Access to Human Knowledge
The notion of a "digital library" is a metaphor for thinking about data collections in a networked world. Digital libraries may take many forms, but they all share some common infrastructure and goals. For starters, digital libraries build upon collections of digital or digitized data and rely on the Internet for accessing and sharing these collections. Common goals include preserving the data over time for interested communities and helping transform the data into information and knowledge.
According to a University of California, Berkeley, report, humanity produces about 250 megabytes of data (roughly the text in 250 books) each year for every person on the planet. Only 0.003 percent of this annual output is in printed form; most is in the form of images, sound and numeric data, with more than 90 percent stored digitally. In the face of this data onslaught, digital library research approaches the problem on three fronts. Meaningful collections from all facets of society must be compiled, structured and preserved. Increasing computational power and network bandwidth must be applied to make these collections accessible, usable and interoperable. And interfaces to these collections must be designed to be appropriate, clear, flexible and scalable.
Digital libraries add value to their collections through services that allow scientists, teachers and students to access, explore, search and interact with the data, as well as connect to information in other collections. They add context to data that might otherwise languish as disconnected content. NSF-supported research spans collections from archeology to oral history.
A Decade of NSF Support
From 1994 to 1998, NSF, DARPA, and NASA funded six digital library projects in the $30 million Phase 1 of the Digital Libraries Initiative. In 1999, the $55 million Phase 2 (DLI-2) included 36 projects supported by NSF, DARPA, the National Library of Medicine, the Library of Congress, NASA, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, with participation from the National Archives and the Smithsonian Institution, to extend and develop innovative digital library technologies and applications. For more details, see http://www.dli2.nsf.gov/.
Today, NSF continues to support digital libraries research in programs through several directorates. DLI-2 and an International Digital Libraries Collaborative Research program are administered within the Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE). NSF's Information Technology Research program also supports several digital library research projects. NSF's Directorate for Education and Human Resources (EHR) administers the National Science Digital Library (NSDL), which builds on earlier DLI-2 projects and aims to establish a network of learning environments and resources for science, technology, engineering and mathematics education. See http://www.nsdl.org/.
NSF's Geosciences and EHR directorates administer the Digital Library for Earth System Education (DLESE). DLESE is a grassroots effort, affiliated with NSDL, that involves teachers, students and scientists. DLESE encompasses electronic materials such as lesson plans, maps, images, data sets, visualizations, assessment activities, curriculum and online courses. See http://www.dlese.org/.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2017, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards.
Useful NSF Web Sites: