Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Book Review: Digital Libraries - Policy, Planning and Practice

Bruce Royan considers the ironies of communicating the state of the art of digital libraries by means of a print publication.

There is an irony in reviewing a printed book about the Digital Library. The gestation period of monographic print publishing is such that it is unreasonable to expect it to be fully up to date. From internal evidence it is clear that no chapter in the book under review was completed more recently than April 2003. This may explain the lack of mention of developments such as the UK Parliamentary Select Committee Report on Scientific Publication [1], or the Public Access Proposal of the US National Institutes of Health [2]. If it is current awareness the reader is seeking, the reader would be better sticking to Ariadne!

On the other hand, the student or library practitioner seeking some guidance on policy and planning for Digital Libraries and some case studies on good practice, will find this book a pretty good place to start.

After background overviews of federally funded digital library research in the USA and the seminal UK eLib programme, the Policy and Planning section contains clear and helpful chapters on issues of funding, content, services, preservation and evaluation, which together go some way towards justifying the book's claim (on the dustcover synopsis) to be a 'handbook'. Interfiled with these chapters, but different in nature from them, is Stevan Harnad's well-argued 35-page case for author self-archiving and institutional repositories.

The rest of the work consists of a wide variety of interesting case studies, including the Glasgow Digital Library, UCE Electronic Library, the Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations, the Variations projects for music at Indiana University, and the Library of Congress digital programme. The section is completed by a suitably visionary look into the future by Mel Collier, extrapolating from experiences at the University of Tilburg.

Considering this is the work of 23 contributors across 4 continents, and that the approach to editing has been self-avowedly 'light touch', this book reads consistently well. The writing is never turgid, usually informative, and sometimes entertaining - I particularly liked 'Law's Law':

User friendly systems aren't

The production values of the book go some way to justifying its cost, and the whole thing is attractively laid out (although I take issue with having as many as 20 pages of preliminary material: the List of Acronyms would have been better at the back, and I'm not sure about the necessity of separate lists of Figures and of Tables). Each chapter ends with useful references (though confirmation of the Accessed Date for cited urls would have been helpful). It was impossible to fault the excellent Bibliography and Index.

No book on such a fast-moving topic can truly reflect the state of the art. The digital library practitioner is likely to be using electronic sources to keep abreast in any case. But as a starting point for getting up to speed with the issues of digital library policy and planning, and as an introduction to good practice, this book would be a reasonable purchase. In that sense, it does exactly what it says on the cover.


  1. Draft House of Commons, Science and Technology Committee, "Scientific Publications: Free for all?" HC 399-I, July 2004
  2. Draft Proposal for Enhanced Public Access to NIH Research Information, September 2004

Author Details

Professor Bruce Royan
Principal Consultant
Concurrent Computing Ltd

Email: bruce.royan@concurrentcomputing.co.uk
Web site: http://www.concurrentcomputing.co.uk

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