D-Lib Magazine
March 1998

ISSN 1082-9873

From the Editor

Witness DLI-2

The long-awaited solicitation for the second phase of funding of the Digital Libraries Initiative (DLI) hit the street, so to speak, February 20, 1998 [www.nsf.gov/pubs/1998/nsf9863/nsf9863.htm]. To set the agenda for DLI 2, the National Science Foundation (NSF) hosted a series of workshops, notably the planning workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a year ago, to which representatives from other government agencies, corporate research, universities, and not-for-profit organizations (including CNRI) were invited.

Some of the obvious ways in which DLI-2 differs from DLI-1 are structural: More agencies are involved, notably the National Library of Medicine, Library of Congress, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Awards will be made to individuals (1-3 years) and to groups (1-5 years). And there is latitude for a phased approach to awards with letters of intent for the first competition due on April 15, 1998, and letters of intent for the second due February 15, 1999.

Less obvious are the ways in which the goals of the program have been articulated. DLI-1 was funded from the computer science budgets of the three participating agencies: NSF, DARPA, and NASA, and the tone of the solicitation reflected underlying technological concerns, such as testbeds, networking, information retrieval, and user interface design. The tone of DLI-2 is quite different. Although the program clearly includes technological research, possible topics are embedded in larger goals. For example, the research has been organized into three principal areas: human-centered, content and collections based, and systems-centered. The sample topic, "methods, algorithms, and software leading to wide-spectrum information discovery, search, retrieval, manipulation and presentation capabilities", is then understood as supporting research in human-centered systems.

It is not that technology is not present; rather, the focus is subtly changed and the scope is broader. According to a senior representative of the NSF, Principal Investigators, for example, will not be required to be computer science faculty members. Although the projects must involve research, that research can be in economics, user studies, applications in education, or other areas. This more open vision reflects the widespread appreciation of how the notion of "digital libraries" has grown in the past four years, that these are technologies that people use. They are "integrative", a term Carnegie Mellon's Howard Wactlar has used, not only across technological disciplines but across human contexts where equipment and software are means but not ends.

The program still invites investigators to push the limits of technological innovation applied to digital libraries with the expectation that the work will become part of a larger fabric intended to operate seamlessly by virtue of interoperability rather than conformity to a present architecture or set of standards. "DLI-1 began an exploration of the possibilities for digital libraries, enabled by advanced information technology," says Ron Larsen of DARPA. "DLI-2 continues this exploration with an additional emphasis on building coherent infrastructure through interoperability."

Amy Friedlander

Copyright (c) 1998 Corporation for National Research Initiatives

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