Digital, Electronic, And Hybrid Libraries Research Paper

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With the integration of electronic resources of all kinds, traditional libraries have had to expand their collection policy and holdings to accommodate items not physically present within the walls of the library building especially those available in electronic form. Similarly, various library functions have had to be extended and new services are evolving, corresponding to different levels of integration of external, electronic resources into existing services, library catalogs, databases, and electronic full text offerings. The expansion of data transfer and search and retrieve (S&R) protocols have changed the means by which libraries are fulfilling their information mediatory role. Furthermore, use of the information obtained through the library has changed with respect to new regulations and usage conditions, dictated not by the library administration, but by the content providers themselves. In addition, new forms of information resources needed by scholars and students can no longer only be made available via the institutional library: External services and virtual information centers or portals are fulfilling various information demands, though still without adequate quality control and validity checks.

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The term ‘electronic library’ evolved in the 1980s to describe the increasingly automated aspects of library functions, as well as all aspects of creating an online public access library catalog. Individual services, including access to scholarly information stored on CD-ROMS and electronic information resources available through external hosts, such as databases and electronic document delivery, became integrated into the library offerings. Libraries provided these and other services in local area networks (LANS) on the same campus and in wide area networks (WANS), such as library union catalog coalitions and regional library networks.

In the ‘electronic library,’ resources were often based on digitized copies of the library’s own holdings, and digitized surrogates of physical resources (such as photographs of museum and art objects) including items located in other institutions or databases, and these were made available specifically through the user’s own library. As technology evolved, electronic resources also include digitized images (both still and moving), sound, and data sets. By the mid-1990s, many libraries had discovered the advantages of a hypertext-based platform for offering the library holdings, access to information resources, and other services, to their internal users via library intranet and to the public via the World Wide Web. This was especially important for libraries, as previously far too often the mixture of formats made total integration of all available electronic information resources impossible.

The combination of networked, distributed electronic resources via the Internet, often completely extraneous to the library resources, as a supplement to or even integrating the two as much as possible led to the designation ‘virtual library’ for the (often subjectoriented) collections of predominately electronic information resources. Thus, the ‘virtual library’ is not a library as such, but rather a site in the Internet representing a collection of links or electronic metadata available for individual digital and nondigital items which are usually distributed among an indistinguishable number of web sites produced by heterogeneous institutions. ‘Virtual libraries’ were usually compiled in a manner and structure which resemble traditional library collections and subject bibliographies. In connection with such subject-oriented collections of active hypertext links to distributed web sites throughout the Internet, the term ‘clearinghouse’ or ‘subject gateway’ became quite popular in the last half of the 1990s.

The ‘digital library’ evolved out of the research focus and technological evolution of these two forms. The digital library represents a more complex integration of digital and nondigital objects in distributed, often digitally noncompatible formats but for which appropriate metadata in a standardized electronic form exist. Metadata are terms used to describe the bibliographic, formal, physical, content, and contextual characteristics of digital and nondigital resources. In addition to achieving standards for metadata, so as to provide precise resource discovery within various digital library collections, digital library architecture of necessity also requires interoperability standards to enable integrated processes of information searching and retrieval in multiple, differently structured collections of digitized objects and digital metadata. Interoperability involves creating data ex- change structures which allow a web-based search engine or similar mechanism to gather or ‘harvest’ metadata from distinctly differently structured data formats and collections into an index structure and reprocess it according to the user’s needs. Thus, a digital library makes possible the processing of meta- data and other information about collections of diverse digital objects which are in different formats, different internal structures, and different data processing codes. Furthermore, the digital library offers services to process the information resulting from the level of resource discovery and retrieval which range from further search and retrieval precision to document ordering and various other aspects of information processing.

The concept of the ‘digital library’ evolved out of the potential for digitizing of all forms of media: print, image, sound, complex data sets, and computer simulations of nontime-bound sequences, otherwise not demonstrable events, etc., and retrieving them (or the metadata describing them) in context of multiple, networked information systems. Endres and Fellner (2000) have indicated that the ‘digital library’ is really a metaphor for the electronic knowledge market and therefore also a metaphor for the provision of knowledge for the society of the future. The digital library often serves as a multidimensional (library) catalog or index to bring together the resource discovery in- formation of every resource which was topically, creatively, or by reason of other connections generatively related. Hence, a search in a digital library could produce not only books and journals articles, but also art works, images, videos, sound files, data sets, complex data simulations, etc. This concept requires, however, search machines which can transcend and work with different data storage formats, different physical mechanisms, and operating codes of various types of computers, and still process diverse kinds of data to produce the desired results.

