The connection between knowledge organization systems and digital libraries is not so obvious at first sight, especially for the large public. The meaning of KOS (Knowledge Organization Systems), however, should suggest what they have in common.
What Are Knowledge Organization Systems?
KOS are intended to include all types of information organization and promote knowledge management. They include classification schemes used to organize material such as books, headings that give access to details, as well as authority files that exert control over various versions of key data: personal names, geographic names, and more.
But there is more. They also encompass less-traditional schemes, like semantic networks, which let them organize information and become the very heart of archives, museums, and libraries. This is the point where knowledge organization systems and digital libraries converge.
KOS are used to classify materials in order to render them easy to retrieve and manage. Therefore, these systems serve as bridges between the information that a user needs and the materials in the collection. By using a KOS, a person should identify any object of interest with few or without prior information of its existence.
Direct searching or browsing, finding themes on site search engines – all these are means to guide a KOS user through the discovery process. Moreover, knowledge organization systems allow the users to get answers to questions related to the scope of the collection.
How Do Digital Libraries Use Knowledge Organization Systems?
Any digital library uses at least one KOS. Just like in the case of physical libraries, the KOS provides a content overview of the collection and gives support for information retrieval. The decision of which knowledge organization system is more appropriate to a certain digital library is the key to the development of that library, because, once the material becomes part of the collection, the knowledge organization system must be meaningful to every user.
Some Characteristics of Knowledge Organization Systems Related to Libraries in Digital Format
Regardless of their diversity, knowledge organization systems still have some common characteristics that make their use critical in organizing libraries in digital format:
If you think that digital libraries are already at the top of what research and learning mean, you are probably wrong. Just ask someone to picture an academic at work, doing some research, and you will be surprised to see that this description includes a library in most cases, or at least some book shelves, journals and books open on a desk, and, eventually, a netbook. This is where we are at present: physical libraries are still the icon of libraries in the collective mind.
Are Digital Libraries Really Present in the Researchers’ Life?
Although this is the mental representation of the majority, studies show that academics nowadays spend much less time in a physical library, searching for books and journals needed for their research, but use virtual libraries instead.
A vast majority of them say that the main role of a university library is that of a purchaser of content. Only half of them declare to be really dependent on a library to work, while an insignificant number of academics start their research by visiting the university library.
The phenomenon is even more obvious when it comes to journals. They have practically eliminated their hard copy equivalents. Almost three quarters of the academics answering to surveys agree that printed copies of journals are not important to them if electronic copies continue to be available.
Things change a bit when access to collections is involved. If long term access is in discussion, academics recognize that maintaining hard copy collections of their favorite journals would be a plus. In their opinion, at least some libraries should keep on maintaining such collections.
Most of the participants in such surveys are unanimous when claiming that e-books and e-journals are now a part of their scientific life. It becomes clear that the content of digital libraries is more important to the scientific world than it was a few years ago.
Why Would Digital and Physical Libraries Further Coexist?
There are some reasons why these two types of library are condemned to keep living together for some time:
Digital libraries can effectively bring new services that physical libraries are not able to provide, and this is what school leaders, for example, should be aware of. Digital information can be shared more effectively than traditional material, and even copyrighted information may be made available in a form that avoids illegal distribution.
Students can be determined to rather use information found in the library than search for internet resources that are not always trustable. To resume, librarians can demonstrate that 21st-century school libraries can be used correctly and are really necessary.
A Few Steps to Take When Implementing a Digital Library
There are three important tasks to accomplish on the way from physical to digital libraries:
A digital library cannot exist without an exceptional software platform. This is the front door of the library, but also its stacks, seating and circulation areas. This is where students conduct their research and are able to find good books to read. The staff also inhabits this space and continues to organize it and make it attractive, easy to use.
Digital Libraries and the Software Platform
The library’s software platform is the main element that can make a digital library effective, but is often a neglected area. One reason may be that school administrators do not pay enough attention to giving the library a dedicated digital space. Libraries, in many cases, have to stuff their services into the old digital structure of the campus. This is supposed to change if real performance is expected from the new digital system.
Another issue is integrating the resources of the library with e-textbooks, to prevent students from carrying heavy textbooks in their backpacks. Good cooperation with e-textbook vendors is crucial to solving this matter. Otherwise, these vendors would be more than happy to charge the school or even each student for added content, and the true goal of implementing digital libraries in schools would not be reached.
Digital libraries are a means of rapid and easy access to books, images and archives of different types. The advantages of these libraries are widely recognized by more and more people and organizations.
A Short Comparison between Digital and Physical Libraries
Unlike traditional libraries that have a limited storage space, a digital library has a huge storage potential, because digital information needs far less physical space to be stored. For this reason, maintaining a digital library does cost much less than maintaining a traditional one. Not to mention the large amounts spent on staff wages, book maintenance, portfolio renewal, and rent, which add to the costs required by a physical library. Digital libraries reduce or, in many cases, eliminate such fees.
Cataloguing is required by both types of library, in order to allow users to retrieve the material they are searching for. However, in the case of a digital library, technological innovations that bring improvements to the users’ experience are more likely to be implemented.
Electronic and audio material technology or new forms of communication, like blogs and wikis are specific to libraries in digital format. Accessibility to users is dramatically increased for this type of library, as access is allowed regardless of the geographical location, distance, or organizational affiliation.
Specific Advantages of Digital Libraries
To resume, eight advantages of libraries in digital format have to be mentioned: