The Norwegian digital library

What is it? What will it be? What will it look like? What will it feel like? This national digital library for all?
These questions are being asked by quite a few library people in Norway these days. And the questions, though not as difficult as the one about the meaning of life, are still not close to a single, ‘once and for all’ answer. But we have started the process of getting there.The Norwegian digital library was drafted in a report published a year ago. This report describes a number of issues and presents a number of activities that should be initiated in order to create this digital library. The vision is clear, but ambitious and challenging: “The Norwegian Digital Library is a system that breaks down the walls between the separate libraries and makes their collective information resources available to everyone in a simple way.”

The Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority decided to build on this report when they initiated a programme to facilitate the process. This programme will run for 3-5 years. A project co-ordinator was appointed in November 2003 and an organisation for the programme is now also coming into place. There is a programme committee with high-level representation. This committee will outline the policy and strategy for the work ahead.

The digital library
There are several elements that will constitute the digital library:

The digital library will contain all types of documents – text, photos, audio, video, hyperlinks etc. It will also provide access to non-digital objects that can be obtained as a loan or for use on site in a library or another institution. The content will be distributed and maintained by the different participants who ‘own’ the resources and databases, and content that resides with the producers of content will also be made available. Creating more digital content is part of the programme, and a national digitisation plan is one way of starting such an activity. This will involve not only the library community. Archives and museums are part of the picture as well.

Content without services is not very meaningful or accessible. Services are necessary tools to get to the content and to make use of it. The digital library will provide a set of services for

  • searching
  • organising content
  • support for production of content
  • document ordering and supply
  • authorisation and access control
  • and more.

Technological framework
The framework makes it possible to integrate services, metadata and content from many suppliers. It is therefore important to reach an agreement on a set of standards for this framework. This is the glue that binds the different elements together, invisible but absolutely necessary.

User interfaces
The services of the digital library can only be accessed through some sort of user interface. This is the user’s window to the content of the digital library. The user interface can be single, it can be customised to individuals or groups, or it can be an institutional portal or website providing access to services and content from the digital library. There has to be a user interface, but it can take many forms and shapes. The introduction of yet another universal portal is maybe not what makes people’s hearts beat faster these days. The important issue is easy access to the vast amount of information in our libraries, and this can be done from more than one access point.

There is not much new about all this. What is new, or rather unique, is the planned co-operation and co-ordination across the whole spectrum of the library community. It will encompass the national library, research and academic libraries, public libraries, and special libraries – in short, all kinds of libraries. And then there are content and services from archives and museums too. This may sound like megalomania, but we think it can be done – over some time.

First of all, there must be a shared understanding of what we are trying to do. This includes an understanding of the complexity of the process and the way forward. The vision is something that everyone can agree on as an ideal, but we have to find out how to get there.

Some important issues
I should like to point out some of the issues, which are crucial if we are to succeed:

We must build on what has already been done and what is being done. There will not be a completely new infrastructure. A lot of libraries already have in place systems and services that can be a part of the digital library or developed to become a part.

We need to establish a common set of standards and framework for metadata, exchange of data, cross-searching, document formats and more. A project ‘Establishing the framework of the Norwegian digital library’ has been started and is ongoing, involving a number of people with experience and competence in these areas.

We need to know what is going on around us in the library community at large, but not only there.We live in an age of convergence and change.What happens in other parts of the ‘information business’ and with other players (some of whom we may consider, sometimes wrongly, to be in a totally different field) will have a strong effect on the way we design and present our services. The ‘googlification’ of information retrieval and the rise of the Internet as the number one information resource and service bank in the eyes of the general public are the most obvious examples.

We need to address the copyright issues concerning use of digital material. This is a complex area, but we need to establish solutions and to build a legal platform and framework for the digital library.We need to develop a solid national competence centre on libraries and copyright in order to meet the many copyright challenges ahead.

We need to form co-operative relationships and alliances both within and outside the library community.

What shall we do in 2004?
The financial framework for the digital library activities in 2004 is limited, but that does not mean we are prevented from going on with projects and starting new activities. This programme has a high priority within the Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority. The programme is also supported in a White paper on Cultural Policy, so there is reason to be optimistic also about future funding.

In 2004 we shall continue the work of establishing consensus on the technological framework of the digital library. We plan to start working groups on

  • digitisation
  • licensing of digital content
  • electronic publishing and open access.

We shall organise seminars and conferences on important digital library issues. The first conference (in May 2004) was on portals with focus on presentday proliferation, how portals can work together, what actually constitutes a portal and more.

We shall support and follow up projects initiated by others that contribute to the development of a digital library. One such project is the development of a national register of library users, making it possible for one user to have only one library card that can be used in all participating libraries.

We shall carry out surveys and analyses on stakeholders and other players in the field.

We shall of course take an active part in discussions and debates.

It is still early days, but hopefully in a year or two we shall have something more concrete to show for our efforts. Something that can be seen and used and that will actually make a difference to libraries and their users. is the programme’s website. Unfortunately in Norwegian only.