Panel at ECDL2008
The Web versus Digital Libraries – Time to revisit this once hot topic
At the end of last century (Internet time elapses much quicker than normal time, and it already looks like a long time ago), the “information explosion” on the Web on one side, and the flourishing of research activities on digital library technologies on the other, spurred heated discussions about the future of traditional libraries. The view of one camp was that since “all” the information was available on line, the use of smart search engines and clever software tools would allow Digital Libraries to provide all the information (and the services) needed by an information seeker. The view of the other camp was that the value of information was not just in its sheer quantity, but was rather in the organization and the quality of the information made available, and that could never be done by “programs”.
Ten years (or so) later, with the continuous increase of the information available on the Web and the advances in search engine technologies, an even more radical question could be raised, questioning the need of libraries at all, whether digital or not. More and more it appears that when there is an information need, everybody (including scholars) is “googling” on the net to find the desired information. During these years however, digital library technologies have supported the transition of libraries from traditional to digital, and those technologies are today mature enough to support not only the availability of the library content on-line, but also the provision of advanced services for library users.
For example, the ideas fostered by the Open Archives Initiative are changing the way in which research in many disciplines is being done (e.g. physics, computer science, medicine), by making available in a timely fashion “all” the results in a field and tools for collaborative work. In a different area, cultural heritage and humanities, the recent Europeana effort is bringing on line a well structured corpus of information that (with today’s technology) could never be assembled just by “googling” over the net. The main objective of Europeana is to make Europe’s cultural heritage fully interoperable and accessible through a truly multilingual service. By 2010 Europeana will give everybody direct access to well over 6 million digital sounds, pictures, books, archival records and films. Those examples support the argument that the more (unstructured) information is available on the net, the more there is the need of a (digital) library to provide some structure and some quality control on a specific subset of the information universe. The question whether the Web will be the ultimate, all-encompassing digital library seems to be still open.
The objective of the panel was to trigger a discussion to understand whether in the end all the information needs of an “IT Society” (research, education, entertainment, business, etc) will be provided by this huge heap of information called the Web, or rather, for all those activities that require organized and controlled information, the actual institutions (notably libraries, archives and museums) will continue to have a significant role, augmented by the opportunities offered by digital library technologies and by the availability of “unlimited” information from the Web.
- Vittore Casarosa (ISTI-CNR and DELOS Association): Proposer/moderator
- Catherine Lupovici (TEL Office and EDL Foundation): Europeana and its future
- Anna Maria Tammaro (University of Parma): Digital Libraries in the Humanities
- Yannis Ioannidis (University of Athens): Advanced services for DL
- David Harper (Google European Engineering Center, Zurich, Switzerland): Search engines
Short CV of Vittore Casarosa
Vittore Casarosa graduated in Electrical Engineering at the University of Pisa in 1966. After a few years spent as a researcher at CSCE (Center for Study of Electronic Computers, which today has become ISTI), a research center newly established in Pisa by CNR (the Italian National Research Council), he has spent many years in the R&D laboratories of IBM in Italy, France and in the US. Since 1996 he is Scientific Advisor to the Italian National Research Council, at the Institute for Information Science and Technology in Pisa (ISTI-CNR), where he is associated with the activities of the Multimedia Laboratory in the field of Digital Libraries, and as Deputy Director has been following the activities of DELOS, the Network of Excellence on Digital Libraries from the beginning. Since 1996 he holds a teaching assignment at the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Pisa (Technologies for e-Commerce) and since 2007 he holds also a teaching assignment at the University of Bolzano (Digital Libraries).