History, Evolution, and Impact of Digital Libraries

History, Evolution, and Impact of Digital Libraries

Leonardo Candela (Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Italy), Donatella Castelli (Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Italy) and Pasquale Pagano (Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-783-8.ch301

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1. Introduction

Libraries, together with archives, have always been the primary institutions delegated to manage – collect, preserve and diffuse – human knowledge and culture. When advances in computer science allowed dealing with digital representation of documents dedicated to capture human knowledge and culture rather than printed ones, libraries were particularly involved in exploiting the potential of the digital revolution. Thus “digital libraries” soon became the term to indicate the digital counterpart of traditional libraries. However, digital library systems have greatly evolved since their early appearance. Today they have become complex networked systems able to support communication and collaboration among different worldwide distributed communities, dealing with “digital objects” comprising not only the digital counterpart of printed documents, but also images, video, programs and any other kind of multimedia objects a community may define as appropriate to its working and communication needs.

The evolution of digital libraries (DLs) has not been linear, coming from the contribution of many disciplines. This has created several conceptions of what a DL is, each one influenced by the perspective of the primary discipline of the conceiver(s) or by the concrete needs it was designed to satisfy. As a natural consequence, the “history” of Digital Libraries, which is now approximately twenty years long, is the history of a variety of different types of information systems that have been called “digital libraries”. These systems are very heterogeneous in scope and functionality and their evolution does not follow a single path. In particular, when changes happened this has not only meant that a better quality system was been conceived superseding the “preceding” ones but also meant that a new conception of digital libraries was born corresponding to new raised needs. As it will be seen, most of the systems dealt with in this history are still living in their original conception, even though not in their original technological solutions.

The rest of this chapter goes back over this history, giving an account of past and present understanding of these kind of systems and on-going work in the area. The chapter concludes with a vision of the impact that new DLs are expected to have in the near future.

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