Preface to the 1999 Edition

Four years ago, a group of us created D-Lib Magazine, a monthly periodical that has become the voice of digital library research and implementation. We started D-Lib Magazine because digital libraries are bringing together people from numerous disciplines who know little about each other. Our aim was to create a magazine that would inform people of the vast array of expertise that is feeding this field. Computer scientists are often unaware of the deep understanding of information that librarians have developed over the years. Librarians and publishers may not know that the Internet pioneers have been managing online information for decades. Both communities are vaguely aware that their fields are subject to external economic and legal forces, but have only limited knowledge of the implications.

To scan D-Lib Magazine over the first few years shows how prescient this vision was. Articles range from reports on the latest metadata workshop, to implementation projects at the Library of Congress, user interface principles applied to search and retrieval, a historic review of Z39.50, a digital library of Japanese folk tales, the JSTOR approach to legal issues, or a description of methods for handling alternate character sets. Nobody is an expert in all these areas, yet to be a leader in digital libraries requires some appreciation of all of them.

This book is my attempt to survey the entire field of digital libraries. Computers and networks are of fundamental importance, but they are only the technology. The real story of digital libraries is the interplay between people, organizations, and technology. How are libraries and publishers using this new technology? How are individuals bypassing traditional organizations and building their own libraries? Where is this all leading? The answer to the last question is simple. Nobody knows. I have tried to avoid speculation and to concentrate on describing current activities, trends, and research. Thus the heart of this book is a large number of examples described in panels. Each panel describes some significant aspect of digital libraries, technology, application, or research.

However, I have to admit to personal biases. Some are undoubtedly unconscious, but others are quite deliberate. I am definitely biased towards digital libraries that provide open access to information. As a reader, I am thrilled by the high-quality information which I can access over the Internet that is completely unrestricted; as an author, I publish my research online so that everybody has access to my work. Technically, my bias is towards simplicity. I am a great fan of the web, because of it is so simple. This simplicity is an enormous strength and I hope that we can defend it.

My career has given me first hand exposure to many of the topics described in this book. In selecting examples, I have usually chosen those that I know personally, with an emphasis on work carried out by friends and colleagues. Therefore, the examples reflect my experience, working in universities in the United States. As an Englishman by birth, I am conscious of the quality of work that is being carried out around the world, but my examples tend to be American.

Because I know so many of the people whose work is described in this book, I have been shameless in asking them for help. Amy Friedlander, the founding editor of D-Lib Magazine, has been a constant guide. My wife Caroline introduced me to digital libraries when she was a graduate student at M.I.T. in 1966. She is now at the Library of Congress and helped with many sections throughout the book. Individuals who have made comments on the manuscript or checked specific sections include: Robert Allen, Kate Arms, Steve Cousins, Gregory Crane, Jim Davis, Peter Denning, Jack Dongarra, George Furnas, Henry Gladney, Steven Griffin, Kevin Guthrie, Larry Lannom, Ron Larsen, Michael Lesk, Ralph LeVan, Mary Levering, Wendy Lougee, Clifford Lynch, Harry S. Martin III, Eric Miller, Andreas Paepcke, Larry Page, Norman Paskin, Vicky Reich, Scott Stevens, Terrence Smith, Sam Sun, Hal Varian, Howard Wactlar, Donald Waters, Stuart Weibel, and Robert Wilensky.


Earlier versions of Chapter 4 were provided to the Fundação Getulio Vargas and the Ticer Summer School. A first sketch of Chapter 8 was presented at the SGML/XML Conference in 1997. The image in Panel 2.6 is copyright CNRI. Panel 6.3 is from the U.S. Copyright Office. Figure 7.2 is based on a figure by Henry Gladney. The list of elements in Panel 10.3 is from the Dublin Core web site.

Last revision of content: January 1999
Formatted for the Web: December 2002
(c) Copyright The MIT Press 2000