The National Library of Norway and the Digital Challenge

A future of completely new and improved library services available directly to the user at home

The Nordic region represents a natural environment for co-operation

By reason of the statutory requirements for the legal deposit of all publicly available documents and publications, the National Library of Norway (NLN) is obliged to deal not only with all types of analogue media but also with digital documents. The NLN is therefore very active in this area, covering the conversion of all types of analogue media to digital form,internet-based services, multimedia databases and the legal deposit of digital documents.

Forwardlooking ideas concerning the digital library have given rise to many new possibilities,including that of co-operation with other sections of society. The NLN foresees a future of completely new and improved library services available directly to the user at home.

The National Library of Norway was first established in 1989 with the opening of a department in Rana in the north of the country. Even at that early stage the accessibility offered by information and communication technology (ICT) was used as an argument for siting this first unit 1000 km (625 miles) from the capital. At about the same time revised legislation was introduced stipulating the requirements for legal deposit, legislation which had the foresight also to include ‘EDP documents’. These factors have influenced the work of the National Library from its earliest days. The NLN has been later extended to include a department in Oslo and the office of the National Librarian.

More difficult to predict than a general rapid development in technology, however, was the introduction of the World WideWeb (WWW), a technological base which has led to a veritable explosion in the number of documents now widely accessible. Nor were there many who could foresee that the Internet would become common property in the course of a few years. It was reasonable to expect that in the long term all publishing would be digital, but the development of such methods has come about far more quickly than most people had anticipated.

The NLN has followed these developments extremely closely and has kept pace reasonably well with regard to its own infrastructure and expertise. Activities connected with internet-based access to information have been many and varied, keeping the library in the forefront of international library development in the successful utilisation of relevant ICT. In support of this claim we can point out that the NLN was one of the first to offer large-scale access to digital photography via WWW, that we are among the leaders in building up a digital sound archive and that as far as the legal deposit of digital documents is concerned, we are as far advanced as any other comparable institution.

As a library, the NLN is in a special situation with regard to the integration of all types of information and expertise. Today we deal with information ranging from written text to multimedia and with carriers ranging from old manuscripts to digital material. In spite of a relatively short period in which to build up the organisation, we have succeeded in gathering together a skilled staff with expertise in all these areas.

In addition to the National Library’s more traditional activities, we have for example established specialised departments to deal with audio-visual material. The library’s ICT staff now represents 40 man-years with a significant application of resources to the development of software and services.

Development of the NLN Digital Library Many people wonder how libraries will look in the future, what role they will play and indeed whether or not they will exist at all. Will there be libraries without librarians? Will they still need to be in a building? Will just one library perhaps be enough for the whole of Norway? Who knows? So far as the NLN can see into the future, the following would appear pretty certain.

  • We shall continue to deal with paperbased information far into the foreseeable future
  • Copying information from the analogue to the digital domain demands so much time and use of resources that we must regard it as a never-ending task
  • Human resources determine the lines along which we work and also guarantee that library services maintain the quality required by users
  • Libraries as a physical meeting place will not only continue to exist but will play an even greater role
  • We believe that the combination of people and technology is unbeatable.

Therefore libraries will carry on much the same as before, but with digital se rvices as an extra leg to stand on the y will have a greater role to play in the community. Local and immediate access to knowledge will become of vital importance.

It is fair to say that the NLN has taken the first,lengthy strides in fulfilling its role as an active player in the digital domain. Purposeful measures over many years have been aimed at establishing an architecture for the NLN’s digital library. In recent years these efforts have been first and foremost directed towards the creation of the library’s Long-Term Preservation Repository (LTPR).This is by far the library’s greatest project so far in the field of ICT, both with regard to investment and to personnel. Based on an overall powerful physical infrastructure, a fundamental functionality has been established capable of dealing with large collections of digital documents. LTPR will serve as the foundation for the majority of the library’s important future ICT-related projects.

In principle LTPR will provide the NLN’s physical infrastructure for longterm preservation of information in a digital form. The main characteristics of the LTPR can briefly be summarised as follows:

  • Large, expandable capacity
  • General infrastructure for the storage of the NLN’s digital objects
  • Infrastructure for the long-term preservation of digital information
  • Services to provide digital objects to the user
  • Systems for copyright management
  • Formal requirements for identification and metadata
  • Formal requirements governing format and quality
  • Great emphasis on security and access control.

One example from LTPR is the identification service based on Uniform Resource Name (URN). The NLN has developed one of the first services in the world using URN to identify digital objects. The URN system allots identifiers according to need and also offers a resolution service in order to find the physical position of any digital object with a given URN.

For many years the NLN has also worked with broadband technology and today we operate a technological platform for the Internet which is at the forefront of what is available. The combination of LTPR, powerful search systems, an excellent infrastructure and a high level of expertise has resulted in a number of interesting projects and services, such as photo databases, a digital radio archive, newspaper collections of historical interest, a web archive and multimedia exhibitions.

The way ahead
– an age of possibilities Utilising new technology opens up new possibilities. Libraries can be not only more but also better than in the past. We see this first and foremost in the collections, in the services offered and in the collaboration with other sectors in the community.

