Library Science

Introduction to Digital Libraries

This summer I’m enrolled in a couple of courses in the UNT Information Science department as part of the Digital Curation and Data Management certificate. For those of you who know me as a “secret librarian,” I am now diving into some of the practices, techniques, tools, and concepts in library sciences. Introduction to digital libraries is the first course I am in, and this introduction reminds me how much of the internet has emerged from how we organize, collect, and represent objects for users to access online. I hope to share some of my course work and learning experiences (by blog, of course), and perhaps even put out a few visual examples or request for the new platforms and spaces I am experimenting/creating with this term (e.g. GIMP, Omeka, etc.).

Although information can be gathered and curated online, this does not make it a digital library. Library and information scholars have been thinking about the theoretical foundations, technical infrastructures, digital objects, online collections, and organization/representation of information long before the existence of the web. Today, it might be a simple click to find information online; however, these search engines are built on some of these procedures and considerations involved in digitizing objects and planning for access of these items, services, and systems online.

“Consider a future device … in which an individual stores all his[/her/their] books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his [her/their] memory” (Bush, 1945).

The Digital Library Initiative (DLI) I and II were heavily influenced by a number of computer science and STEM organizations, specifically National Science Foundation (NSF), continued work with the ARPANET with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) with ARPANET, and progress of information retrieval systems between 1965 and 1990 from computer/information scientists. The DLI in 1994 launched what digital libraries are today, which also represents the following terms: electronic library, virtual library, hybrid library, and library without walls (Calhoun, 2014). These digital library initiatives were based on the information science infrastructure development to support technical issues for operating these systems on computer networks to include “interoperability, portability, data exchange, scalability, federation, extensibility and open network architectures” (Borgman, 1999, p. 236). The move toward automation and digitization of library institutions and services (e.g. libraries, museums, and archives) could not have been completed without these advancements in computing and development of interfaces to interact with networked technologies.

The Digital Library (DL) offer digital services and distributed knowledge to meet the needs of users in electronic format. Early DL initiatives were initiated within developing nations to offer access and meet the needs of organizations (Isah, Mushewa, Serema, & Kenosi, 2014).  Digital libraries (DLs) provide open systems and services to advance
knowledge and culture; organize collections of digital content and objects; and use an architecture that supports a repository accessible by search with services to connect users to resources through user-friendly interfaces (Calhoun, 2014). DLs will curate items within a set scope and have specific requirements for items they include within a collection.

One example of a DL is the Digital Public Library of America ( that hosts a wealth of information, archives, government documents, and primary source sets online. A recent addition to their online collection is the Mueller Report, which is available for all to access digitally. Typically, DLs provide electronic resources that are constructed, collected, and organized by and for a community of users (Borgman, 1999). Based on suggestions from Candela et al. (2007), here are a few of the attributes of a DL:

  • Virtual organization of electronic resources
  • Organization of digital library collections
  • Preservation and management rich digital content
  • Specialized community support for digital objects/collections
  • Digitization of library objects in digital format for books, journals, music, art, museum collections, etc.
  • Access to library resources over a distributed network
  1. World Digital Library. A source for manuscripts, rare books, films, maps and more in multilingual format.
  2. Universal Digital Library. A collection of one million books.
  3. Project Gutenberg. More than 33,000 e-books to read and download.
  4. Bartleby. An immense collection of books for consultation, including fiction, essay and poetry.
  5. ibiblio. E-books, magazines, academic essays, software, music and radio.
  6. Google Books. More than 100,000 books for consultation, download or on-line purchase.
  7. Internet Archive: The largest digital library for downloading e-books and audio-books for free.
  8. Open Library: More than one million e-books of classic literature to download.

A library collection is defined as “an accumulation of information resources developed by information professionals intended for a user community or a set of communities” Lee, 2000, p. 1106). A major function of a traditional library collection is to facilitate information seeking by providing its users with convenient access to relevant information resources (Buckland, Gorman, & Gorman, 1992). These resources might be books, reference documents, serials, rare books, government files, special collections/artifacts, and/or media objects. A collection is the complete accumulation of books, materials, objects (physical and digital), that are accessible within the library.

