The Sixth European Conference on Digital Libraries (ECDL 2002) continues to draw participation from many nations worldwide.
This year's keynote speakers were Prof. Hector Garcia-Molina, from Stanford University, USA, and Prof. Derek Law, from Strathclyde University, U.K.. These two speakers covered very different aspects of the Digital Library (DL) spectrumGarcia-Molina's keynote dealt with technical aspects of digital library research, summarizing a number of technical features of web crawlers and archiving, whilst Law's keynote focused more on the social impacts and influences in his talk on the use of an image-based digital library.
Overall the conference focused more on the technical areas of DL research than on social and public policy areas of DLs, and so Prof. Law's presentation was a helpful counterpoint to the majority of the conference presentations. In creating the Glasgow Digital Library (http://gdl.cdlr.strath.ac.uk), the Centre for Digital Library Research, of which Prof. Law is a member, faced numerous non-technical challenges, particularly organizational co-ordination between a number of partners, licensing, and copyright concerns regarding online materials, among other challenges. From his perspective, Prof. Law argued that the technical challenges faced by digital library developers have, in general, already been recognized, and many have been solved, while the non-technical challenges encountered by his project were proving to be more enduring, complex and profound. Prof. Law's keynote also touched on scalability issuesfor instance, he discussed a 'help system' evaluated by his group that was intended to support library users. The help system was itself so counter-intuitive to use, it was a major cause of user difficulties.
It is unlikely that Professor Law's observations regarding the lack of technical challenges in digital libraries would be shared by those participating in the technical program at ECDL. However, I have heard a number of other digital library researchers make observations similar to Law's. Indeed, there seemed to be signs of a shifting of perspective across many of the papers. For example, the open-standards and open-source approach to DLs and DL researchpioneered by groups such as the New Zealand Digital Library with their Greenstone DL softwareseems to be gaining significant ground. Several groups making presentations at ECDL 2002 reported on new projects involving open-source or open-standards approachesfrom entire DL systems to inter-library communication protocols.
Members of the panel "OCKHAM: Coordinating Digital Library Development with Lightweight Reference Models" discussed how to co-ordinate the development of open DL systems. Such projects, moving towards higher levels of co-operation in digital library research, might reduce the numbers of future papers that report the construction of what might be termed 'yet another digital library' or 'a tool to translate from standard X to standard Y', both of which tend to exclude the development and testing of a hypothesis. Instead, a move towards less easily tractable, more research-centred, questions would be unavoidable.
What, then, may constitute the open research questions in the digital library field?
Architectural concerns are naturally related to "open" systems, in all their forms, and indeed architectures were a focus of research particularly highlighted in the ECDL 2002 Call for Participation. Three different sessions were organized under the heading of "Architecture". The first session included reports on work being carried out in two open-source DL projects, OpenDLib and the Cheshire II projects, neatly paving the way for a presentation in the second session by David Bainbridge of the New Zealand Digital Library group on "Importing documents and metadata into digital libraries: Requirements analysis and an extensible architecture". Bainbridge reported on the current form of the simple, yet powerful, framework used by the open-source Greenstone software to index many different document formats. Two other presentations in the same session dealt with the issue of metadata and its uses. The third session concerning architectures included a paper on an interesting visual interface for digital libraries, Daffodil, by a team from Dortmund University. The project is exploring novel means for facilitating user information seeking, centered on the stratagems and tactics from writings of information scientists such as Marcia Bates. The third session also included a paper by Ed Fox and Hussein Suleman, of which more later.
Not surprisingly, the Web and related standards and activities also exerted a strong influence on the conference. As previously mentioned, Hector Garcia-Molina's keynote focused on the issues of web crawling, and web crawling was also discussed by Donna Bergmark in her paper "Focused Crawls, Tunneling and Digital Libraries". The continuing influence of the Internet and, in particular, the Web will play a significant role in the development of digital libraries. The Web could be seen as a 'rival' against which digital libraries must competesomething touched on by Hector Garcia-Molina when he argued that "the Web is a DL; Google is the card index." However, as in the delivery of digital library access, the Web can also be an ally. For example, one of the first sessions of the conference highlighted web archiving in conjunction with digital libraries (in papers authored by Abiteboul et al. from France and Rauber et al. from Austria).
A significant number of presentations focused on standards, particularly the Open Archives Initiative (OAI) metadata harvesting protocol. In a session specifically on OAI applications being developed at several organizations throughout the world, Herbert Van de Sompel and Carl Lagoze reported on the progress of the OAI in their paper "Notes from the Interoperability Front". In addition to the successes of OAI, limitations of this protocol that need to be addressed in future research were discussed in the paper presentation "Designing Protocols in Support of Digital Library Componentization", which Ed Fox co-authored with Hussein Suleman.
Turning to other areas of research, a second panel discussed usability, evaluation, and related social issues. Panelists included Ann Blandford (University College London), Teal Anderson (John Hopkins University) and Wilma Alexander (University of Edinburgh). The usability and evaluation theme was reflected in two additional paper sessions, one of which included a notable paper, "Goal-directed Requirements Specification for Digital Libraries", by David Bolchini and Paolo Paolini that presented a framework for organizing the discernment of Digital Library user requirements. The authors' utilization of use scenarios in the design process was particularly interesting and illuminating, tracking the refinement of requirements from the goals of stakeholders and placing significant emphasis upon the problematic area of user navigation through information tasks.
The topic of usability was a continuing theme across the entire conferencetechnocratic or otherwisewith regard to the selection of appropriate evaluation methods for systems. More than in previous years, presentations focused on qualitative methods of evaluation, including a presentation on evaluating thesaurus-based retrieval of documents. However, agreement on what constitutes acceptable norms for qualitative evaluation does not yet seem to have been reached.
In addition to the presentation of papers and the panel sessions, the conference programme offered six optional pre-conference tutorials and three post-conference workshops. I heard particularly positive responses to Dagobert Soergel's "Thesauri and Ontologies in Digital Libraries" tutorial and to Ian Witten's tutorial "How to build a digital library using open-source software". Posters and demonstrations were available for viewing throughout much of the conference. Of these, the number of usability-related presentations was particularly noticeable, including those by Mike Wright, Tamara Sumner and their colleagues from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and from Pete Dalton and Rebecca Hartland-Fox from the University of Central England.
Overall, the programme at ECDL 2002 continued a number of developing themes in digital library researchincluding usability, open standards and novel interactions, etc.against a backdrop of paper presentations on project implementations, and it was apparent that the subject of evaluation methods remains something of a 'hot potato'. It will be interesting to see in which directions the field of digital library research and development moves over the next few years. For ECDL 2002, architectural norms and standards presented a number of open questions. Questions thatin her presentation on usabilityAnn Blandford pointed out directly affects usability issues, clearly and indisputably a continuing "open" area of research.
The next European Conference on Digital Libraries will be held in Trondheim, Norway, in August 2003. Those accustomed to attending ECDL in the month of September need to pay particular attention to the schedule change to August, which means that the deadline for paper submissions will be moved up to March 10, 2003. I, and many others, look forward to next year's conference. For more information about ECDL 2003, see <http://www.ecdl2003.org>.
Copyright 2002 George Buchanan