The collections
A library’s own collections have traditionally been looked upon as relatively isolated units, existing to all intents and purposes independent of time and space. A great deal of work has been devoted to making the collections as complete as possible.With new technology it is much easier to integrate different collections and to give the user access to new, virtual collections. The individual library’s service to the user is less dependent upon having everything in stock itself,since now the user can search through many libraries. These virtual collections will appear more complete to the user and the refore also seem better in quality. In the task of integrating with other collections Z39.50 and Open Archives Initiative (OAI) are central elements in the NLN’s development. A further advantage is that by digitising valuable and delicate collections, it is possible to make them accessible without any risk of wear and tear, damage or theft.

The services
For the National Library it is important to focus on the needs of library users. ICT makes it possible to create new services and to improve the traditional ones. Even more important is perhaps the fact that geographical barriers are reduced. Services can be made available at the time and place most suitable to the user.

New technology also creates the conditions for user-directed services, specially designed for a particular type of user in a given context. It is easy to appreciate that a historian would require a different interface with a photographic collection on the Internet than would a school pupil. Similarly a radio archive should have a different appearance to a radio journalist than to a senior citizen looking for the recording of an old broadcast. The NLN already has the first specialised services of this type in place in its digital r adio archive.

We believe that relatively soon we can expect to see interface solutions where the user to a considerable degree creates his or her own library. Completely new search and navigation tools will become available with an emphasis on accessibility related to context. Users will find that what today is experienced as ‘noise’ will soon completely disappear.

When working with historical collections the library faces a considerable challenge in attaching good descriptions to objects.A variety of personnel resources exist in the community capable of making a positive contribution to improved metadata by participating in the library’s work. For many years now the NLN has studied user input in connection with the library’s photo database Galleri NOR. Experience shows that this type of interaction can be particularly valuable with regard to quality control of services and collections.

Society in general is subject to changes which are partly determined by technology. These changes offer the possibility of new forms of co-operation, for instance between producers of material and libraries. Already we can see that the nucleus of expertise built up around our digital library is regarded as a positive resource by many external bodies. One example of this is our cooperation with the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) in the development and running of the digital radio archive. So far more than 40,000 radio programmes of historical interest have been digitised, both sound and catalogue being available to selected users on the Internet.

Legal deposit and long-term preservation In 2001 the NLN initiated PARADIGMA, a project designed to continue for several years and with a focus on the legal deposit of digital documents. The aim of the project is to find the technology, methods and organisation required in order to meet the challenges posed by legal deposit in the digital domain. These efforts will to a great extent be based on the work already being carried out within the NLN’s general digital library. By the end of the project we hope to have developed an operational process for the legal deposit of digital documents, also for what we refer to as internet documents.

The large-scale handling of legal deposit material submitted in digital form brings a further huge challenge with regard to long-term preservation. As 16 SPLQ:1 2002 might well be anticipated, the library’s aim is to use LTPR as the basic tool in this connection.

At the moment we regard migration as the only feasible method of preserving individual digital objects over long periods of time and we are working on establishing migration support in LTPR.

New roles
In the digital domain the stream of information can assume forms and volume to which we are not accustomed. Procedures in the case of radio broadcasting, for example, include the logging onto tape by the broadcaster, the sending of the tape by post to the NLN and the final handling and storage of the tape by the library.

With a view to replacing this process, we are now working on internet-based legal deposit. As a result we have found it both necessary and advantageous to enter into close co-operation with the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation in order to agree upon common standards with regard to metadata, format and quality. Furthermore, the library has been able to act as adviser in special areas of expertise.We can justifiably claim that this work has had international consequences,as much in the library and archive sectors as in the area of broadcasting. It is inevitable that the NLN must accept entering into unfamiliar situations which will make new demands on both the organisation and the individual member of staff. Clearly this applies equally in our relations with other producers of material, such as publishers and newspapers.

Research and development
A library is an institution built upon paper-based information and on its knowledge of this collected information. In the reality now sur rounding us it is therefore imperative to acquire new knowledge and to develop new practices. We must ensure that the necessary conditions exist in order to navigate successfully into the future and to offer the community at all times the best library possible. Unfortunately these conditions do not occur of themselves. They must be created. In addition to the need for technological expertise, completely new demands will also b e made on organisational insight. In line with society as a whole, the library sector must also develop these skills.

A strategic emphasis on research and development is therefore of vital importance for the National Library. For many years now the library has taken part in research projects financed by the European Union. These not only represent a source of new knowledge but also offer considerable possibilities for pursuing our own initiatives.We shall naturally continue to seek participation in such projects in the years ahead.

The Nordic region represents a natural environment for co-operation. The similarities of cultures and history, the linguistic reality which makes for easy communication and the many other characteristics we share in common; these all serve to ensure that co-operation across our borders gives speedy and satisfactory results. NORDINFO and Nordunet are excellent tools in making such projects possible and the NLN has had and continues to have a large portfolio of projects based on Nordic co-operation.

In a national context the NLN has established formal research co-operation with industry, research institutes and the educational sector.

The National Library has also taken the initiative with a view to setting up an extensive, national programme to carry out research on digital libraries. This report, partly financed by the Norwegian Research Council, concludes that there is a need for such a programme and that it will require an annual grant of about 20 MNOK over a period of five years. The report is available from the National Library and has been officially submitted to both the Norwegian Ministry of Cultural and Scientific Affairs and the Norwegian Research Council.

Adviser at the National Library of Norway.