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Mapping out the Future of Digital Libraries

Image: JCDL 2012

The George Washington University Libraries and the Library of Congress hosted the Joint Conference on Digital Libraries forum in June.

Digital curation, metadata, and architectures. Linked data, search mechanisms, and user behavior. These terms may mean little to the average library patron, but they were the focus of over 300 international attendees at the 12th Annual Joint Conference on Digital Libraries (JCDL), which was held at the George Washington University June 10-14.

JCDL is the premiere international conference focused on digital libraries, and associated organizational, practical, social, and technical issues. The annual conference addressed a broad spectrum of topical areas within digital library research and development.

Digital libraries are organizations that collect, organize, and provide access to information in a variety of electronic formats through specialized staff, hardware, and software. “Digital libraries have been at the vanguard of the information age, developing new products and services to advance the creation of knowledge and support teaching and learning,” noted Barrie Howard, Program Manager at the Library of Congress and Conference Co-Chair.

So what does this mean for higher education?

“The challenges for higher education are acute,” said Michael Nelson, Associate Professor of Computer Science at Old Dominion University and Program Co-Chair. “On one hand, the tools for collecting, organizing, and preserving information are more numerous and advanced than ever before. Unfortunately, the tools for creating information far outstrip our ability to manage the resulting deluge. For memory organizations, the challenge is to stay on the forefront of information creation and management and to make sure the tools employed support the organization's mission.”

Karim Boughida, Conference Co-Chair and Associate University Librarian for Digital Initiatives and Content Management for the George Washington University Libraries, stresses the need for attention: “It is important for memory organizations (galleries, libraries, archives, museums, etc.) and higher education to support research morally and financially. Memory organizations should dedicate a decent percentage of their budget to research and interdisciplinarity. After all, humanity’s grandest achievements originated from research.”

The notion that the topic only affects librarians, computer scientists and other “niche” audiences couldn’t be further from the truth.

Nelson elaborates: “Digital libraries permeate our professional and personal lives: iTunes, Netflix, Youtube, flickr, Facebook, slideshare, github-all digital libraries by another name. The web has made everyone a librarian and archivist to some degree or another. Given this ubiquity, we should continue to refine our understanding of what makes a ‘good’ digital library.”

In addition to the 14 sessions offered to attendees, there were more in-depth tutorials and workshops offered on user studies, e-publishing, and digital cost analysis tools-including the unveiling of an online tool that was developed at George Washington University for calculating the cost of digitizing books.

The theme of the conference, "#preserving #linking #using #sharing" and the wide range of topics that it suggests was also reflected in the keynote addresses.  Jason Scott (American Archivist and historian of technology) took the conference attendees through his progression towards comprehensive web archiving and inception of The Archive Team. Carole Goble (Professor of Computer Science) spoke of the difficulty of reproducibility in scientific research, and how a large number of landmark scientific studies are irreproducible, largely due to multiple and myriad dependencies. The final keynote by George Dyson(author and historian of technology) was a survey of the history of technology from Francis Bacon to Alan Turing, with commentary about how digitized materials were what enabled Dyson to do his work as a lay researcher.

The 2012 JCDL Conference was partially sponsored by The Crowley Company, the U.S. National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services. 

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