On the first post-ECDL-conference day I participated in the Third Workshop on Foundation of Digital Libraries (DLFoundations 2008) that was organized by the DELOS Network of Excellence on Digital Libraries. One major work of DELOS is the DELOS Digital Library Reference Model (DLRM). The DLRM is an abstract model to describe digital libraries; it can be compared to the CIDOC Conceptual Reference Model (CIDOC-CRM) and the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR) – and it shares some of their problems: a lack of availability and (resulting) a lack of implementations.
The DLRM is “defined” in a 213-page PDF-file – this is just not usable! Have a look at W3C or IETF how nowadays standards are defined. As DLRM is a conceptual model, you must also provide a RDF representation or it is just inavailable for serious applications on the web. And of course the silly copyright statement should be removed in favor of a CC-license. That’s the formal part. Summarizing the content of DLRM there are 218 concepts and 52 relations – which is far too much to start with. But: there are some really useful ideas behind DLRM.
The reference model includes a division of “digital library” into three levels of conceptualization (see image): first the visible digital library (the collection that users work with), second the digital library system (the software application that is installed and configured to run a digital library), and third the digital library management system (the software system that supports the production and administration of digital libraries). This division can be helpful to understand and talk about digital libraries – although I am not sure whether the division between digital library systems and digital library management systems is a such a good one.
Beside general talks about the Digital Library Reference Model the workshop provided some experience from practise by Wolfram Hostmann (DRIVER project) and by Georg Eckes (Deutsches Filminstitut) – never underestimate good real world examples! The most refreshing talk was given by Joan Lippincott (Coalition of Networked Information). She pointed out that much more then traditional repositories can be viewed as digital libraries. Especially user-generated content can constitute a digital library. A useful model for digital libraries should also fit for collections at Flickr, YouTube, Wikis, Weblogs etc. and user can mash up resources to create new digital library services, for instance the species search engine iSpecies. She is sooo right! In addition Joan mentioned initiatives to broaden the use of authority files and identity management. Another direct hit! If digital libraries only focus on interoperability with other “official” digital libraries they will not remain. Libraries are only one little player in the digital knowledge environment and their infrastructure is not defined only by them.
I enjoyed the workshop, I really like the digital library community and I am happy to be part of it. But some parts still seem to live in an ivory tower. If the digital library reference model does not quickly get adopted to real applications (both repositories like those build with DSpace, Fedora, EPrints etc. and open systems like YouTube, Wikipedia, Slideshare…), it is nothing but an interesting idea. The digital revolution is taking place anyway, so let’s better be part of it!
P.S: The slides will soon be available at the Workshop’s website.