Web Magazine for Information Professionals

A Digital Library Showcase and Support Service - the Berkeley Digital Library SunSITE

Roy Tennant describes a resource used to create digital libraries and services, and to help others do the same.

Few topics in librarianship seem as "hot" these days as digital libraries, and yet for all the heat being generated there is little light. What are digital libraries? How are they built? How are they maintained and preserved? How will they be funded? These questions and more abound, while answers are few and far between. We don't have all the answers, but we're a great place to start looking for them. We are the Berkeley Digital Library SunSITE [1], and this article is about who we are and how we may be able to help you.

The Digital Library SunSITE is one of several dozen SunSITEs [2] around the world, which are sponsored by Sun Microsystems, Inc. and the institution where each is hosted. Most SunSITEs are focused on collecting software for downloading (SITE after all, stands for Software, Information, and Technology Exchange). Sun provides an initial hardware donation and the local institution provides the rest. Between the initial donation and further upgrades by the UC Berkeley Library, the Digital Library SunSITE is now supported by a four-CPU Sun SPARCcenter 2000E with 1 GB of RAM and 112 GBs of hard disk storage.

Screenshot of the Berkeley Digital SunSITE

Screenshot of the Berkely Digital SunSITE

We are one of about four SunSITEs with a topic focus and the only one dedicated to digital libraries. Our mission is two-fold: to create digital library collections and services and to help others do the same. Some of what we are doing to fulfill this dual mission is outlined below, while much more is available at the SunSITE.

Digital Collections

The UC Berkeley Library is working with a variety of tools and resources to determine the best practices for creating digital collections and services. Generally each project has unique characteristics that provide opportunities for exploring issues or experimenting with specific solutions. A small sample of such projects are highlighted below.

California Heritage [3]
With the California Heritage project and other related projects, the UC Berkeley Library is helping to develop a standard for encoding archival finding aids in the Structured Generalized Markup Language (SGML). The Encoded Archival Description (EAD) effort, now led by the Library of Congress, is working to define an SGML Document Type Definition that will provide a common file format for these enriched bibliographic descriptions of archival collections. The California Heritage project is taking this effort further by also embedding digitized representations of collection items within the finding aid, thereby allowing users to easily browse from a library catalog record to the archival finding aid and, in some cases, directly to the item itself.

The Jack London Collection [4]
Building upon the work of projects such as California Heritage, the Jack London Collection brings together a variety of materials related to this famous American author. Besides the full text of many of his novels, non-fiction books, short stories, and journalism, the site contains over eighty digitized representations of his letters, postcards, and other documents as well as over eighty photographs of London and his family, friends, and acquaintances. Primary sources are further enhanced by explicative and critical work that includes biographical information, bibliographies, and critical essays. This section of the site is under the editorial guidance of a world-renowned London scholar from Sonoma State University, Dr. Clarice Stasz. With the London Collection we are exploring the issues of libraries becoming digital publishers and the creation of "virtual" libraries -- libraries that do not exist physically in one place. A number of the digitized items in our collection are not held by any library, but come from private collections.

NCSTRL: Networked Computer Science Technical Reports Library [5]
The NCSTRL project provides a method to simultaneously search distributed archives of computer science technical reports. Dozens of computer science departments at universities around the world deposit their technical reports in a local repository using special software that interacts with a Web server. Then, when someone at that local repository performs a search, the search is sent simultaneously to all the other NCSTRL servers. All the respositories perform the search and send the results back to the site that initiated the search. The results are then collated for the user by the local server. Thus a user can simultaneously search archives at geographically distant universities in one step.

Digital Library Support Service

We are using several strategies to support other individuals and institutions in building digital libraries, from providing information or current awareness services to tool development and research project support.

In a field that is being created from scratch, information is at a premium. Part of our strategy at the Digital Library SunSITE is to locate the best information on building digital libraries and either host it or point to it. [6] Major areas in which we maintain links include copyright and intellectual property rights, imaging, preservation, and digital library standards. We have also published papers, proceedings from conferences, and draft standards documents.

Current Awareness
Our activities to help keep digital library developers current are in some cases based on activities that we began years ago. Our monthly current awareness publication Current Cites began in August 1990 in print, and soon migrated to email and Gopher publication. It is now published on the Web [7] , with a plain text version being distributed via email. Current Cites is comprised of one-paragraph evaluative annotations of the best print and electronic literature on information technology.

The SunSITE is also home to several important electronic discussions:

A variety of tools -- both the hard and soft kind -- are required to build digital libraries. At the Digital Library SunSITE we try to point to tools that we or others have found effective for this purpose. We are also involved with creating or enhancing tools that we need to do our work. One such example is SWISH-Enhanced.

Research & Development
One of our strategies to support the development of digital libraries is to support individuals with innovative ideas and energy, but who may be lacking the infrastructure and resources to make their projects a reality. If their project fits well with our goals and the support we have to offer, we sign up the individual as a "digital librarian" on the SunSITE, give them an account, a base hard disk storage allocation and permission to run existing software or request the installation of new programs. We have no geographic restrictions for participation in our Digital Librarian Program [13] , nor do we require that they work at a particular kind of institution. Some of the projects that have been hosted on SunSITE under this program include:

Come to See the Future, Stay to Help Build It

The Digital Library SunSITE is very much a work in progress. We add to it daily, but we only announce major additions on our Whats New page [16]. Come visit us and tell us how we could improve. Or better yet, stick around and help us do it.


[1] Berkeley Digital Library SunSITE,

[2] Sun Company Sunsite section,

[3] The California Heritage Collection,

[4] Jack London Collection,
 Editor's note (5 October 2012): the original location on http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/ now gives 'Location Not Found'; my researches did give the following which states it was maintained by: Roy Tennant and Dr. Clarice Stasz. Sponsored by the Sonoma State University Library. Last update 3 July 2009  http://london.sonoma.edu/

[5] Networked Computer Science Technical Reports Library,

[6] Digital Library Information Resources section,

[7] Current Cites section,

[8] DigLibns Electronic Discussion area and list,

[9] PUBLIB and PUBLIB-NET Electronic Discussions area and lists,

[10] Web4Lib Mailing List archive,

[11] SWISH-E (Simple WAIS Indexing Systems for Humans - Enhanced) pages,

[12] OCLC Dublin Core section,

[13] Digital Librarians programme,

[14] Index Morganagus,

[15] Librarians index to the Internet,

[16] Whats new page,


Author Details

Roy Tennant,
Berkeley SunSITE,
Email: rtennant@library.berkeley.edu