Geo-referenced digital libraries: experienced problems of purpose and infrastructure.

Author:Liu, Ying


In a panel discussion at the 5th European Conference of Digital Libraries, Freeston (2001, p. 458) challenged, "what's holding up the development of georeferenced DLs [digital libraries] in advancing beyond collections of digital maps?" Is it, he continued,

  1. an aspect of cognition (e.g., understanding the meaning and usefulness of geospatial searching, display, and evaluation);

  2. culture (e.g., established ways of doing things and identification of geospatial indexing solely with GIS),

  3. a type of technology (e.g., geospatial search functionality and representation of spatial location); or,

  4. funding (e.g., magnitude and availability of funding needed to geo-reference items and redesign systems)?

    In the same year the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council (SHEFC) awarded 688,000 [pounds sterling] to Aberdeen Geo-referenced Digital Library Project (Aberdeen-ADL in Scotland (SHEFC, 2001) leading us to collaborate with Alexandria Digital Library (ADL in the US.

    It has been two years since then and, what is now holding up development in Aberdeen-ADL project? Research collaboration in coping with the complexity in the development is critical. Indeed, it is known that projects are often based on key funding initiatives. Over the past ten years digital library (DL) programs have been actively pursued in the US and the UK. As Rusbridge (1998, p.1) explains, projects in the two countries have been very different:

    [The US DL Initiative] has been mostly a large-scale computer science research programme. The participants aimed ... to be innovative and freethinking, leaving aside the constraints of existing practice. The results are exciting and extraordinarily interesting, but it is very hard to determine how many of these ideas might be effectively deployed in real life situations. By contrast, the eLib program (funded by the UK's Joint Information Systems Committee [JISC]) characterized itself right from the start as "development" rather than research. JISC does not fund research in the same way the National Science Foundation (NSF) does (or, for example, the UK Research Councils do). Rather, the mission of the JISC is to stimulate and enable the cost effective exploitation of information systems and to provide a high quality national network infrastructure for the UK higher education and research councils communities.

    Most recently, such discrepancies seem to remain pandemic. See, e.g., Greenstein (2002) conducted a survey of the digital library biography in the US; The NSDL (2003) intends to grow into the world's largest digital library of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics resources and services for education. However, this paper is not going to address how to establish a unified framework on interest of more collaborations that many individual researchers have proved to be absolutely crucial, see, e.g., Peterson (2001), Parry (2003), Smiths (2000), Poland (2000), Bunker (1999), to name just a few.

    Rather, the author's experiences warrant great concern that a strategic need alone is insufficient justification to launch the project; We have the problem of purpose, as Levy (2000) and Williams (1988) would say, and a problem of infrastructural commitment and a plan that enables us to foresee a reasonable likelihood of resources to establish a scalable infrastructure, so the research can be continued.

    We shall introduce the project in question in section 2. Before reporting the lessons learned, we shall explain a few infrastructural terms from the computing perspective in section 3. We shall then understand in section 4 that, ADL is essentially concerned with infrastructural problems and currently holds no content of the maps collected; Aberdeen ADL is based on strong research collaborations in areas of large databases and spatial image processing; We are concerned with the contents and their usages, but not the infrastructures, as infrastructures are not something we traditionally study. We shall also highlight our current and future work in section 5, and finally give conclusions in section 6.

    Although it is rare to report a project negatively, reporting lessons from a failure should be encouraged, whether from an author's own efforts or observations, in just as reflective and honest a manner as we might report success. The author believes that as much as one wants to report and hear about success, the truth is that we also often learn more from our failures. Knowing what not to do, and how to spot the warning signs when things begin to go wrong, can be vital skills. Also, lessons from failure can provide greater opportunities for learning and extracting knowledge on failed experiences.

    1. Background

      In May 2000 SHEFC funded Aberdeen-ADL for a strategy enabling us to collaborate with ADL and to investigate various issues surrounding the establishments of transferring digital library technologies from the US for collecting geo-referenced electronic items such as digital maps.

      ADL is a well known system, a product out of the six digital library projects funded by NSF, DARPA, and NASA in 1995. Its collection and services focus on geographical information: maps, images, geo-referenced data sets with text, and other information sources with links to geographic locations. Now ADL has been evolved to be ADEPT (Alexandria Digital Earth Prototype) by the second phase of the development (from 1999 to 2004) expanding ADL-usabilities into new fields, e.g., classroom based geo-referencing e-learning applications.

      In Aberdeen Scotland wide collaborations with our Scottish research partners have been established in areas of dynamic visualization, archiving methods, and landscape image processing based on our leading research in very large databases. The overall research strategy is the focus for establishing significant international collaboration between Aberdeen/(Scotland) and Santa Barbra (California) in the creation and standardization of geo-referenced information sources and services on the Web. We have brought the generous support of SUN Microsystems, who, through a combination of a 50% contribution on top of a 30% academic discount, have effectively offered almost 1M [pounds sterling] worth of hardware--the terabyte machine at not much more than a third of the standard price. But why this strategic vision just described is having difficulties to launch the project as it was originally proposed? To explain this, we need to review a few technical terms so as to put this argument in the right context.

    2. Definition of Terms

      3.1. Digital library

      In respect to the flow of information attributable to knowledge (Dretske,1981), the aim to develop a digital library system (Chen, 1998) is not different from the purpose of having a system of traditional library (Kemp, 1976):

  5. both make a provision of information to users by collecting items;

  6. both are the means for human communication by organizing the collected items;

  7. both depend for their very existence on the needs for the communication of knowledge in a social community;

    The two, however, clearly distinguish themselves by completely different technology origins--one consists of foremost printed matters with printing technology in origin; While the other is composed of foremost items existing only in digital forms in an origin of a computing technology.

    For convenience of our discussion, we regard the common set of purposes as library appearances.

    A digital library is an organization of digital items providing online services exchanging something knowledgeable about the items for a community.

    A digital library is a network of computer based systems in library appearances; how institutional it appears to be depends on what we want it to be. Currently most of recent advances in digital libraries mimic traditional library appearances which have provided many new opportunities as well as problems in information science research (Harter, 1997, Collier, 1997, Campbell, 2000, Keller, 2001, LIBER, 2002), such as research in organizing digitized and archived materials to preserve our cultural experiences, knowledge and treasures that we often find in art galleries, libraries, or museums, or digital publications through gateways, repositories, etc..

    But, while collecting a huge amount of observational data revealing the knowledge in subjects of earth sciences...

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