REVIEWS: Library and Information Science Research
Electronic Journal ISSN 1058-6768
2005 Volume 15 Issue 2; September

in this issue:

Lucy A. Tedd and Andrew Large (2005) Digital Libraries: Principles and Practice in a Global Environment. Reviewed by Paul Genoni


Lucy A. Tedd and Andrew Large, Digital Libraries: Principles and Practice in a Global Environment, K. G. Saur: Munich, 2005. 280pp. ISBN 3-598-11627-6. 88,00 EUR.

Digital Libraries: Principles and Practice in a Global Environment joins a crowded market place for books providing a general introduction to digital libraries. This is of course not surprising given the importance of digital libraries (whatever exactly they are) to the library and information professions, and indeed to all sectors with an interest in the collection, storage, organisation and dissemination of information and knowledge. It is perhaps, however, somewhat surprising when one considers the daunting task facing those who write such books. The impact of digitisation is so widespread and profound – reaching virtually every aspect of library collections and services – that to address the subject in a single, approachable volume requires both courage and skill.

For the most part Lucy Tedd (Department of Information Studies, University of Wales Aberystwyth) and Andrew Large (Professor of Information Studies, McGill University, Montreal) rise to the challenge. Digital Libraries presents the reader with a well-structured and readable account of the major impacts of digitisation on libraries. The authors don't specify their target audience for the book, although they note in the preface that it had its origins in a graduate course taught at the University of Wales Aberystwyth. Certainly it would be suitable as a student textbook or for the library professional with little previous exposure to digitisation. It needs to be stressed, however, that the book is not a ‘how to' manual for those charged with implementing a digital library. While it would certainly provide useful preparatory reading for that purpose, the authors have elected to discuss the service, content and user issues underlying digitisation rather than describe in detail the technical processes necessary to create a digital library.

After an opening chapter that briefly relates the history of digital libraries and seeks to define the digital library and its relationship with traditional libraries, following chapters address users and services; digital information sources; standards and interoperability; organizing access to digital sources; interface design; searching and browsing; and practical issues related to managing and implementing a digitisation program. A final chapter presents eight ‘case studies' of major digital libraries from around the world.

It is a feature of Digital Libraries that a very diligent effort is made in all chapters to present examples from a variety of countries. As the subtitle stresses digital libraries inevitably operate globally and this should in turn influence their content and design. This point is particularly well made in the chapter dealing with interface design wherein the authors stress the importance of presenting material which is not culturally or location specific – or even more importantly, potentially offensive to sections of an international audience.

While this approach is admirable, the constant references provided to international examples can be a little distracting - not every point needs to be referenced in this way - and also detracts from the amount of text available for more detailed discussion of some points. For although, as acknowledged previously, there are difficult decision to be made in terms of what to include, some essential components of digital libraries are passed over very quickly. This is notable in the treatment of e-journals, which are basically dealt with in a page. This rather abridged treatment is particularly notable in light of the definition Tedd and Large provide of digital libraries (derived from the National Science Foundation) which stresses that they are an extension of traditional libraries in that they contain content that is ‘collected'. It is the current dependence of e-journal aggregations which is problematising the notion of collecting in its traditional sense, and which in turn raises interesting issues of control and continuity with regard to digital library content.

Indeed, if there is one part of the subject that would have benefited from more detailed treatment it is generally in the area of content development and selection. For although the topic does consume most of a chapter, that chapter includes not only e-journals, but electronic books, newspapers and theses; archives; e-print repositories; indexing and abstracting databases and the open access movement. In its current form these discussions are no more than briefly descriptive, when they may have made an ideal starting point for a discussion of some of the more interesting changes that are taking place in the tripartite relationship between information provider, librarian and user. If additional space was required to extend the coverage of content issues it may have come at the expense of material in the chapter on ‘Practical Issues', at least some of which seems to belong to another type of book.

Another minor disappointment with the book is that the numerous 'screen dumps' that pepper the text and support the various examples referred to above are not well presented. For while they illustrate what are obviously interesting and relevant websites, unfortunately in many cases they are simply too small to be read comfortably or accurately. The interested reader will find it necessary to locate these pages on the web in order to get any benefit from the example they offer.

These small complaints do not, however, detract from the value this book offers. There is plenty to admire about the generous, inclusive and provisional tone (we are reminded that digital libraries are ‘a moving target') and commonsense information that permeate the book. Digital Libraries: Principles and Practice in a Global Environment is recommended to all those who need a sound introduction to the significant issues currently impacting upon the development of digital libraries.

Paul Genoni, Ph.D
Department of Media and Information
Curtin University of Technology