The UK's Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) has announced that its recent TechWatch report, by Richard Gartner, on metadata for digital libraries explores how high quality metadata frameworks are critical if libraries are to provide seamless searching and retrieval technologies. Focusing thus on metadata is a prerequisite for the libraries to hold their own alongside established web-based search engines.
Digital library technologies are by now well established and understood throughout the higher education community. The creation of digital collections, either in the form of 'born-digital' materials or the conversion of standard library materials into digital form, is now a well-established part of the activities of most higher education institutions. The richness and variety of information resources and digital collections that are made available on the web have contributed enormously to the higher and further education community. However, for the average user, accessing information that spans multiple sources can be a messy process involving a plethora of different systems, catalogues and interfaces. For those becoming used to the ease-of-use of search tools such as Google and Yahoo, this rather more fluid environment can be a considerable barrier to accessing information from digital libraries and online collections. What is worrying about this, say some, is that users will increasingly see the search results thrown up by the main search engines as the be-all and end-all of a particular subject or area of interest.
The JISC TechWatch report argues that rectifying this problem requires, above all, the acceptance of the importance of metadata and the need for its standardisation and integration within the library community. The complex metadata requirements of digital objects, which include descriptive, administrative and structural metadata, have so far militated against the emergence of a single standard. However, the report argues that a set of existing standards, all based on XML, can and should be combined to produce a coherent, integrated metadata strategy.
For the library user, the most obvious advantages of the adoption of these standards will be more advanced, federated search facilities that allow disparate digital library collections to be brought together. In addition, the future of digital libraries will increasingly hinge around service-oriented approaches and 'seamless' information flow. Integrated approaches to metadata will necessarily be part of the realisation of that vision. It is in providing the 'glue' that would underlie the service orientation of future developments, that an integrated metadata strategy would have its most profound impact.
Results/findings from research reports
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