Within the past decade the number and types of digital information sources have proliferated. Computing system advances and the continuing networking and communications revolution have resulted in a remarkable expansion in the ability to generate, process, and disseminate digital information. Together, these developments have made new forms of knowledge repositories and information delivery mechanisms feasible.
Before these sources can be combined into realistic, full-scale digital libraries, fundamental research must be performed in areas such as information representation, presentation, and retrieval; human-computer interaction; hypermedia and hyperbase systems; computer-supported collaborative work; distributed multimedia systems; and broadband networking. Currently, no significant consensus exists on the roles various technologies will play in the digital library. Answering the question of how best to take advantage of these promising technologies requires significant theoretical and empirical results from well-designed studies and experimental prototypes set in the context of solving real problems for patrons of experimental digital library testbeds.
Digital Libraries have been identified as a “National Challenge” in the Information Infrastructure Technology Applications (IITA) component of the U.S. High Performance Computing and Communications Program (HPCC). National Challenges are fundamental applications that have broad and direct impact on the Nation’s competitiveness and the well-being of its citizens, and that can benefit from the application of HPCC technology and resources. A primary goal of this national initiative is to establish better linkages between fundamental science and technology development that directly supports the National Information Infrastructure (NII).
In response to this national challenge, many federal agencies have recently initiated digital library research programs including the NSF, NASA, and ARPA and the national libraries and museums are beginning to make their collections electronically available through the Internet. In addition, several major research universities recently have invested heavily in digital library programs.
Digital libraries will be ubiquitous in the future and will provide the basis for a very broad set of distributed living activities including computer-supported cooperative work, distance learning, electronic commerce and entertainment. The transition to an electronic information workplace has already begun in full force. We believe that digital libraries will significantly impact the quality of education and, indeed, the quality of life over the next decade.