Researchers at the School of Information Studies will put a human face on national digital library
Researchers at the School of Information Studies will put a human face on national digital libraryOctober 09, 2001Judy Holmesjlholmes@syr.edu
The National Science Foundation selected the Information Institute of Syracuse at Syracuse University to build a virtual reference gateway to the National Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology Education Digital Library. The 18-month, $350,000 project will add a human touch to the massive, high-tech digital library that will be available via the Internet to people from around the world.
“Our goal is to provide a human face for the NSDL,” says R. David Lankes, director of the Information Institute of Syracuse (http://iis.syr.edu), which is affiliated with the School of Information Studies. “This grant acknowledges that a digital library is more than a set of Web pages and databases. A digital library is also human expertise and guidance.”
Funded by the NSF, the National Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology Education Digital Library (NSDL) is considered a key step toward giving elementary, secondary and undergraduate educators and students anytime, anywhere access to a rich array of educational resources via the Internet.
The Information Institute of Syracuse will collaborate on the project with researchers from Ohio State University, the University of Illinois and an international network of experts, building on a foundation of research in digital reference by AskERIC (www.askeric.org) and the Virtual Reference Desk (VRD). AskERIC and the VRD (www.vrd.org) are funded by the U.S. Department of Education and housed within the Information Institute of Syracuse, a national leader in the research and development of human-mediated, Internet-based information services.
The NSF is currently in the second phase of funding to develop the national digital library. Last year, researchers at the School of Information Studies and the Information Institute of Syracuse, in partnership with researchers at the University of Washington and solutions-united of Syracuse, received a $490,000 NSF grant to develop an automatic cataloging system for the NSDL. The project was among 29 that were funded in 2000.
“Human interaction is important to people who are seeking information,” says Joanne Silverstein, associate director of the Information Institute of Syracuse. “Resources in traditional libraries do not exist on their own. Librarians and other information professionals are available not only to archive and catalogue the information, but to help users clarify the kind of information they are seeking and to help them select from among all of the possible resources available to them. Likewise, users of digital information resources are seeking out human experts to help filter the vast amount of information that is available on the Internet.”
The challenges the institute’s researchers face in adapting human reference services to the virtual world include how to meet the demand for such expertise without increasing costs and how to develop a system that can understand what users are asking for.
“Once we find out what users’ needs are, we will build a system that will best address those needs,” Silverstein says. “When it is completed, the NSDL will provide an enormous public service by making previously unknown pools of information accessible to educators, schools, students, parents and anyone else who is looking for this kind of information.”
The Information Institute of Syracuse is one of six research and development centers at SU’s School of Information Studies. The School of Information Studies is a leading center for innovative programs in information policy, information behavior, information management, information systems, information technology and information services. The school has professional degree programs at the undergraduate and master’s levels and a research degree at the doctoral level. The school also has a distance education program at the graduate level.