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portal: Libraries and the Academy 3.2 (2003) 344-346
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Development of Digital Libraries: An American Perspective,ed. Deanna B. Marcum. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2001. (Contributions in Librarianship and Information Science, no. 95). 368 p. $72.95 (ISBN 0-313-31478-0)
The papers assembled in this volume were all presented at the Kanazawa Institute of Technology (KIT) International Roundtable on Library and Information Science (IRLIS) between 1994 and 1998. The volume, thoughtfully edited by Council on Library and Information Resources president Deanna Marcum, is divided into three sections: digital libraries in the context of higher education; challenges posed by digital libraries; and practical experiences of institutions as they launched digital initiatives.
As Kakugyo S. Chiku, director of the KIT Library Center, notes in his foreword: "In the field of information technology, change and innovation are rapid; new ideas can quickly become outdated or obsolete. As such, some of the content in this volume may already be viewed as outdated." (p. xiii) Indeed so. As I reviewed the volume I was struck by words, concepts, and initiatives that, once on the tip of everyone's tongue, are now seldom heard. Who remembers "information superhighway," WAIS, "knowbots," Mosaic? Who remembers Adonis, Red Sage, and Tulip? Important in their day, even revolutionary—consigned now to the digital dustbin of history. And yet, for all the book's occasional and inevitable references to the transitory, it articulates a continuing agenda that is a valuable contribution to the literature.
While Dr. Chiku is right in observing that some of the content is dated, a portion of it is still very timely to the extent it addresses a range of issues with which the community continues to struggle, despite more than a decade of digital library development under our collective belts. Two articles in the first section exhibit this sort of "staying power." In a well-calculated editorial decision, Marcum jumpstarts the volume with Dr. Stanley Chodorow's [End Page 344] "Scholarship, Information, and Libraries in the Electronic Age." Chodorow (professor emeritus, University of California, San Diego) draws on his considerable knowledge of history to note that the evolution of scholarship as an increasingly data-intensive enterprise is being paralleled by the evolution of information as increasingly mobile, fluid, and transient. As scholarship becomes cumulative, scholars will need (and presumably want) to collaborate more with librarians. Why? Because as information proliferates, Chodorow believes, scholars will increasingly rely on librarians for assistance in managing its "vast confusion" (p.11). As a consequence, the role of librarians as shapers of knowledge, rather than simply its keepers, will become clearer.
Richard Lanham's (professor emeritus, University of California, Los Angeles) "What's Happening to the Book" presents a careful consideration of the implications of the digital evolution of the codex book from an unnoticed "transparent window into thought" into a noticed "speaking screen" (p. 40). This evolution has extended to everything from color to sound to motion to space. Lanham's observations about the spatial characteristics (both physical and temporal) of digital books, and the implications of those characteristics, are particularly compelling. No longer is the book two-dimensional, but three. No longer is its creation (and its reading?) a private event, but a public one as the reader is taken—literally—into, through, and even behind the work. Fascinating stuff, the implications of which for digital libraries, particularly their presentation, have yet to be tackled.
Five of the eight articles in the book's second section, dealing with challenges of the digital library, likewise stand the test of time. Ann Wolpert's (MIT Libraries) article notes that, while there are now copious quantities and types of digital content and while the Web now delivers a good deal of that content, "we have yet to create an integrated entity that can approach the traditional research library for overall depth, quality, durability, affordability, and relevance." (p.86) Wolpert argues that our success in providing digital resources will rest on our adopting an outward (or "marketing") orientation that will force us to think about what our patrons need...