People in digital libraries

Think about your local library: besides the books, magazines, newspapers, DVDs, and computers, the library’s key ingredient is people. Many are patrons (readers), but there are also several librarians, without whom there would be no library for the patrons to patronize. There are other staff as well, working behind the scenes: librarians in the cataloging and acquisitions department, IT personnel in the technical services department, and education specialists in the outreach department.

The emphasis on people is a fundamental principle of contemporary librarianship, and stands in contrast to medieval librarianship, whose job it was to protect, revere, and even chain up the books. Ran-ganathan’s classic work The Five Laws of Library Science opens with this quotation from Manu, an ancient Hindu philosopher and lawmaker:

To carry knowledge to the doors of those that lack it … even to give away the whole earth cannot equal that form of service.

What an inspirational sentiment for budding digital librarians with a social conscience! Ranganathan himself was an influential librarian and educator who is considered the father of library science in India. Librarians worldwide apply his five laws as the foundations of their philosophy:

• Books are for use.

• Every reader his [or her] book.

• Every book its reader.

• Save the reader’s time.

• The library is a growing organism.

Today we live in a far more complex world—you can glimpse how much more complex by looking at the American Library Association’s Bill of Rights in Figure 2.1. Nonetheless Ranganathan’s principles remain at the center of librarians’ professional values. As you can see, they are as much about people as they are about books.

The first step in building a successful digital library, therefore, is to understand the people involved. Who are the likely readers? Why would they want to access the content? Do they need help or advice? Who will install, maintain, and update the digital library software? Who will look after the hardware that holds the actual documents? Who will cope with computer and network upgrades—and who will monitor their effects? How are the traditional roles of librarians affected by new technology? Can the users of digital libraries actively contribute to their development?

Library ‘BICC of’ Rights

The American Library Association affirms that all libraries are forums for information and ideas, and that the following basic policies should guide their services.

I. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.

II. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.

III. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.

IV. Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.

V. A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.

VI. Libraries which make exhibit spaces and meeting rooms available to the public they serve should make such facilities available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use.

Other topics discuss the technical details of file formats, metadata standards, digitization of material, and document representation. Here, as we begin with the most important element, the people, we need to define the various roles that people play in digital libraries. The transition from physical to digital removes many geographical constraints, which has an enormous effect on the people involved and introduces a host of new issues that traditional librarians could hardly imagine. Next we consider the central concept of "identity": What does the new librarian know, or need to know, about who the users are and what they are doing?

The fact that users and librarians no longer interact face to face is an important change in library operation that is discussed in Section 2.3. In Section 2.4 we look at the issues that are raised when working with digital rather than physical material, both for readers and for librarians. Finally, in Section 2.5, we discuss what could be the most exciting new development in information access in the future: user contributions. Previously, users were severely discouraged from making contributions to library material: readers who contributed to (wrote in) library books were considered to be "defacing" the books, which had wholly negative connotations. But because the digital world offers selective access to altered material, defacing has been rebranded as "enhancing." The digital world embraces the ability of users to contribute their expertise by making corrections and adding annotations, tags, ratings, and even entirely new material.

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