Editorial: The digital library

On 26 April this year, the Norwegian Minister of Culture acted as host to her Nordic colleagues in the Nordic Council of Ministers. The meeting was held in the National Library of Norway, and included a session devoted to the topic of digital libraries. This demonstrates how the development of libraries in our digital age has climbed high on the Nordic political agenda.

All the Nordic countries are developing strategies for digitization and digital communication of cultural heritage. All these countries have a shared awareness of how digital media represent an opportunity to better preserve the cultural heritage and to make it accessible to a wide audience, including researchers, in a more efficient way. Each country has found different ways to fund, organize and prioritize this digitization. Strong competence centres are required, not only with regard to the cultural heritage content, but also in terms of technological skills. In all the Nordic countries, the national libraries act as hubs for these efforts, in cooperation with public as well as re-    search libraries.

Digitization presents great opportunities as well as limitations. For the libraries, the challenge consists in identifying solutions that provide quality, efficiency, increased and diverse access, and preservation of the material. Preventing misuse is a further concern, be it with regard to protecting personal data or respecting intellectual property rights.

Digitization blurs the boundaries between different types of media, since the end product is no longer a printed book, a newspaper, a photo, analogue broadcasting or film or music on CDs. Everything is increasingly stored in a file format and is ready to be distributed in this form. The concept of a library collection is also challenged when cultural heritage is stored in digital archives in cyberspace or on the Internet, rather than on the libraries’ shelves. How to capture what is transient in order to preserve and communicate it, is becoming a new element in the libraries’ competence in organizing knowledge for retrieval.

All libraries that are in the process of digitizing cultural heritage encounter the challenges involved in providing access to copyrighted material. Since it is easier to provide access to material that has fallen out of copyright, this is often given priority for digitization. It is important, however, that the libraries can meet the demand for effective access to the most recent publications online or in an electronic format, be it for reading online or for downloading. The Norwegian Bookshelf project provides an example of a copyright agreement that ensures access to 50 000 full-text books online. Finding models for lending e-books from libraries represents a particular challenge. All the Nordic countries are running trials of such models. I am glad to see that finding solutions to questions pertaining to copyright was high on the agenda for the meeting of the ministers of culture.

The ministers of culture also adopted a statement from the Nordic Council of Ministers in which they underscored the importance of making the material accessible to the widest possible audience. They referred to how the internet provides good opportunities for this, and they will reconvene to discuss solutions that may establish digital access to cultural heritage across the Nordic countries.

In the meantime – and as part of the development of the digital library – it is essential that those of us whose responsibility this is continue to exchange practical experience. This issue of the Scandinavian Library Quarterly is a contribution to this end.

Undoubtedly this will be the subject of numerous future issues.

National librarian