Librarianship in the Digital Library

Kenneth Furuta

Government Documents Service, University Libraries, Box 871006, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-1006,

Traditionally, librarians have performed a number of functions in the maintenance and the intellectual access to information. These traditional roles will become even more important in the maturation of the digital library. Currently, that library can not be considered complete, especially in comparison to what is necessary.

One area of librarianship has been the development of classification systems used to give order to millions of volumes of serials and monographs. Examples include the Library of Congress and Dewey Decimal, both of which arrange material based on the main subject of an item. However, a given item can contain information on more than one area. Other parts of cataloging an item involve applying appropriate subject headings for identification of those additional areas.

User friendly systems, such as the World Wide Web and Gopher, have appeared recently to begin to bring control to the resources. To date, few of the systems include a classified list of Internet resources. The few lists currently available generally place a resource under one heading - subject analysis is lacking. Further research and development into the best way to organize the digital library's resources is needed.

Another traditional function is reference. Users do not necessarily know how to access needed information. The job of a reference librarian is to mediate between the user and the information as well as to guide that person to the information.

This traditional area, which is perhaps the most important, has two components. First, users will always need assistance in finding needed information whether it is digital or not. The development of the systems mentioned above has eased the search. However, further work is required before they are as efficient as reference today.

Secondly, the most difficult current problem that users face is simply gaining access to the digital library. Public libraries have been seen as one of the best providers because they combine similar services with an established physical location. Currently, public libraries are only beginning to be connected to the Internet. That movement, along with a long term commitment of resources, is needed to insure that there are no information "have nots."

The final role that librarians fill is collection development. Depending on the clients' needs, librarians survey the universe of available information and select those items which best serve their users' needs.

The current digital library is composed of a miscellaneous array of both useful and odd material. If a needed item is available on a efficacious system (such as the United States Budget on a WAIS server), then advantages of using that server can outweigh the same information in another format. However, the discovery of a useful file on the Internet is often coupled by the absence of an equally useful complementary set of information. The traditional collection development functions of librarians will be altered in the future to include the provision of the complementary sets of information.

I see the developmental needs of the digital library from my background as a librarian. Although work has begun on the above areas, it is still at an early stage of development. Knowledge and techniques from computer science are needed to continue the development of the library. Indeed, the emergence of the digital library has created an unprecedented need to continue and strengthen the relationship between the two groups in order to build a rational system.

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