DEFINING THE DIGITAL (VIRTUAL) LIBRARY
Virtual libraries, now commonly referred to as 'digital libraries' is not a novel idea for The
Bahamas, and certainly not for The College of The Bahamas. Over the past ten years, the
library at COB has been integrating technology into both its functional areas and in the
delivery of access to resources and services to patrons. Furthermore, the library has, for
the past two years, been engaged in building up a digital collection of faculty research
papers. Though this collection is small at the moment, with the impetus to expand the
digital content to users, it is anticipated that this collection will realize exponential growth
and will serve as an essential component of COB's digital library.
Advantages of a digital library
The advantages of digital libraries as a means of easily and rapidly accessing books,
archives and images of various types are now widely recognized by commercial interests
and public bodies alike.
Traditional libraries are limited by storage space; digital libraries have the potential to store
much more information, simply because digital information requires very little physical space
to contain it. As such, the cost of maintaining a digital library is much lower than that of a
traditional library. A traditional library must spend large sums of money paying for staff, book
maintenance, rent, and additional books. Digital libraries redirect these fees in building
collections and training personnel to manage the digital content.
Digital libraries can immediately adopt innovations in technology providing users with
improvements in electronic and audio book technology as well as presenting new forms of
communication such as wikis and blogs.
No physical boundary. The user of a digital library need not to go to the library
physically; people from all over the world can gain access to the same information, as
long as an Internet connection is available.
Round the clock availability. A major advantage of digital libraries is that people
can gain access to the information at any time, night or day.
Multiple accesses. The same resources can be used at the same time by a number
Structured approach. Digital libraries provide access to much richer content in a
more structured manner, i.e. we can easily move from the catalog to the particular book
then to a particular chapter and so on.
Information retrieval. The user is able to use any search term (word, phrase, title,
name, subject) to search the entire collection. Digital libraries can provide very user-
friendly interfaces, giving clickable access to its resources.
Preservation and conservation. An exact copy of the original can be made any
number of times without any degradation in quality.
Space. Whereas traditional libraries are limited by storage space, digital libraries
have the potential to store much more information, simply because digital information
requires very little physical space to contain them. When a library has no space for
extension digitization is the only solution.
Networking. A particular digital library can provide a link to any other resources of
other digital libraries very easily; thus a seamlessly integrated resource sharing can be
Cost. In theory, the cost of maintaining a digital library is lower than that of a traditional
library. A traditional library must spend large sums of money paying for staff, book
maintenance, rent, and additional books. Although digital libraries do away with these
fees, it has since been found that digital libraries can be no less expensive in their own
way to operate. Digital libraries can and do incur large costs for the conversion of print
materials into digital format, for the technical skills of staff to maintain them, and for the
costs of maintaining online access (i.e. servers, bandwidth costs, etc.). Also, the
information in a digital library must often be "migrated" every few years to the latest
digital media. This process can incur very large costs in hardware and skilled personnel.
A review of the literature on the concept of a 'virtual library' manifests the following: the
term 'virtual library', though occasionally still used, has been replaced by the term 'digital
library'. Throughout our discussions, therefore, the term virtual library and digital library will
be used interchangeably. Examples of definitions of the 'digital library' concept are provided
below to provide guiding principles for the definition to be adopted for use in the context of
The College of The Bahamas.
From the Digital Library Federation
Membership of the DLF includes such libraries as The Library of Congress, Bibliotheca
Alexandria, Harvard University, University of Texas at Austin, Johns Hopkins University,
New York Public Library, Oxford University and North Carolina State University.
For DLF partners effectively to federatee" digital libraries, they must share a common
understanding of what a digital library is. Here is their working definition
"Digital libraries are organizations that provide the resources, including the specialized staff,
to select, structure, offer intellectual access to, interpret, distribute, preserve the integrity of,
and ensure the persistence over time of collections of digital works so that they are readily
and economically available for use by a defined community or set of communities."
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
A 'digital library' comprises digital collections, services and infrastructure to support
lifelong learning, research, scholarly communication and preservation.
A digital library is a library in which collections are stored in digital formats (as opposed to
print, microform, or other media) and accessible by computers [11. The digital content may be
stored locally, or accessed remotely via computer networks. A digital library is a type of
information retrieval system.
