Digital libraries: developing countries, universal access, and information for all
TL;DR: It is illustrated how currently available technology empowers users to build and publish information collections, and making digital libraries open to all, as conventional public libraries are, presents interesting challenges of universal access.
Abstract: Digital libraries are large, organized collections of information objects Well-designed digital library software has the potential to enable non-specialist people to conceive, assemble, build, and disseminate new information collections This has great social import because, by democratizing information dissemination, it provides a counterbalance to disturbing commercialization initiatives in the information and entertainment industries This talk reviews trends in today's information environment, introduces digital library technology, and explores applications of digital libraries—including their use for disseminating humanitarian information in developing countries We illustrate how currently available technology empowers users to build and publish information collections Making digital libraries open to all, as conventional public libraries are, presents interesting challenges of universal access
Summary (3 min read)
- Digital libraries are large, organized collections of information objects.
- Perhaps the most striking feature of the digital library field, at least from an academic point of view, is the inherent tension between two extremes: the very fast pace of technological change and the very long-term view that libraries must take.
- It sometimes happens that technological advances in developing countries leapfrog those in developed ones.
- This occurs because established infrastructure, a strong and necessarily conservative force, is absent.
- More intellectually demanding tasks such as metadata assignment and collection building will not be far behind.
- To counter the perceived threat, the entertainment industry is promoting “digital rights management” (DRM) schemes that permit a degree of control over what users can do that goes far beyond the traditional legal bounds of copyright.
- Fortunately, perhaps, standardization and compatibility issues are delaying consumer adoption of e-books.
- One can envisage a scenario where publishers establish a system of commercial, payper-view, libraries for e-books and refuse public libraries access to books in a form that can be circulated.
- These new directions present their society with puzzling challenges, and it would be rash to predict what society’s response will be.
2.2 Public information
- In parallel with publishers’ moves to reposition books as technological artifacts with refined and flexible control over how they can be used, an opposing trend has emerged: the ready availability of free information on the Internet.
- Of course, the world-wide web is an unreliable source of enlightenment, and undiscriminating use is dangerous—and widespread.
- But search engines and other portals have enormously increased their ability to locate information that is at least ostensibly relevant to any given question.
- Many social groups, non-profit societies and charities make it their business to create sites and collect and organize information there.
- The International Telecommunications Union’s World Summit on the Information Society (Geneva in 2003 and Tunis in 2005) is promoting a global discussion of the fundamental changes that are being brought about by the transformation from an industrial to an information society, and confront the disparities of access to information between the industrialized countries and the developing world.
2.3 Libraries and their role
- Librarians strive to enable the free flow of information.
- Librarians, the traditional gatekeepers of knowledge, are in danger of being bypassed, their skills ignored, their advice unsought.
- Infomine contains descriptions and links to a wealth of scholarly and educational Internet resources, each of which has been selected and described by a professional academic librarian who is a specialist in the subject and in resource description generally.
- Meanwhile, however, the situation in the developing world is dire.
- According to the 1999 UN Human Development Report , whereas a US medical library subscribes to about 5,000 journals, the Nairobi University Medical School Library, long regarded as a flagship center in East Africa, last year received just 20 journals (compared with 300 a decade before).
2.4 Open-source software
- Open source software is a powerful ally for librarians who wish to extend liberal traditions of information access.
- Open source projects make source code freely available for others to view, modify, and adapt; and the very nature of the licensing agreement prevents the software from being appropriated by proprietary vendors.
- But the open-source movement is more than just a vehicle for librarians to use: its link with library traditions goes much deeper.
- Public libraries and open source software both enshrine the same philosophy: to promote learning and understanding through the dissemination of knowledge.
- Both enjoy a sense of community, on the one hand the kind of inter-institutional cooperation exemplified by inter-library loan and on the other teams of designers and programmers that frequently cross national boundaries.
3 Disseminating humanitarian information with DLs
- Digital libraries provide perhaps the first really compelling raison d’être for computing technology in the developing world.
- Priorities in these countries include health, agriculture, nutrition, hygiene, sanitation, and safe drinking water.
