Digital Libraries Put to Work

Efforts to make the Internet's digital flood as useful and easy to navigate as bookstacks in a good old-fashioned library will get a big boost sometime in the next few weeks. Sunday, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (which publishes ScienceNOW), Stephen Griffin of the National Science Foundation (NSF) said that his agency is about to announce a 5-year, $40 million to $50 million program called Digital Libraries 2. The program will fund research groups working to develop systems that will organize digital information in new ways and make it searchable by content, rather than just by character strings.

Digital Libraries 2 will build on a smaller program that over the past 4 years has funded the development of technologies to, for example, catalog and search large sets of images and glean information from data banks scattered across cyberspace (Science, 7 October 1994, p. 20). Now, says Griffin, it's time "to go beyond technology to usability," adding that "we're trying to explore the social and work context" of digital libraries.

By turning large, widely used collections of information into digital libraries, the program "will field really big test-beds of what scientists will use 5 years from now," says Bruce Schatz, who heads the digital libraries project at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. It has attracted other sponsoring agencies, including the National Library of Medicine and NASA. And grant winners--likely to be announced this fall--will probably include industrial partners, says Robert Wilensky, director of the digital libraries project at the University of California, Berkeley. That should help researchers identify which technologies are already brewing in industry and which need the program's help.