Hence, a digital library does not only consist of digitized and digitally born information resources, but also of electronic metadata on nondigital objects. Its fundamental components are a robust search engine, an interoperability standard which has taken all heterogeneous collections to be integrated into account, as well as metadata for each information unit in compliance with internationally accepted metadata guidelines. Instrumental in defining and forming the field of digital library research and implementation were a series of digital library research projects beginning with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and National Science Foundation (NSF) jointly sponsored Digital Library Program 1994–98 and a second phase from 1998–2002. In the first phase, six major US universities were awarded grants for research and implementation of six aspects of digital library functions: interoperation mechanism among heterogeneous services (technical architecture and info bus at Stanford University), spatially referenced map information and digital imaging (the Alexandria project at the University of California at Santa Barbara), federating repositories of scientific literature (University of Illinois at Urbana and Champaign), developing the informedia digital video library (Carnegie Mellon University), intelligent agents for information location (University of Michigan-Ann Arbor), and environmental planning and geographic information systems (University of California at Berkeley).

In the second phase of the NSF Digital Library Program, the focus of research was expanded to include test bed development of digital objects, research on scalability of retrieval mechanisms and workflow models, study of use and usability of globally distributed, networked information resources, human–computer interaction, next-generation operational systems, evaluation of digital libraries and the use of digital library technology in the learning environment. In addition, the ‘digital libraries life cycle from information creation, access and use, to archiving and preservation’ was to be addressed ( This second phase was also marked by allied research projects selected under the same program but funded by the Library of Congress, the US National Institute for Health, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Library of Medicine, as their focal points fit more closely to these specialty areas. Not only was a greater subject orientation allowed in the second phase, as opposed to the interdisciplinary approach in phase one, but also the social, behavioral, and economic implications of and effects of new digital libraries in the areas of education, commerce, defense, health services, and recreation were also added as parts of the initiative.

Parallel to these developments in the USA, the UK’s higher education boards commissioned a comprehensive study of information provision and electronic information resources in the UK (Follett Report) and various recommendations were realized in the ensuing Electronic Library (eLib) program of the Joint Information Systems Council (JISC) which from 1995–99 supported over 60 research projects in aspects of the digital library structure. During the latter part of this same period, the university system in Australia supported the development of a system of subject-oriented virtual libraries and the Australian government decided officially to supply all government publications and information on an electronic basis with metadata which was closely modeled after the Dublin Core Metadata.

In the USA, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Russia, Japan, Hong Kong, and Australia further digital library research and project implementation (including bilateral international research grants by the US NSF, the European Union and corresponding research funding bodies in other countries), further development of various metadata initiatives, electronic publishing initiatives, efforts towards international standardization, building harvesting robots for standardized metadata and supplementary digital library services such as navigation tools, reference linking and context sensitive linking (SFX), open source codes, the digital object identifier (DOI), other naming methodologies for digital objects (including namespace identification), and a variety of innovative electronic scholarly publishing initiatives have been started. Furthermore, the movement towards the digital library and comprehensive navigation and access to electronic resources worldwide has also opened a wide area of research and discussion on the role of the library, the publishers’ role and the change of economics in scientific publishing. Economic and business models for electronic publications and content management, preservation of digital objects, archiving of electronic resources, and content management have been additional areas of focus for various workshops, seminars, and large-scale digital library projects worldwide.

In addition, distributed networks enabling shared information on digital objects belonging to national cultural heritage are being implemented by libraries and other institutions, including the Library of Congress in its American Memory Project (, California Institute of Technology, and many more with the goal of digitizing unique resources and making them publicly available for research and education. In 1995, the Digital Library Federation (http: // was founded to coordinate and guide the implementation and maintenance of the digital library and assure digitization of cultural heritage in the USA. In 2001 there are 25 institutional members and four allied members including consortia and the Association of Research Libraries. The Federation is dedicated to exploring digital library architectures, systems, and services; investigating standards and best practices; development of digital collections, digital preservation; study of use, users, user support, and user services; monitoring the digital library’s changing institutional roles and responsibilities; and coordinating funding strategies for digital library projects.

