Digital libraries comprise of managed collections of information, where the information is stored in digital formats and is accessible over a network (Arms, 2001). Thus digital libraries differ from search engines, such as Google, as the data provided by them are not managed. The results provided have not gone through a process whereby someone has analysed and evaluated the information for relevance, usefulness, authority, subject etc etc.
Thus, digital libraries are needed to help organise and manage the digital information available. This means, only collating the information that is considered valuable and beneficial to the users who use the libray and need useful information.
By creating a digital library, information is brought to those who cannot visit a physical library. As long as they have a computer and access to the Internet, they have access to the latest information; as well as unique information that have traditionally been held at only a few libraries and archives around the world.
Also, information that was “once available only to the professional is now directly available to all” (Arms, 2001). This means that users will have access to new developments in areas such as physics or medicine. And this information is always available, never checked out, or mis-shelved.
These benefits can encourage users to be creative with the collections. This includes the manipulation of images and data, and bringing together information that may have first appeared to be unrelated but have unique qualifying characteristics. Digital libraries allow information to be presented in new and exciting ways that may not be possible in a physical library.
In addition, because networks can be accessed on personal devices, such as laptops, tablets and mobile phones, users can personalise their experiences by using bookmarks or downloading documents. And as these devices are becoming less expensive, more than ever, people around the world can access this information.
In terms of management, digital libraries can be expanded and remodelled far more easily than physical libraries and storage of documents is becoming less expensive (although storage of high quality media files is still expensive). And as the technology develops, the costs of the underlying technology falls making digital libraries steadily less expensive. However, supporting collections in digital and analogue format is expensive and publishers charge more for the digital version. Most libraries do not have the money to acquire and process all the materials they “desire” (Arms, 2001).
Furthermore, receiving digital information is far more easier than acquiring materials in a physical format. This ideally includes getting the latest information from international countries about their countries, as well as providing information to these countries.
However, those who build and maintain digital libraries, need to consider the economical situation of less fortunate countries when designing digital libraries. “One of the great challenges in developing digital libraries is to build systems that take advantage of modern technology yet perform adequately in less-than-perfect situations” (Arms, 2001).
[This blog post was inspired by ‘Digital Libraries’ by William Y. Arms (2001).]