Digital Libraries Will Make Information More Accessible
Imagine walking into a library with all the books,
journals, reports, photos, maps, videos and reference information you
could possibly want. Now imagine doing that from the convenience of your
home or office.
Researchers working on the Digital Libraries Initiative projects expect
that their research advances will radically change the way individuals
and organizations gather and use information.
The initiative is a joint venture between NSF, the Department of Defense's
Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Aeronautics and Space
Admini-stration. It's a major project involving the combined efforts of
research teams from six universities and more than 75 partner organizations.
It's also timely. "There is explosive growth in the quantity and means
of access to digital information and this promises to be of great value
to many diverse communities," says NSF's Digital Libraries Program Director
Stephen Griffin. Right now, however, this digital information is not a
library. It's more like an office with too many files. Some files are
useful, others aren't, and sorting through them is often time-consuming
In addition, access to the information is often limited by the computer's
ability to search. Computerized search mechanisms are literalists; they
answer what they are asked. For example, a query about scientific papers
on the northern lights may come up empty because the scientific name for
the lights is aurora borealis. A human librarian, however, would immediately
know to check both.
The human librarian conducts a semantic search, checking for what the
patron means as well as what was said. Researchers at the digital libraries
projects are working on technology to do just that, says Bruce Schatz,
Director of the Digital Library Project at the University of Illinois,
Urbana-Champaign. "The information retrieval of the next century will
be far more semantic than syntactic, searching concepts instead of words."
Digital libraries research teams are also working on systems not readily
available at a university campus.
At Carnegie Mellon University, researchers are creating a 1,000-hour
video library aimed, in part, at K-12 schools. A keyword, such as "rhinoceros," will
trigger a search and selection of all the related clips.
At the University of California at Santa Barbara, investigators on Project
Alexandria work with geo-spacial information, or maps. Project Director
Terry Smith's team addresses such issues as the downloading time of each
map and scale compatibility between maps.
Researchers are also working at the University of California at Berkeley,
University of Michigan and Stanford University. All of the universities
will complete their four-year cooperative agreements in 1998, says NSF's
Griffin. Several of the projects are expected to have widely used test
systems by then.
To learn more about this initiative, visit NSF's Exhibit Center in
Arlington, Va. Or check out the project's Web site at http://dli.grainger.uiuc.edu/national.htm