Technology Enhanced Learning

Carrie Heeter
Michigan State University
Department of Telecommunication


2.3 Digital libraries

Digital libraries are a major development domain for I2. Donald Waters, Director of the Digital Library Federation, offers this definition: "Libraries are organizations that provide the resources, including specialized staff, to select, structure and offer intellectual access to, distribute, interpret, preserve the integrity of, and ensure the persistence over time of collections of intellectual works so that they are readily and economically available for use by a defined community or set of communities [16]."

Table 6. I2 Digital Library Projects

  • Archeological Research Institute
  • Baden-Wurttemberg Project
  • Case Western Reserve Library
  • CBS News
  • Digital Library Federation
  • Four Directions Virtual Museum Project
  • Library of Congress
  • Luthehalle Wittenberg Museum
  • National Gallery of the Spoken Word
  • National Museum of Ethnology
  • National Palace Museum
  • New York State History and Art Project
  • Cyberzoo
  • Pontifico Catholic University of Rio
  • State Hermitage Museum
  • University of Essen
  • Vanderbilt Archive
  • Vatican Library
  • Virtually Hawaii
  • Yale's Beinecke Library

Research foci for digital libraries include the basic processes of encapsulating and collecting diverse content and diverse data types for digital storage and online distribution; creation and analysis of search and browse mechanisms; development and application of metadata to enhance to value of the collections. Digital libraries must each define their purpose (i.e., to collect digital information, to support scholarly research, to serve the general public or particular constituencies). Not surprisingly, most digital libraries are primarily concerned with teaching and learning but focus instead on their collections and on scholarly research.

Digital libraries are working to increase the coherence, usability and accessibility to their large amounts of collected data. This includes study of interactions between learners of all ages and digital libraries.

The Middle Years Digital Library Project (MYDL) (, underway at the University of Michigan's Center for (HiCE) Highly-Interactive Computing in Education, supports middle school children in carrying out science inquiry according to the national science guidelines put forth by the National Research Council and the AAAS. Using a digital library rather than the Internet ( as the repository to be searched, children develop their own driving questions (e.g., why do earthquakes stop? how did scientists discover sprites?) and then find resources registered in the digital library that pertain to their question. Furthermore, Artemis, the search interface, scaffolds (i.e., supports) children through the hard tasks of identifying good key words, saving intermediate results, etc. The MYDL is attempting to move children from doing searches to doing research.

Looking through the lens of technology enhanced learning, what impact does the online Library of Congress (or any other digital library) have on K-12 education? on college education? lifelong learning? For all but a handful of instances, the answer is probably none. Digital libraries parallel the larger Internet in their vastness and rate of expansion. The amount of available, high quality information resources grows continually, at a faster rate than the resources are being used. Unlike most of the Internet, the content of a digital library can be expected to be vetted, well-organized, accessible, and linked to commentary and metadata.

If digital libraries are to become more accessible and useful resources to enhance learning, teachers and learners first need to know about them. Perhaps a portal of libraries would be useful. Right now there is an "Information Portal for Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology Education" ( directed toward educators and librarians. Currently it only links to five digital libraries. Some form node to interconnecting online libraries is necessary, so classes can simply "go to the library". This would be a step toward making it easier for people to know about and go to digital libraries.

It would also be useful to include e-Collaboration software to allow a digital reference librarian to guide teachers to useful collections, suggest possible lesson plans, and guide students to information and the objects they seek. Perhaps there is an "ask a librarian" button that opens a chat window at every digital library. Research on how this gets used would inform wider implementation.


Copyright 1999 CommTech Lab @ Michigan State University.
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