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D-Lib Magazine
May 2005

Volume 11 Number 5

ISSN 1082-9873

The Need for Trust

Last month, the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced that it is funding two new Science and Technology Centers (STCs) in 2005, one of which has been established as part of a cybersecurity project aptly named Team for Research in Ubiquitous Secure Technology (TRUST) [1]. News of the TRUST project is encouraging, because it seems as if each week brings new disclosures of breaches of computer security that may have compromised public and private information.

If only because of the limitations imposed by space – as well as the cost of maintaining that space – when you go to a physical library to find information, you trust the information held there has been carefully selected, catalogued, and maintained. When the collection becomes too large, you feel assured that outdated or less useful content is judiciously eliminated. You also trust that a document is what it appears to be. For example, if the library has a paper copy of the New York Times, it is unlikely that someone has gone to the trouble to create and place a fake copy there in order to engage in deceptive or fraudulent behavior.

These constraints do not apply in the digital world, where there are effectively no space limitations and the production of new content or the alteration of existing content is quite easy. In a paper written about the semantic web, but which applies as well to digital libraries, Eric Miller pointed out:

"The computational machinery behind the Web...has no mechanism for distinguishing what sources of information to trust, no mechanism for identifying what is considered socially acceptable information to disclose, and only limited mechanism to act as a reliable transporter of information between third parties who have a more highly developed awareness of information provenance, reliability, and decay." [2]

One of the greatest benefits of digital libraries is that they facilitate and speed information sharing. However, only if individuals and organizations trust that the information held in digital collections is as securely and carefully managed as it is in analog collections will digital libraries reach their full potential.

Bonita Wilson


[1]For more information about the TRUST project, please see NSF Press Release 05-053: "NSF Announces Intent to Establish Two New Science and Technology Centers" April 11, 2005. Available at <>.

[2]Miller, Eric. "Enabling the Semantic Web for Scientific Research And Collaboration." Wave of the Future: NSF Post Digital Library Futures Workshop, June 15 - 17, 2003. Available at <>.

Copyright© 2005 Corporation for National Research Initiatives

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