View the PDF document Visions of the digital library

Witten, I. H. (2001) S. R. Urs, T. B. Rajashekar and K. S. Raghavan (eds), Proc Fourth International Conference of Asian Digital Libraries (ICADL'01), Bangalore, India, 3-15.

S.R. Ranganathan (1892-1972), an influential librarian and educator who, I am told, is considered the father of library science in India, wrote as one of his 3five laws of library science2 that a library is a growing organism (Ranganathan, 1931). Not only do individual libraries grow, the very concept of what it means to be a library has developed and evolved over the centuries. Before being willfully and tragically laid waste, the fabled collection of Alexandria grew to a size that would not be surpassed for two millennia. The chained books of medieval and monastic libraries gave way to classic private collections such as the great library of Duke August in Wolfenb├╝ttel, Germany, the largest library in Europe during the 17th Centuryu2039and acclaimed as the eighth wonder of the world. During the following century national libraries gained preeminence in capital cities in Europe and, later, the new world. The public library movement took hold in the 19th Century, while progressive 20th Century librarians invented self-service and adopted the idea of open-access libraries (particularly in English-speaking countries), marking the fulfillment of the principle of free access to the contents of libraries by allu2039the symbolic snapping of the links of the chained book. Today, we live in exciting times. Digital libraries, whose history spans a mere dozen years, will surely figure amongst the most important and influential institutions of this new century. The information revolution not only supplies the technological horsepower that drives digital libraries, but fuels an unprecedented demand for storing, organizing, and accessing information. If information is the currency of the knowledge economy, digital libraries will be the banks where it is invested.