How to dip a toe into the ocean of Digital Librarianship?
April 8, 2011 9:09 AM   Subscribe

Librarians of Metafilter: Let's say I have a week to orient myself to the world of digital librarianship. What should I read?

Background: Assume that I have worked in an academic library on a few small-scale digital projects (various flavors of XML-based metadata encoding) and have some PHP skills, but do not have a library science degree. I'm looking for a pretty broad "orientation," and don't expect to master the field by reading a few articles or blogs, but I'd like to start learning more about digital librarianship beyond my little corner of the field. I'm looking for both "essential" readings that lay the groundwork for the field in some way and "provocative" articles or blogs that highlight recent developments or matters of contention—or anything else you think I should read.
posted by Orinda to Education (8 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
D-Lib Magazine is online and free. A lot of the DL research community have published here. It has research articles, reviews of digital collections, etc.
posted by carter at 9:19 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Historywise, As We May Think, by Vannevar Bush (The Atlantic, 1945) is a fun place to start (especially if you go for the sensationalized LIFE magazine version).

Seconding D-Lib, and First Monday is often relevant as well.
posted by activitystory at 9:47 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, Bill Arms' early book on DLs (MIT Press) is now available in online form. Caveat: it was written a long time ago - and Arms says that it is dated - but I think that many of the wider points it makes are still generally relevant, especially in terms of overall information architecture and purpose of DLs.

More piecemeal stuff later, as I think of it.
posted by carter at 10:02 AM on April 8, 2011

Best answer: The toughest and most often misunderstood parts of DL are the legal and copyright:

Copyright and Cultural Institutions: Guidelines for U.S. Libraries, Archives, and Museums [PDF, fulltext link]

Here is the full video of a recent conference (VuStuff)that gives a broad survey of the complex environment.

Here is a longer and extended set of initial readings that I use:

There are many, many, things to read about Digital Libraries, both on the web and in print. Much of the most timely information is on web, but much the philosophy and of course the longer and older arguments are still presented in a print format.

In narrowing down what to read first, an immediate problem presents itself as there are a number of definitional problems with the concept of a "Digital Library"; it means many things to different stake holders: computer and information science folks, librarians, museum curators and archivists, commercial content vendors, and of course the end users. It can contain text, images, sounds, data sets, and videos, even 3d objects. The lines between "Digital Library", "database", "e-journal archive", the "web" blur constantly. The definition is also changing as ownership of the concept is being contested by these different groups and as technology is being changed and computer capacities increased.

A good starting point for the Library Science viewpoint is the homepage of the Digital Library Federation.

It might be useful to browse around this site and look at their sundry documents for an hour or so. Especially relevant are the DLF Benchmark for Faithful Digital Reproductions of Monographs and Serials and the Registry of Digital Masters Record Creation Guidelines.
The trade journal for the Digital Library world, as defined again by the Library Science community, is D-LIB Magazine. You might want to spend an hour reading the current issue, and reading or browsing the backfile for any articles that may catch your eye:

Two articles you should not miss reading in D-LIB are:
"Digital Library @ Villanova University", and "Using Wikipedia to Extend Digital Collections".

The current largest and most publicized Digital Library is the Google Books program. It is not the format that all libraries are following, but some of the world's largest libraries have already signed on with Google to digitize their collections and make them available online in Google Books. Google Books is also evolving as new features are being added, see the Metafilter discussion about the two Google Books features : "Popular Passages" and "Share and Enjoy" at: One of the biggest criticisms about Google Books is the lack of quality control (QC) in the images and in the choice of editions to digitize. You should read the recent criticism "Inheritance and loss? A brief survey of Google Books" by Paul Duguid. The journal where this article appears, First Monday, is also a very good source for following developments in the Internet, and as a peer-reviewed journal, is one of the places to find a more thoughtful and careful analysis of trends and developments in the information revolution. Read each new issue. Another very good article about the Google Books program is by the head of Harvard's library system Robert Darton, see "Google & the Future of Books". One last Google Books article: Google's Book Search: A Disaster for Scholars, By Geoffrey Nunberg.

Looking forward, one possible future where the wholesale recording of personal experience is commonplace and human memory itself is supplemented by external computer aid is known as "Memories for Life" or M4L - take a brief look at one view of this concept at: From the "About Us" section: "It is now possible to store digital versions of life’s memories. As Alan Dix playfully noted, it takes 100 kbits/second to get high quality audio and video. If we imagine someone with a camera strapped to his or her head for 70 years (2.2 × 109 seconds), that is something of the order of 27.5 tetrabytes of storage required, or about 450 60gb iPods. And if Moore’s Law continues to hold over those 70 years (admittedly a large assumption!), it would be possible to store a continuous record of a life on a grain of sand." Trends can be seen as moving elements of society in this direction, as social networking sites like Flickr, Facebook, and still Myspace which enable users to host vast and share collections of sometimes very personal digital photographs, and users to share videos on sites like YouTube. Could these sites be considered forms of "Digital Libraries"?

And finally for deep background on past efforts by the Library Science community to preserve and provide access to rare paper materials (in this case newspapers via microfilm), I would encourage you when you have time to read or skim the print book "Double-Fold " by Nicholson Baker. A good summary of Baker's argument along with a counter-argument is Richard Cox's "The Great Newspaper Caper: Backlash in the Digital Age".

Quoting Cox: "Nicholson Baker might think of himself as a Greek hero, calling others to join in his epic quest to save America's past. But, at best, Baker will only save a miniscule portion and perhaps even divert the public's attention from the greater issues facing the preservation of the books, documents, newspapers, and other artifacts of the past. Baker reminds me, unfortunately, of Sisyphus."
posted by mfoight at 10:45 AM on April 8, 2011 [5 favorites]

For the nitty-gritty of digitization projects, Moving Theory Into Practice (by Anne Kenney and Oya Rieger), remains a fantasic foundation despite being now over ten years old. The online tutorial is OK, but I prefer the book, which is available in PDF from OCLC.

On preview, mfoight just rolled out a lot of good stuff so I'll stop here. Tell us more about what kind of digital libraries, and/or what aspect of digital library work you are interested in.
posted by alb at 10:51 AM on April 8, 2011

mfoight has a good point above regarding the definition of a DL. This can really vary, especially between folks with a library background, and folks with a computer science background.

More stuff:

Clifford Lynch of the Coalition for Networked Information has written extensively on issues surrounding digital libraries and academic work; many of his talks and papers are available on his web site.

Dan Greenstein (U California) gave a good talk recently at UNC on "The University and its Digital Libraries," you can watch it on Vimeo.

Another good free resource for background is the European DELOS Reference Model for DL Management.
posted by carter at 11:08 AM on April 8, 2011

Response by poster: In narrowing down what to read first, an immediate problem presents itself as there are a number of definitional problems with the concept of a "Digital Library" . . .

Thank you for pointing this out, mfoight. Part of my purpose is to grasp what other people have in mind when they talk about "digital libraries" or "digital librarianship." But I guess I am most interested in the issues involved in building, preserving, and providing access to repositories of digital content, especially (but not exclusively) digital representations of physical objects such as books and archival material (letters, photographs, etc).
posted by Orinda at 1:14 PM on April 8, 2011

Jessamyn's book.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 1:57 PM on April 8, 2011

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