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Digital Libraries

Mitchell, S. (2006, December). Machine assistance in collection building: new

                  tools, research, issues, and reflections. Information Technology and

                  Libraries 25.4: 190(27). Expanded Academic ASAP. Thomson Gale.

                  University of Washington. Retrieved July1, 2007, from:



Digital tool making offers many challenges, involving much trial and error. Developing machine learning and assistance in automated and semi-automated Internet resource discovery, metadata generation, and rich-text identification provides opportunities for great discovery, innovation, and the potential for transformation of the library community. The areas of computer science involved, as applied to the library applications addressed, are among that discipline’s leading edges. Making applied research practical and applicable, through placement within library/collection-management systems and services, involves equal parts computer scientist, research librarian, and legacy-systems archaeologist. Still, the early harvest is there for us now, with a large harvest pending. Data Fountains and iVia, the projects discussed, demonstrate this. Clearly, then, the present would be a good time for the library community to more proactively and significantly engage with this technology and research, to better plan for its impacts, to more proactively take up the challenges involved in its exploration, and to better and more comprehensively guide effort in this new territory. The alternative to doing this is that others will develop this territory for us, do it not as well, and sell it back to us at a premium. Awareness of this technology and its current capabilities, promises, limitations, and probable major impacts needs to be generalized throughout the library management, metadata, and systems communities. This article charts recent work, promising avenues for new research and development, and issues the library community needs to understand.

According to this article, I found a great connection between the implication of this article and Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail. In “The Long Tail,” Anderson is mainly concerned with the profit making possibilities that exist in niche markets. In general, he states that if the marginal cost of providing new goods is near-zero, you can make money by providing more goods, as long as people can find them. Indeed, Anderson applies this concept on many markets, such as songs, movies, and of course our main concern (in this article) libraries.

Before the internet, the availability of niche market items for the average consumer was very limited. People had to visit specialty stores, travel outside their hometown, or use mail order to acquire anything other than the items sold in nearby retail outlets, for example, finding historical readings, scholarly, and other unique materials. But now, online libraries can offer their customers access to an extensive number and variety of books, articles, and other materials. Physical libraries are mainly about physical availability and providing the container, of course, if I can find the book in its one-and-only possible shelf location. But, in the online world, availability is about providing the content. In Mitchell’s article, he describes the mechanism of the Data Fountain technique that is used in digital libraries. This technique is basically a new service that helps people to find what they seek, by adopting an open-source-software. Worldwide, many people tend to use this method for its validity of saving effort and time. Therefore, digital libraries become very widely used and hence very profitable. In Anderson’s The Long Tail, he describes how the availability and the vast varieties of products can bring a profitable income to a certain industry. In online libraries, products almost cost nothing; therefore, producers could make more money by providing more goods and substitutes to certain products. People tend to like what they see and what they can get. This concept of availability and diversity become the key-word of the new economy. Anderson (2006) has stated in his book, “This is not just a virtue of online booksellers; it is an example of an entirely new economic model for the media and entertainment industries, one that is just beginning to show its power. Unlimited selection is revealing truths about what consumers want and how they want to get it in service after service, from DVDs at Netflix to music videos on Yahoo! Launch to songs in the iTunes Music Store and Rhapsody. People are going deep into the catalog, down the long, long list of available titles, far past what’s available at Blockbuster Video, Tower Records, and Barnes & Noble. And the more they find, the more they like. As they wander further from the beaten path, they discover their taste is not as mainstream as they thought (or as they had been led to believe by marketing, a hit-centric culture, and simply a lack of alternatives).” (p.16).

By adapting Chris Anderson’s concept of availability and diversity, it gives us a better understanding of why consumers change their focus to digital libraries; therefore, this industry becomes very profitable. And Mitchell elaborates on how digital libraries operate by describing the Data Fountain technique adopted in those libraries. Now, we have a better understanding of why this industry is more profitable than before, which is because of the use of the new technology. This new technology, which is based on the information technology, changed some principles of the traditional economy, or let me say added new principles that we were not aware of.


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