The European Library Automation Group, brings together once a year people involved in library automation in the leadingEuropean libraries and information centres. The organization counts 450 members in 27 countries all over Europe. Last years over 100 colleagues attended the seminars.

The meetings aim at in depth discussions of particular library automation topics and at the promotion of informal exchange ofideas and experience. The topics covered are technical and meant for participants with computing background.

26 - 28 April 2006 Bucharest, Romania

Workshop WS1: The European Digital Library - Discussion guidelines 

Vittore Casarosa, ISTI-CNR, Pisa, Italy (casarosa@isti.cnr.it) 

In the frame of the initiative “i2010 – a European Information Society for growth and jobs”, adopted by the Commission last June, digital libraries play a major role in the achievement of an inclusive European information society, by making multimedia and multilingual European culture available to all. Turning Europe’s historic and cultural heritage into digital content will make it usable for European citizens for their studies, work or leisure and will give innovators, artists and entrepreneurs the raw material that they need. Making the resources in Europe’s libraries and archives available on the Internet is not straightforward. On one hand, there is a wide variety of materials – books, film fragments, photographs, manuscripts, speeches and music. On the other, it is necessary to select from very large volumes, something in the order of 2.5 billion books and bound periodicals in European libraries and millions of hours of film and video in broadcasting archives.

At the end of last year the Commission launched an on-line consultation to receive comments and recommendations on a set of questions addressing three key areas for action: digitization, online accessibility and digital preservation. Libraries, archives, museums, publishers, right holders, universities and research organizations provided 225 replies, generally welcoming the initiative and seeing it as an opportunity for making Europe’s cultural heritage more accessible and usable on the Internet, through the establishment of a “European Digital Library” (EDL). The major controversial issue, as expected, was the difference in opinions on copyright issues, in particular between cultural institutions and right holders. 

The main purpose of this workshop is to stimulate discussion on some of the main technical topics related to digital libraries, and how those topics should affect the implementation of the EDL. The outcome of the workshop will be useful input to the Commission, to help further refining the plans for the establishment of the EDL, and also useful input to research organizations, largely represented by the DELOS Network of Excellence on Digital Libraries, to verify which topics can be of more immediate interest to the EDL, and therefore set research priorities accordingly.  

A preliminary point to be addressed is what is meant exactly by the words “digital library”. Even within homogeneous groups, very often it comes out that those words represent different things to different people, depending on their experience and knowledge of the field, and it is difficult to reach a consensus on a common meaning and vision. It would be a good result if we could reach consensus on an “ELAG vision” of what is a digital library. Based on that, it should be easier to make proposals for the establishment of the European Digital Library.  

Next, the main technical point to be addressed is the architecture of a digital library, and that of the EDL in particular. Architecture is a fundamental issue to achieve all desirable performance characteristics, i.e., large-scale information distribution, scalability, availability, robustness, reliability, self-organization, adaptability, etc. Recent advances point towards three architectural alternatives: peer-to-peer architectures, grid middleware, and service-oriented architectures.  Some combination of them would, of course, be also appropriate. Peer-to-peer architectures allow for loosely coupled integration of information services and sharing of information such as recommendations and annotations. Grid middleware is appropriate because future digital libraries will integrate, in a secure way, information that is broadly distributed and also certain services can require substantial computing power. Finally, service-oriented architectures provide mechanisms to describe the semantics and usage of information provision functionality, also supporting mechanisms to combine services into workflow processes for sophisticated applications.  

The other technical point worth discussion is about the tools and services that a digital library, and the EDL in particular, should offer and support. The hot topics here are tools and services mainly dealing with support to the end users (multilinguality, visualization of results, personal collections, recommender systems, etc), and dealing with assistance to cooperative work (e.g. annotations, user groups, virtual collections, collaboratories, etc.). At the same time, a relevant issue to be addressed should be also on tools and services needed by the librarians of a digital library.  

This last point above brings directly the last set of questions to be addressed, i.e. what is/are the role(s) of a librarian in the age of digital libraries; which kind of tools should be available, in order to better manage a digital library; which kind of education is needed by a “digital librarian” (on this point there can be a cross-fertilization with the Workshop in IT curricula). On these topics there is a wide variety of opinions and positions, and here also it would be good to reach consensus on an “ELAG position”.  

Being ELAG mostly a technology oriented group, two main issues, of paramount relevance for the European Digital Library (as well as for any digital library), are on purpose excluded from the discussion, as they seem more related to coordination and legal issues, rather than to technology. The first issue is the digitization of existing “traditional” contents. That is of course the first step needed before we can even talk of an EDL, but the problems here are those of funding, of (hard) decisions about what to digitize, and of coordination at the European level. The digitization technologies are mature enough for any practical purpose, except maybe for the issue of preservation, which should be considered since the very beginning of the digitization process, but preservation is more an issue of metadata than an issue of digitization technology.  

The second issue is the Intellectual Property Rights. A clear policy on that is needed for the EDL to really become a tool and a service at the European level. The main issues here are mostly of legal nature, in terms of harmonization and adaptations of the existing laws both at the national and international level. The main technological aspects here are those of protecting the digital data from unauthorized use, and the support of payment methods for the utilization of protected material through the EDL. Both of them can be covered in the session on tools and services for EDL.  

To conclude, the main topic of discussion in each of the five “sessions” of the workshop can be summarized as follows. Of course, other topics related to technologies underlying digital libraries, and the European Digital Library in particular, can be raised and discussed during the workshop.  

  • What is a digital library, after all ?
  • What could be the architecture of the EDL ?
  • Which tools and services should be provided by the EDL ?
  • Is there a role for a “European Digital Librarian” in the EDL ?
  • Putting the pieces together 

As stated previously, the outcome of this workshop will be valuable input also for the DELOS NoE, that last December held a brainstorming meeting to formulate responses to the online consultation and to discuss the DELOS vision of the future of digital libraries. At the meeting, much discussion focused on the requirements for a future European Digital Library (EDL) taking into consideration existing efforts such as The European Library (TEL) and the MICHAEL initiative. Beyond the general consensus on the relevance of the i2010 Digital Library initiative for the establishment of a European Digital Library, there was also consensus that such a library can and should develop in the future into a much broader and richer system of highly interlinked information and services, created by collaborating users, in which the boundaries between reading, annotating, and authoring will become fluid, thus providing new and rich functionality. Further details about the meeting (including the final report) can be found at http://www.delos.info/eventlist/Brainst_dec05.html.