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October  / November 1999

 

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Perspectives on DLI-2 Growing the Field

by Michael Lesk

Digital Libraries Initiative Phase 2 (DLI-2), compared with the first set of projects which began in 1994, is a larger and broader effort. It received approximately three times as many proposals (230 requesting over $400 million), and they went to a management group of more than twice as many government agencies. The 24 funded projects cover a substantially wider range of subjects and media, and the program involves about twice as much money in total as the DLI-1 round of projects five years ago. The increase in activity, sponsorship and breadth reflects the success of the field and, in particular, the success of the DLI-1 projects and the public attention and interest they achieved with their results. We can only regret that funding limits prevent still larger and more ambitious projects. Most important administratively is the expansion of the group of government agencies sponsoring the program. DLI-2 is an effort of the following groups:

  • National Science Foundation
  • Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
  • National Library of Medicine
  • Library of Congress
  • National Endowment for the Humanities
  • National Aeronautics & Space Administration
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation

These organizations are operating in partnership with the following:

  • Institute of Museum and Library Services
  • Smithsonian Institution
  • National Archives and Records Administration

The new agencies joined the program as a result of seeing the DLI-1 results, and their participation has permitted widening the efforts in digital libraries, particularly into the medical and humanities disciplines. This is a clear instance of positive feedback at work: good research results attracted more supporting agencies and more financing.

We also expanded the scope of the research. For example, in DLI-2 we have projects addressing new kinds of media: sound recordings of the human voice at Michigan State University; music at Johns Hopkins University; political and economic data at Harvard University; and a combination of software and data at the University of South Carolina. These join with continued study of video materials at Carnegie-Mellon University; images at several places including the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Stanford University; and textual materials as parts of nearly all projects. Several projects, including those at the University of California, Berkeley, and Tufts University, combine several kinds of media.

The new projects also deal with content in new subject areas: anthropological models and images at the University of Texas; literary manuscripts at the University of Kentucky; patient care at Columbia University; and folk literature at the University of California, Davis. These projects also involve new technology, so that, for example, the Tufts University project extends the digital library effort into the domain of classical studies but also will look at ways to involve mapping and imaging information together with text. And the University of Kentucky is looking at new ways of digitizing literary manuscripts, as well as new ways of using them.

And, of course, there are new technological areas being explored, such as interoperability and security questions at Cornell University and Stanford University; automatic classification at the University of Arizona; information filtering at the University of Indiana; and a new and particularly interesting area, data provenance, at the University of Pennsylvania. Again, many projects extending subject areas or media are also expanding the technological reach, as at Columbia University where new summarization methods are being created in the medical area of patient care information.

Needless to say, there is a great deal of other work in the United States and around the world on digital libraries. The Library of Congress, the Digital Library Federation and various private foundations, such as the Mellon Foundation, support very important efforts in the digital library effort. And the combined efforts of a great many universities with internally funded digital library work are much larger than any of the centrally organized programs. Many of these efforts are coming together now, most notably in the state of California where the "Interlib" name refers to the combined efforts of the federally funded research projects and the state-created California Digital Library. Some of these other efforts fill in the gaps left in the DLI-2 awards, most particularly in the area of economic experimentation to help us understand what will be the long-term organizational and financial basis of digital library services.

Perhaps the most significant impact of the federal agency digital library effort is not the specific projects today nor the spin-offs from previous work (the Lycos and Google search engines, for example, trace their ancestry to DLI-1 awards), but the researchers involved. We see senior scholars in other disciplines, who could easily continue their careers in the areas in which they have been working before, changing to do digital library research. This happened with Hector Garcia-Molina and Robert Wilensky in the earlier set of awards, and now we see senior professors such as Sidney Verba and Gio Wiederhold joining our list of awardees, to mention only a few. Attracting researchers into a field is more important than choosing the subject areas of the research. Research is inherently unpredictable, but with people such as our new awardees working in the field, we can be confident that the outcomes will be significant and beneficial.


Michael Lesk is with the National Science Foundation. He can be reached by e-mail at mlesk@nsf.gov

This article is reprinted with permission from D-Lib Magazine, July/August 1999, Volume 5 Number 7/8; ISSN 1082-9873; DOI: 10.1045/july99-lesk; http://www.dlib.org/dlib/july99/07lesk.html.
 

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