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>  News Releases >   2003 >   May

Digital library simplifies research

Posted 05/05/03, by James Donnelly


Cynthia Pawlek, Associate Librarian; John James, Associate Librarian; and Eric Bivona, Senior Programmer, helped create the Digital Library at Dartmouth, with more online information and a simpler search function.
(photo by Joe Mehling '69)
Increased resources available with simpler search

The wave of information unleashed by the revolution in Internet and digital technologies over the last 10 years has forever changed the way people conduct research. But when a simple Google search yields thousands upon thousands of results, that wave can quickly become a tsunami.

The new Digital Library at Dartmouth may be able to help. The initiative puts Dartmouth's 42,000 digital resources under a single roof and provides new tools to help patrons find what they need.

"You can think of the digital library being for electronic resources what the physical library is for print resources," says John James, Associate Librarian, who along with fellow Associate Librarian Cynthia Pawlek, is heading the digital library project.

"Instead of housing books, the digital library houses our digital resources and provides one easy location where users can find and work with what they need," said James.

Not that books are being relegated to a back shelf.

"Because the digital library is so closely integrated with the library catalog, one of its uses is to connect users to our print collections," noted Pawlek.

The digital library, allows users to search for information in a variety of formats, all from a single location.

Using the eResources tool - located under Search/Browse on the digital library homepage - users enter keywords related to a topic they are researching to find electronic and online resources.

For example, a search for "anthropology" yields 161 results. But rather than being lumped together like the results of a typical internet search, these results are divided into seven categories, including subject guides, which are pages of links related to a single subject, online databases, electronic journals and many more. A link at the bottom of the page allows users to quickly search the 5,547 related entries in the library's catalog.

Users can refine searches further to narrow their results. For example, searching for "anthropology" and "social" will locate the journal Social Anthropology.

The digital library also offers a number of services that are new to the Dartmouth community. A new "BorrowDirect" program allows users to search the catalogs of nearly every other Ivy League school and to request materials that Dartmouth either does not own or are checked out or unavailable. Materials are then delivered in about four business days, much faster than traditional interlibrary loan.

The "digital document delivery program" makes the process of securing distant information even more seamless. Users can request journal articles and have them delivered as portable document format (PDF) files to their e-mail in-boxes. This speeds up delivery, and makes it easy for faculty members and students to continue their research while they are away from campus.

Additional resources include citation managers, an essential tool for researchers dealing with scores of sources; and current awareness tools, which alert scholars to new resources as they become available. The site also includes a variety of ways to interact with the library, such as the "Ask a Librarian" feature for answering reference and other questions, e-mail links to subject specialists, links for placing materials on reserve, requesting instructional sessions, and more.

"Users are going to be the most important force in shaping what the digital library becomes."

-Cynthia Pawlek

Librarians have also been busy working with scholars to design new sites that take advantage of digital technology. These "born-digital" publications, produced by the Digital Publishing Program which is part of the Digital Library, help scholars to communicate with one another in new ways. For example, the new Latino Intersections site includes discussion forums, events listings and multimedia content, in addition to an online scholarly journal.

The technology responsible for the system was developed by the Digital Library Technologies Group, which was tasked with developing an interface both simple enough for lay users to understand and powerful enough for more experienced researchers. The site now makes readily accessible approximately 100 times the number of digital resources which had been previously available through the library's website.

"One of our chief challenges was allowing people to navigate through a much richer set of resources in a more manageable fashion," said Eric Bivona, Senior Programmer.

The library is currently offering courses in using the new digital library's resources and tools to help users make the transition.

According to Dartmouth's Librarian Richard Lucier, the digital library is already opening up new possibilities for scholars.

"The integration of so many resources in one location helps bring the user closer to the information he or she is looking for," said Lucier. "It is important to note that we are not building the Digital Library at Dartmouth alone, but rather collaborating closely with many other research libraries through the Digital Library Federation, as well as technology providers and other leaders across the academic enterprise."

He adds, "As the digital library moves forward, and more resources and services are added, it will become an enormous complement to our print collections and a new and exciting tool for the community."

One way in which the digital library is moving forward is by calling upon its users to help design and build new content. For example, researchers in Engineering and Physics have been participating in the design of an information portal for engineering and applied sciences.

James and Pawlek say that additional interactive features are on the way.

"Users are going to be the most important force in shaping what the digital library becomes," says Pawlek.

-James Donnelly

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