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National Science Foundation
A Grand Convergence
Essential, Not Optional
Discovery, Learning and Leadership
Classroom Resources
Image showing the eskeletons digital library. Click for larger image.

The eSkeletons digital library lets students examine and compare the skeletons of a human, gorilla, baboon and other species through high-resolution annotated photos and 3-D digital models. The collection will soon provide data in a format that will allow users to build replicas of the bones. This image shows a baboon skull with the frontal bone highlighted and a 3-D model of the skull.

Credit: eSkeletons Project, University of Texas, Austin

Digital Libraries-Access to Human Knowledge

Image showing a participant at the Pacific Educational Conference in Pohnpei. Click for larger image.
A participant at the Pacific Educational Conference in Pohnpei, the largest island in the Federated States of Micronesia, undertakes an activity on weaving and symmetry available through the NSF-supported Ethnomathematics Digital Library.

Credit: Nancy Lane, PREL
According to the University of California, Berkeley, report "How Much Information, 2003?", 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, the notion of a "digital library" is a metaphor for thinking about data collections in a networked world. In an effort to preserve data over time and help transform raw data into information and knowledge, digital library research proceeds 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 clear, flexible and scalable.

DLI and DLI-2: 1994-2003. 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, 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, provided $55 million for Phase 2 (DLI-2). DLI-2 funded 36 projects to extend and develop innovative digital library technologies and applications.

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.

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.

From Cuneiform Tablets to Google

Many smaller NSF-supported digital library projects—ranging from archaeology to oral history—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.

The Origins of Google. In 1994, one of the first six NSF digital library projects was awarded to Stanford University and led by Hector Garcia-Molina and Terry Winograd. Two of the graduate students supported by this project—Larry Page and Sergey Brin (funded through an NSF graduate fellowship)—began to explore using the linkages between Web pages as a ranking method for what would become the Google search engine.

International Children's Digital Library. Funded in part by a five-year, $3 million NSF award, the University of Maryland, The Internet Archive, and their partners plan to build a library of 10,000 children's books from 100 cultures as part of a research project to develop new technology to serve young readers. The International Children's Digital Library will serve children aged 3 to 13 years worldwide.

Informedia Video Digital Library. Initiated in 1994, this project at Carnegie Mellon University has pioneered new approaches for full-content search and retrieval of TV and radio news and documentary broadcasts. The current library consists of a 1,500-hour, one-terabyte library of daily news captured over the past two years and documentaries produced for public television and government agencies.

Archeological Sites and Relics. Researchers at UCLA are putting online a real-time computer model of the Roman Forum as it appeared in late antiquity. Another group at UCLA, with collaborators at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, in Berlin, is providing scholars with access to a database of tens of thousands of cuneiform tablets and inscriptions.

National Gallery of the Spoken Word. Michigan State University and partner organizations are creating a spoken word collection spanning the 20th century. From Thomas Edison's first cylinder recordings to Neil Armstrong's "one small step for man," this project is addressing challenges such as digital watermarking, compression strategies, audio searches, and user-selectable speech enhancement.

E-Specimens. Two projects at the University of Texas at Austin provide access to libraries of biological specimens. The DigiMorph library is an archive of X-ray computed tomography of biological specimens. The site's animations and details are in use in classrooms and research labs around the world. The e-Skeletons Project lets users examine the bones of a human, gorilla and baboon and information about them in an osteology database.

New Forms of Access. The University of California, Berkeley, Digital Library and the Alexandria Digital Library at the University of California, Santa Barbara, both established in 1994, are researching how digital formats open up new ways to access data. At Berkeley, researchers are exploring how the digital form expands the definition of "documents," especially scholarly publications. The Alexandria Digital Library is building a map collection along with novel tools to access geographically referenced data.

Dolphin Photo-Identification. DARWIN, a system developed by undergraduates at Eckerd College in Florida, assists marine scientists in the study of bottlenose dolphins. The software provides access to a collection of dorsal fin images along with information and sighting data on individuals.

Among other features, users may query the system with an image of an unidentified dolphin's dorsal fin.

Cyberinfrastructure A Special Report