Christine Dugdale gives an overview of the third international CoLIS conference which was held in Dubrovnik, Croatia.
'Digital Libraries: Interdisciplinary Concepts, Challenges and Opportunities' was the theme of the third CoLIS conference held at the beautiful venue of the medieval walled city of Dubrovnik in Croatia , 23-26 May 1999.
|Despite reports of its bombardment during the 1991/92 conflict, Dubrovnik remains a beautiful city and is on UNESCO's list of the world's cultural heritage sites. It once lay on the cross-roads of several medieval empires and was the only independent city-state on the Adriatic Sea other than Venice. It remained an independent republic of merchants and sailors until the Napoleonic invasion of 1806. Although little evidence could be seen of the 1991/2 war from street level, views from the city walls did reveal a patch-work of varying roof colours amongst the once famous uniformly honey-coloured tiles as well as building "gaps" behind shuttered facades. The Deputy Mayor reported that many library buildings had been destroyed and that, in the Inter-University Centre, 30,000 books had been lost. Although many books survived, they are still, today, stored in boxes awaiting suitable buildings and shelving. Despite these difficulties, however, the public library never closed for a single day during or after the conflict.|
The botanical documents of nearby Lokrum Island, however, were less fortunate; being largely destroyed. The botanical garden was established in 1959 in order to research and grow, from seed, American and Australian trees, shrubs and plants that were thought to be potentially suitable for Dubrovnik's climate. The garden and library buildings received 50 direct hits and many species and most documentation was lost.
Dubrovnik's quiet (just before the start of the tourist season) squares, palaces, churches, small intriguing hill-hugging streets and pedestrian-only traffic encased within the intact medieval walls contrasted sharply with thoughts surrounding digital libraries and global networks around which the conference themes were centred.
The conference was held in the Hotel Excelsior that was renovated in 1998 and has breathtaking views of the Old City and the Island of Lokrum. The modern conference facilities proved an interesting contrast to those of the Inter-University Centre closer to the Old City, which was the venue for the shorter papers, workshops and poster sessions. The Centre was created 26 years ago to facilitate academic exchange and is a consortium of many domestic and foreign universities.
Despite worries about the present Balkan conflict, attendance was reasonably high with only one speaker withdrawing at the insistence of their institution. There were 114 participants representing 19 countries and all papers were presented to the full conference instead of to groups of varying sizes that can result from an over-ambitious attempt to provide too many parallel sessions. The only excitement arose from the failure of the electricity supply followed by the automatic generator cutting in only to die within a minute. Although this was a relatively short-lived and not repeated problem, the candle and box of matches provided in bedrooms suggested that other conferences might not be so fortunate!
A second conference (Information Technology and Journalism - 'Education and new journalism', 26-29 May (http://www.fpzg.hr/itn)), timed to start immediately after CoLIS 3 so as to maximise benefits for those travelling to the area with more stamina than I could muster, found that far more delegates withdrew. The Croatian speakers all thanked participants for continuing with the conference as many others had been cancelled or postponed - which must beg the question whether LIS professionals are particularly brave, stubborn or ill informed!
This year's conference was extremely well organised by the University of Zagreb, Croatia, the University of Tampere, Finland (hosts of CoLIS 1), the Royal School of Library and Information Science, Copenhagen, Denmark (hosts of CoLIS 2) and Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA. A very full 3-day programme of papers was organised with a full day pre-conference tutorial and 2 post-conference workshops. Indeed, the conference was, perhaps, too intensive. I for one was "burnt-out" at the end and had to cancel a planned attendance at what promised to be an interesting workshop on scanning in favour of a relaxing 3-island cruise. Each day was very full of papers. In addition, there was a wonderful concert given by the Dubrovnik Chamber Choir in the Rector's Place and a banquet at the Konavaski Dvari Restaurant in the hillside above the fishing village of Cavtat.
The declared general aim of the CoLIS conferences is to provide a broad forum for critically exploring and analysing library and information science as a discipline and as a field of research from historical, theoretical, and empirical perspectives.
The specific goal of CoLIS 3 was to critically explore the evolving concepts, research, and development of issues related to digital libraries from the perspective of a number of approaches and disciplines. Digital libraries can be studied from a whole variety of perspectives and models within different communities that hold different ideas, aims and concepts. The conference's declared aim was to focus on fundamental and integrating issues and problems that reflect efforts and thinking from a number of disciplines and countries. Although the conference was held in Europe, however, speakers presenting a large percentage of the 23 research papers were from the USA with a consequently heavy emphasis upon pure rather than applied research. I ended the week with a greater understanding of work in the US than in Europe and was disappointed that I had not heard more about real-life projects and systems. There were very few descriptions of ongoing practices and very few presentations from practitioners amongst the many research papers that the Conference Chair described as extensive empirically based papers. In particular, the only one mention of the central issues discussed at UK conferences - hybrid libraries and integration - came from a British speaker. It was good, however, to hear a number of references to the eLib Programme and eLib projects. Nevertheless, there was very little discussion at all centred on more practical issues. Copyright, for example was hardly mentioned and never discussed as an important issue in its own right. The 12 short papers mainly sought to describe specific approaches and examples in some institutions in a number of countries; revealing the wide breadth of digital library projects around the world.
It was emphasised that, though the concept of digital libraries is little more than a decade old, they have already raised a large number of very important issues and challenges as well as developments, research and practical applications that cut across many disciplines throughout the world. Yet, the concepts, philosophies, theories and research about many issues pertinent to digital libraries are still quite new and evolving. The greatest challenge facing digital libraries is to define where they stand in the global information infrastructure. Digital libraries should be goal-driven and not technology-driven. The expertise built up by people using other systems should not be discarded lightly. Technological advances have been great, but there is a great deal of uncertainly about what is happening in the digital world.
One speaker suggested that there was no common meaning behind the words "digital library" and made a plea for understanding and agreeing definitions. There could be endless debates about what a digital library actually means to each person. It is important to understand what we are all trying to achieve through the development of digitisation. It was repeated over and over again that the digital revolution might be as far reaching for the world's development as Gutenberg's invention has proved to be. A number of speakers touched upon the idea that the term "Digital Library" is often used when the term "Digital Collection" would be more appropriate. It was felt that a "collection" was a "holding of documents" whereas a "library" was a "service". It was suggested that, if all information was digital, no information would ever be lost, everybody would be connected to anybody and anything and any individual could retrieve any information directly without recourse to a mediator from any source at any time, always, immediately, directly and automatically. Anyone could also send information and publish anything without mediation.
This, of course, contrasted with the discussions about whether or not there was so much digital information that it might become impossible for users to find what they required without the help of a mediator to retrieve that information and to help evaluate the quality of information. Digitisation allows us to preserve everything. There is a great deal of uncertainty about the validity and safety of using much of the information available digitally, although one small-scale study suggested that some scholars were less reluctant to publish material online than previously. If libraries, however, were to provide their users with access to everything and not select, it was not possible for them to guarantee quality. This idea gave rise to further discussions about trust in information and the possible difficulties posed by too much preservation and by the fact that the Net allows for any number of specialised interfaces which might prevent users from gaining general access.
The inevitable discussions about the possible development of a 2-tier access to information also took place. A number of speakers considered the possibility that costs and the development of infrastructures meant that the least privileged in society would have less and less access to information, although it was pointed out that web servers at Kosovo refugee camps had provided essential email links to help families locate each other.
One speaker suggested that mediation for users might be difficult since there was a dearth of Digital Library related courses on the curricula of library schools. This raised interesting discussions as to whether Digital Libraries should be considered in isolation or whether information about them should be more closely integrated into other tuition and whether or not it was already so integrated.
Papers were based upon the central themes of: context, relations, evaluation, management, design, representation, interaction, information retrieval and digital libraries and mass media.
In the somewhat rarefied atmosphere of concepts, theories and philosophies surrounding these themes, it was good to hear one of the opening speakers conclude by extolling delegates to remember users. This was, indeed, picked up by a number of speakers, though the question of users was largely absent in the discussions and one speaker actually remarked upon the fact that issues directly related to users and their behaviour was rare at international digital library conferences. Another speaker pointed out that the technology for collecting, selecting, preserving, storing, abstracting, copying, recording and disseminating information might have changed, but that the technology for creating users had not. This was the greatest continuity in libraries. Digital libraries can move away from the constraints of information systems to information provision and, therefore, focus more upon the user. One speaker emphasised that we should concentrate more upon usability by pointing out that information seeking is always in context whereas information systems are context-insensitive.
It was suggested that there are constant changes in culture, time and technology. As these changed, so libraries must change with them. Consequently, digital libraries have developed and with them new opportunities, new threats and new challenges. Digital material can be duplicated cheaply with costs independent of scale of use. Material can be part published and cheaply published on-line, but the pricing of digital material bears no relation to costs. Often people do not value what they do not pay for. Digital information costs might be totally related to the value that is placed upon it and libraries are often caught in a pricing trap.
There was a long panel discussion about the possibility of creating global interaction for what might often be national systems, but could so easily be global ideas and systems. It was felt that there is little communication between digital libraries and that coherent, integrating concepts and approaches had not yet emerged. There was some discussion as to whether we actually needed these and this resulted in substantial agreement about the necessity for global interaction, but little practical outcome. One speaker had already suggested that there were cultural differences in countries on computer use and that computers made a different social and cultural impact in different countries.
It was concluded that the development of the digital library still held many challenges. These included hybrid integration, the sharpening competition for scarce resources, the sharing of communication, access costs, the differences between public access that might be offered as a "taster" to be followed by expensive public access and the bewildering variety of models, degrees of access and levels of subscription. It is necessary to develop sustainable models for digital libraries. There are a number of different digital library models such as the library model, network model, association model, newspaper model, that based upon the publishers' perspective and that based upon the replacement of the scholarly journal model. The development of the digital library might also involve an exchange of roles. It might call for a different relationship between librarian and publisher. The library, for example, might enter publishing whereas publishers might find they are providing "shelf space". Digital libraries might also bring about other cultural changes such as the blurring of professional roles in educational institutions such as those between librarians and academics and IT professionals. Digital libraries might well redefine the role of the librarian and information specialist.
Further Information about CoLIS 3 is available at: http://www.ffzg.hr/infoz/colis3/
CoLIS 4 will be held at the University of Washington in Seattle early in August, 2002
If you have any comments on this article, please contact the editors (email@example.com).
ResIDe Electronic Library
University of the West of England
Tel: 0117 965 6261 ext 3646
|Christine Dugdale manages the ResIDe Electronic Library at the University of the West of England, Bristol. Funded as an eLib short loan project, the ResIDe Electronic Library sought to explore such issues surrounding the implementation of an electronic reserve as copyright and collection management systems. ResIDe has expanded to include a current awareness database and a past examination paper database and is now a permanent part of the University's Library Services.|
For citation purposes:
Christine Dugdale, "Conceptions of Library and Information Science (CoLIS3)", Exploit Interactive, issue 2, 20 July 1999