- Rather than recapitulating parts of the above-cited paper, the authors describe four new ones (Fig. 1).
- It includes titles that all these organizations have published on the subjects of energy for sustainable development— technical guidelines, journals and newsletters, case studies, manuals, reports, and other training material.
- The Health Library for Disasters, a collaboration between the emergency and disaster programs of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), with the participation of many other organizations, contains over 300 technical and scientific documents on disaster reduction and public health issues related to emergencies and humanitarian assistance.
4 Universal access
- Universal access to digital libraries presents huge challenges to software engineers.
- The Greenstone digital library software  allows us to glimpse some of the issues.
- The authors summarize some technical details in the next subsection, before turning to more interesting questions of access for readers, collection builders, and international users.
4.1 Platforms and distribution
- Most digital libraries are accessed over the web.
- In many environments in developing countries, web access is insufficient and the system must run locally.
- And if people are to build and control their own libraries, a centralized solution is inadequate: the software must run on their own computers.
- All versions of Windows are supported, from 3.1 up.
- In an international cooperative effort established in August 2000 with UNESCO and the Belgium-based Human Info NGO, Greenstone is being distributed widely in developing countries with the aim of empowering users, particularly in universities, libraries, and other public service institutions, to build their own digital libraries.
4.2 Access for readers
- Any Greenstone collection can be converted into a self-contained Windows CD-ROM that includes the Greenstone server software itself (in a version that runs right down to Windows 3.1) and an integrated installation package.
- The installation procedure has been thoroughly honed to ensure that only the most basic of computer skills are needed to install and run a collection under Windows.
- Collections in Arabic, Chinese, Cyrillic, English, French, Spanish, German, Hindi, and Maori are publicly available (see nzdl.org).
- The Greenstone web site (greenstone.org) links to sites that contain further examples.
- The entire Greenstone interface has been translated into a range of languages, and the interface language can be changed by the user as they browse from the Preferences page.
4.3 Access for librarians: building new collections
- Effective human development blossoms from empowerment rather than gifting.
- As the Chinese proverb says, “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach him to fish and he will eat for the rest of his days.”.
- This will allow developing countries to participate actively in their information society, rather than observing it from outside.
- Then a series of panels guides the user through the processes required to build the collection.
- Fig. 2d shows a page from the newly built collection, in which source documents are listed by artist.
- By allowing people to easily create and disseminate large information collections, digital libraries extend the applications of modern technology in socially responsible directions, and counter a possible threat towards the commercialization of information in line with practices developed by the entertainment industry.
- But the Internet does not really extend to developing countries, and the developing world is missing out on the prodigious amount of basic, everyday human information that the Web provides, and its enormous influence on promoting and internationalizing business opportunities.
- Universal access means that interfaces should be available in the world’s languages, but one does not want the burden of translation to stifle the development of new functionality and features.
- Opening digital libraries to the illiterate is a radical and potentially revolutionary benefit of new interface technology.
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Cites background from "Digital libraries: developing count..."
...Witten (2004a, 2005) appropriately described “empowering” in the context of the digital library as using currently available technology to allow users to build and publish information collections, making digital libraries open to all, as conventional public libraries are....
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Q1. What are the contributions in "Digital libraries: developing countries, universal access, and information for all" ?
This has great social import because, by democratizing information dissemination, it provides a counterbalance to disturbing commercialization initiatives in the information and entertainment industries. This talk reviews trends in today ’ s information environment, introduces digital library technology, and explores applications of digital libraries—including their use for disseminating humanitarian information in developing countries.
Q2. What have the authors stated for future works in "Digital libraries: developing countries, universal access, and information for all" ?
By allowing people to easily create and disseminate large information collections, digital libraries extend the applications of modern technology in socially responsible directions, and counter a possible threat towards the commercialization of information in line with practices developed by the entertainment industry. As far as the developing world is concerned, digital libraries may prove to be a “ killer app ” for computer technology—that is, an application that makes a sustained market for a promising but under-utilized technology. It should be possible to create digital library collections intended for people in oral cultures, who may be illiterate or semi-literate. Opening digital libraries to the illiterate is a radical and potentially revolutionary benefit of new interface technology.