Digital Libraries

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. The digital content may be stored locally, or accessed remotely via computer networks.

digital library in print may have been in a 1988 report to the Corporation for National Research Initiatives The term digital libraries was first popularized by the NSF/DARPA/NASA Digital Libraries Initiative in 1994. The older names electronic library or virtual library are also occasionally used, though electronic library nowadays more often refers to portals, often provided by government agencies, as in the case of the Florida Electronic Library.

Digitization is the process of representing an object, an image, or a signal (usually an analog signal) by a discrete set of its points or samples. The result is called "digital representation" or, more specifically, a "digital image", for the object, and "digital form", for the signal.

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The term digital library is diffuse enough to be applied to a wide range of collections and organizations, but, to be considered a digital library, an online collection of information must be managed by and made accessible to a community of users. Thus, some web sites can be considered digital libraries, but far from all. Many of the best known digital libraries are older than the web including Project Perseus, Project Gutenberg, and ibiblio. Nevertheless, as a result of the development of the internet and its search potential, digital libraries such as the European Library and the Library of Congress are now developing in a Web-based environment.

There are many collaborative digitization projects throughout the United States and in Europe, Australia and Asia (see below). Two of the earliest projects were the Collaborative Digitization Project in Colorado and NC ECHO - North Carolina Exploring Cultural Heritage Online, based at the State Library of North Carolina. These projects helped to establish and publish best practices for digitization and work with regional partners to digitize cultural heritage materials. Additional criteria for best practice have more recently been established in the UK, Australia and the European Union. Wisconsin Heritage Onlineis a collaborative digitization project modeled after the Colorado Collaborative Digitization Project. Wisconsin uses a wiki to build and distribute collaborative documentation.

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Some people have criticized that digital libraries are hampered by copyright law, because works cannot be shared over different periods of time in the manner of a traditional library. The content is, in many cases, public domain or self-generated content only.

A strategy with defined selection priorities for digitization is critical and should be informed by a convergence in the consideration for both preservation and access. The focus should be based on traditional preservation decisions such as the value of materials; the condition of materials; use of materials; and material characteristics ensuring a high level of success.