capabilities that enable users to refine their requests, analyze the results, access collections in other languages, share resources, and work collaboratively. No matter where the digital information resides physically, sophisticated search software can find it and present it to the user on demand.

Having said this, we are not talking about a 'googlization' of digital libraries. Digital libraries should be much more than search engine portals. They should extend traditional libraries dramatically. They should provide services, including search, that facilitate the use of their resources by their target community.

The European Digital Library will be a major step towards making this vision a reality. The European Digital Library should support the interoperability of the different eContent holders - where by interoperability we intend the ability to store and retrieve information across collections in diverse media and languages, administered independently. Clearly, techniques for querying across languages that also take cultural differences into account must be available and the results of cross-language searches must be presented in a form that is easily comprehensible to the user.

The European Digital Library must also support the storage and preservation of its digital collections. Long-term storage technologies and efficient procedures for migration of contents and processes within a digital library to new environments should be developed so that they remain available to the user. The European Digital Library must also be able to manage complex intellectual property rights which will involve both legal and cost issues.
We are convinced that the time for the European Digital Library has come. The European digital library community has carried out a relevant amount of work during the last years. DELOS, in particular, has engaged the major European teams and expertise to help this become a reality and is ready to work with the eContent holders to make this vision a reality.

This issue stands in witness of the considerable amount of research activities carried out by the European digital library community and is organized in six sections. The first contains five invited articles. It begins with a description by Yannis Ioannidis of the long term vision for digital libraries that has been developed by DELOS during the last five years. The next article is by Elisabeth Niggemann who presents the views of CENL (Conference of European National Libraries) on the European Digital Library. Edward Fox then makes some considerations about the future European Digital Library on the basis of a theory-based approach to the field of digital libraries (the 5S model). The fourth article is co-authored by John Lervik and Svein Arne Brygfjeld and focuses on search engine technology applied in digital libraries. The final contribution in this section is by Jane Hunter and describes the shifting landscape of digital library R&D in Australia.

The rest of this section contains a selection of submitted articles on a variety of research topics within the Digital Library domain. We have grouped these articles under the following headings: digital library architectures and related concepts; ontology and metadata issues; information access and multimedia; repositories and preservation. The final sub-section presents three new projects addressing different aspects of the digital library paradigm. Overall we feel that these articles give a good picture of current trends in digital library R&D not only in ERCIM institutes but in the European research community at large.


Please contact:
Ingeborg Torvik Sølvberg, NTNU, Norway

Costantino Thanos, ISTI-CNR, Italy
Tel.: +39 050 3152910