In 1998, Chris Rusbridge, then head of the eLib Programme, described the next phase in digital library research and characterized this phase as the development of the ‘hybrid library’ (Rusbridge 1998, Knight ?) Arguing that a pure digital library could not exist because of legacy collections and services, Rusbridge suggests that instead of a ‘digital library,’ ‘hybrid libraries’ will provide a ‘one-stop shop’ for digital and nondigital objects and services. Within the concept of the hybrid library, information resources from various databases, online library catalogs, CDROMs, publishers’ full text servers, e-print archives and servers, as well as other services join in-house services including nondigitized services, and will all be searchable under the same user interface. Ideally, the user interface will support a robust and precise navigation tool which will function using metasearch mechanisms and harvesting protocols which will enable simultaneous searching in completely differently structured data services. The user can define specific data sets and databases for the search and for different subject areas a set of subject-oriented databases and full text journals online will be suggested. The aspect of customized access to subject-specific resources and personalized information searching mechanisms are being researched and discussed, also in terms of content management and subject portals. The ‘hybrid library’ thus combines all manner of digital and nondigital information.

The developments surrounding digital, electronic, virtual, and hybrid libraries are symptomatic of impending changes in scholarly publishing, the entire academic realm, and in the sociological structures of education, research, and scholarly activities as a whole. The significance of information management in context of university structures, commercial enterprise, and research endeavors is increasing rapidly. Among the technological and structural changes in library services within the context of the digital, electronic, and hybrid libraries and an information provision structure for educational and research institutions, the professions of librarian and information specialist are being challenged profusely by all the other players in the arena. Researchers publish their own papers in the Net on individual homepages and do information seeking and purchasing directly from their desktops often bypassing library services; publishers index electronic full texts with simple but often sufficient metadata and—through contractual agreements with the author—gaining full rights over distribution, reproduction, and dissemination of the author’s intellectual property.

Traditional subscriptions to scientific literature are being made subject to access only through licensing agreements, as opposed to ownership, as was possible with printed versions of the same item. Archiving and permanent accessibility, however, are not guaranteed. Users search using publicly available Internet search engines, believe they have obtained all relevant titles to a given topic, and purchase individual articles directly from the publisher. To survive the massive challenges to the profession, the librarian must become an information specialist, continuously remaining on the cutting edge of information technology, on the various forms of information offered by the content providers, on the cost-effectiveness of physical and electronic document delivery options, and lastly continuously update the users, to train and motivate them to use the full range of adequate information resources. Aspects of free access to information through digital and hybrid libraries, staff competencies in information technology and content management, archiving schemes for consortia sharing of digital information, and evaluation of networked information resources are still areas of the digital, electronic, and hybrid libraries which have not been sufficiently clarified with regard to the responsibility for maintaining access, currency, validity, sustainability and future migration of electronic information sites.


  1. Annotated Bibliography: of Digital Library Related Sources
  2. Arms W Y 2000 Digital Libraries. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA
  3. Borgman C L 2000 From Gutenberg to the Global Information Infrastructure: Access to Information in the Networked World. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA
  4. Caplan P 2000 Oh what a tangled web we weave: Opportunities and challenges for standards development in the digital library arena. First Monday 5
  5. Endres A, Fellner D W 2000 Digitale Bibliotheken: InformatikLosungen fur globale Wissensmarkte. dpunkt-Verlag, Heidelberg, Germany
  6. IFLA Electronic Collections DIGITAL LIBRARIES: Resources and Projects.
  7. Kaplan N R, Nelson M L 2000 Determining the publication impact of a digital library. Journal of the American Society for Information Science 51(4): 324–39
  8. Knight J The hybrid library: Books and bytes, The Knight’s Tale. Ariadne 11
  9. Lesk M 1997 Practical Digital Libraries: Books, Bytes, and Bucks. Morgan Kaufmann, San Francisco
  10. Rusbridge 1998 Towards the hybrid library. D-Lib Magazine July August http://www./dlib./org/dlib/july98/rusbridge/07rusbridge./html
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