Book Review: Digital Libraries - Integrating Content and Systems
We are not short of information on digital libraries and the technologies involved in building them. There have been multiple papers in many journals, of which Ariadne itself is key, many books and, now, many blogs enthusiastically informing us of the technical directions it is best to take. Nevertheless the constant evolution of available technologies, makes book publishing in the field a tricky business, risking irrelevance prior to release. However, it is valuable to be able to place markers along the evolutionary way and recognise the technical approaches that can be consolidated and built upon with an assurance that they will be around for some time to come. As digital library practice matures it is also valuable to take a slice in time and reflect on future directions based on established practice.
This book seeks to and does both of these, focusing on tools and strategies. The chapters provide information on technologies that have become established, as well as looking ahead from these to the wider implications of applying the technologies in the long term. As such it is both a 'state of the art' review and a guide to planning for the future. Its presumed audience would be those working in libraries on the IT side - digital library integrators to use the authors' suggested title. But the authors stress that this limit should not be unduly emphasised: the book will also help managers in planning for the future generally; it will help non-technically involved librarians to think through what they would like to achieve; and it will help students of library and information science to a better understanding of the field they are entering. As indicated in the book, libraries and IT go hand in hand nowadays, and digital library planning by all in the sector will have a major impact on how libraries are both delivered and perceived.
The first three chapters set the scene for the rest of the book to build on. Chapter 1 addresses the skills required and opportunities available in building digital libraries. The challenge outlined is to recognise the value of infrastructure in underpinning digital libraries and the value of collaboration to help provide it. There is also a need to recognise the potential of innovation on a small scale, and the ability to address specific user needs. The authors are keen to highlight not only the potential of libraries to build digital services but also their existing capability and how they might make the most of this.
Chapters 2 and 3 provide information on relevant technologies, from networks and XHTML to the standards that can be used such as SRU/W and OpenURL. These chapters, whilst useful lists for reference, are possibly the weakest parts of the book, though through no fault of the authors. Listing technologies and describing them is never easy - how much or how little information should one provide? Some references are given to Web sites for additional information, though these are limited: this is a factor throughout the book and frustrates when it would have been useful to leap off and discover more.
The book comes into its own as the chapters develop from this start. Chapter 4 on authentication, identity management and security is a useful overview of possible options and the components involved, even mentioning Athens! It is nice to see a focus on identity management, a piece of infrastructure that is currently appearing on the horizons of institutions in this country, and its benefits for libraries. The value of maintaining a single source of identity management to service different applications is high, preventing passwords from becoming outdated and removing the need to log in for every different service used.
Chapter 5 describes the ways in which digital libraries can interface with the integrated library system (ILS). The authors are clear that this is not simple, as the various products do not make it easy. But where possible options ranging from replicating human interfaces through to web services can be applied to good effect. There is some consideration of the future of the ILS, as has been frequently seen elsewhere as well in recent years, focusing on the ability of the ILS to become more componentised.
One particular component that may play a major role is Electronic Resource Management, the ability to manage digital resources and provide access to them according to the licences involved. Chapter 6 looks at the emergence of this technology whilst wisely making it clear that ERM is not just an ILS bolt-on but a valuable approach to managing resources generally. Libraries have a number of options for providing ERM functionality (ILS module, standalone, based around data provided by a third party, e.g., Serials Solutions) and this area of digital library development will no doubt develop further in the next few years.
ERM, of course, focuses on metadata about resources that are usually sourced externally to the library. Digital Asset Management (DAM) addresses complete resources that are often sourced internally, though the authors also make it clear they anticipate more external content to be harvested for local searching rather then being accessed remotely in the future. Whether external or internal, there is an increasing amount of digital content that needs to be managed if the library is to deliver it effectively. The chapter addresses three levels at which this can be achieved: a repository for each material type, a repository that can manage more than one type, and the comprehensive one-stop shop model for all types. As with ERM, early developments have provided useful functionality that will develop rapidly in the near future.
Chapter 8 addresses functionality that has become more established within libraries: integration with content providers through the use of OpenURL linking and federated searching. Both provide more direct integration with external content, though there remain, widely aired, reservations about the potential of federated searching truly to deliver what the user needs.
Chapter 9 looks at library portals whilst recognising that the term 'portal' is as much a useful term for encapsulating digital library provision as a 'thing' in its own right. It considers three types: the simple portal of a web page with relevant links; the 'well-integrated' portal providing federated searching and a variety of links from this using OpenURL and RSS; and the 'well-rounded' portal, which is described as more of a strategy to deliver library services within the wider environment the users sit within. It is a shame the book does not examine this in greater detail. All the topics discussed are of great value to a library, and there is clear recognition of the benefits to be gained by collaborating with others in an institution towards the provision of certain infrastructural components (e.g., authentication, networking, servers, etc.).
Chapter 10 looks ahead and emphasises that library technology is not just for library IT staff, but influences everyone connected with a library. This affects the skills required and the teams of people that can best achieve the desired goals.
This book is very much focused on how digital libraries are delivered by the library. As the Internet becomes the primary source of information and content for most users the library risks losing its position as the main institutional information service deliverer. By taking the library out into the wider environment, instead of expecting users to come to the library (even digitally), the added value libraries can provide can be better emphasised. Notwithstanding the challenges involved, though, the authors finish on a high note, recognising that today is also a tremendously exciting time to be involved in digital libraries and the tools within these. Amen to that!