To preserve items within library collections, archives, and museums it is necessary to reformat these objects through digitization, that is, to create digital objects. The 1990s saw the emergence of this digitization standards, principles, and practices for how to digitally reformat texts, books, pictorial images, collections, and other projects and the field of digitization specialization has expanded beyond libraries and into cultural heritage organizations/communities. To ensure a set of principles for the digital libraries’ preservation role, managed collections require that digital objects selected are accessible and available for long-term resource needs (Deegan & Tanner, 2002, p. 22).

Digital objects now broaden this term, as tangibility and ownership offer the opportunity to provide digital collections for library users. Now information and items are directly accessible in electronic format, so the term collections now apply to digital collections. Lee (2000, p. 1106) believes the function of collections needs a fresh examination to determine the access means in context to the user’s point of view to further understand and better support how collections facilitate information seeking. These digital collections are often a set of digital and multimedia resources that can be owned, accessed, curated, and/or shared within a digital library, that have organized digital object using metadata to describe the individual objects and the overall collection details. Based on technological advancement and possibilities with digital collections, a library collection often reflects the characteristics and interconnectivity of the information world to ensure information-seeking as contextual and interactive with a user-centered design approach (Lee, 2000, p. 1111).

Collections in Digital Libraries: these are a set of digital and multimedia information resources which are building blocks that consist of an organized assembly of digital information objects, metadata describing those objects, and metadata describing the overall collection. These group of objects that are not necessarily physically owned and sustained by the library in a collection; however, they have “a group of information resources, a defined user community, a collection development policy statement, and an integrated retrieval system” (Lee, 2000, p. 111). The digital collections are a balance of the user and institutional interests that typically reflect the priorities and impact these collections might have for sustainability over time (Miller, 2015). To build a good digital collection with purpose, you need to provide an overview of the major components and activities; identify existing resources that support the development of practices; and encourage community participation for ongoing development to build the collection (NISO, 2007, p. 1).

Here are a few of the “library” listed books I am reading or I recommend to read:

  • Biblio TECH by John Plafrey
  • The Top Technologies Every Librarian Needs to Know
  • Ways of Curating by Hans Ulrich Obrist
  • The Library Book by Susan Orlean
  • What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly

What books about the library or library/information science recommendations do you have for me? Please share!

BONUS LISTEN: from a recent 99% Invisible podcast, Episode No. 354: Weeding is Fundamental, I recently about Collection Management: “Collection size and scope, as determined by holdings counts, particular strengths, and unique materials, were formerly understood in relation to institutional mission and programs” (Horava, 2010, p.142). Johnson (2009) notes how collection management was designed to include the development practices and support for collections, specifically with regards to the decisions about reviewing, retention, and evaluation of a collection e.g. weeding, cancelling serials, storage, and preservation.


Borgman, C. L. (1999). What are digital libraries? Competing visions. Retrieved from

Buckland, M. K., Gorman, M., & Gorman, M. (1992). Redesigning library services: a manifesto (Vol. 19). Chicago, IL: American Library Association.

Bush, V. (1945, July). As we may think. The Atlantic. Retrieved from

Calhoun, K. (2014). Emergence and definitions of digital libraries. In Exploring Digital Libraries: Foundations, Practice, Prospects. ALA Neal-Schuman.

Candela, L., Castelli, Y. I., Ross, S., Thanos, C., Pagano, P., Koutrika, G., … & Schuldt, H. (2007). Setting the foundations of digital libraries. D-Lib Magazine, 13(3/4), 1082-9873.

Harmon, E. (2015, October 19). When you work in the open, everyone can be a collaborator. Electronic Frontier Foundation. Retrieved from

Horava, T. (2010). Challenges and possibilities for collection management in a digital age. Library Resources & Technical Services, 54(3), 142-152.

Johnson, P. (2009). Fundamentals of collection development and management, 1st Edition. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.

Isah, A., Mushewa, A., Serema, B., & Kenosi, L. (2015). Analyzing digital library initiatives: 5S theory perspective. New Review of Academic Librarianship, 21(1), 68-82.

Lee, H. (2000). What is a collection? Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 51(12), 1106-1113. doi: 10.1002/1097-4571

Mills, A. (2015). User impact on selection, digitization, and the development of digital special collections. New Review of Academic Librarianship, 21(2), 160-169.