From Digital Libraries by William Arms:
"An informal definition of a digital library is a managed collection of information, with
associated services, where the information is stored in digital formats and accessible over a
network. A crucial part of this definition is that the information is managed. A stream of data
sent to earth from a satellite is not a library. The same data, when organized systematically,
becomes a digital library collection. Most people would not consider a database containing
financial records of one company to be a digital library, but would accept a collection of such
information from many companies as part of a library. Digital libraries contain diverse
information for use by many different users. Digital libraries range in size from tiny to huge.
They can use any type of computing equipment and any suitable software. The unifying
theme is that information is organized on computers and available over a network, with
procedures to select the material in the collections, to organize it, to make it available to
users, and to archive it."
From the Berkeley Digital Library SunSITE
There are many definitions of a "digital library." Terms such as "electronic library"
and "virtual library" are often used synonymously. The elements that have been
identified as common to these definitions are:
The digital library is not a single entity;
The digital library requires technology to link the resources of many;
The linkages between the many digital libraries and information services are
transparent to the end users;
Universal access to digital libraries and information services is a goal;
Digital library collections are not limited to document surrogates: they extend to digital
artifacts that cannot be represented or distributed in printed formats.
From "Outline and Preliminary Evaluation of the Classical Digital Library Model",
Steven L. MacCall The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa Alabama
Ana D. Cleveland University of North Texas, Denton, Texas
lan E. Gibson The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa Alabama
in the Proceedings of the Fall 1999 Annual Meeting of the American Society for
The working definition of digital library used by the CDLM is as follows:
A digital library is a collection of collections of electronic knowledge resources developed
and maintained in order to meet the totality of information needs for a given user population.
From the Digital Library Production Guide of the Kentuckiana Digital Library
An organized collection of selected digital resources created to support scholarship,
research and teaching. Through the use of appropriate technological standards, a Digital
Library is created to facilitate permanent access to and resource discovery of selected
From The Scope of the Digital Library
Draft Prepared by Barry M. Leiner
for the DLib Working Group on Digital Library Metrics
January 16, 1998
Revised October 15, 1998
The Digital Library is:
The collection of services
And the collection of information objects
That support users in dealing with information objects
And the organization and presentation of those objects
Available directly or indirectly
Via electronic/digital means.
Proposed definition for COB
The digital library at The College of The Bahamas will be an organized collection of selected
resources and services which permanently support scholarship, research, teaching and
personal development for members of the college community, and which are accessible to
citizens and residents throughout The Bahamian archipelago. Access to these resources
and services will be supported through a well-developed technological infrastructure which
evolves as new innovations are introduced so as to sustain ongoing delivery and access to
the digital content by users.
Purposes of the digital library at COB
The purposes of a Bahamian digital library system are:
to expedite the systematic development of: the means to collect,
store, and organize information and knowledge in digital form; and of
digital library collections in The Bahamas;
to promote the economical and efficient delivery of information to all
sectors of Bahamian society;
to encourage co-operative efforts which leverage the considerable
investment in Bahamian research resources, computing and
to strengthen communication and collaboration between and among the
research, business, government, and educational communities;
to take an international leadership role in the generation and
dissemination of knowledge in areas of strategic importance to The
to contribute to the lifelong learning opportunities of all Bahamians.
Scope of the digital library at COB
The scope of the digital library will include institutional repository, both materials 'born
digital' and those digitized, e-resources acquired from vendors, and links to resources which
reside on networks outside the institutional platform.
European Commission steps up efforts to put Europe's memory on the Web via a
"European Digital Library" Europa press release, 2 March 2006
Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_library#AdvantagesRetrieved 5 February 2008
.ms, :" '
http://www.cs.wlu.edu/~whaleyt/classes/DigiLib/Whaley/Definition.html. Retrieved 5
Brown, Mary E. History and definition of digital libraries.
http://www.southernct.edu/~brownm/dl_history.html. Retrieved 5 February 2008.
Adapted from The CAN-LINKED Initiative, a proposal for the co-ordinated
development of a distributed national digital library system in Canada,
prepared by a group of academic and research libraries. February, 1995 in
Association of Research Libraries. Berkeley Digital LibrarySunSITE : Definition and
Purposes of a Digital Library. October 23, 1995.
http://www.ifla.org/documents/libraries/netlarl-dlib.txt. Retrieved 5 February 2008.