Digital libraries are the modern form of library in that they depend on modern techniques for the transfer of information and data from paper to electronic form, for more efficient storage, processing, and transmission of information to users.
In the early 1990s, projects and programmes for the preparation of digital libraries were launched in a number of countries, and their national libraries were often the institutions supporting those programmes. The first digital libraries appeared on the Internet starting in 1995, followed by other digital libraries after that. There are many experiences and practices in this area, perhaps the most successful of which are libraries in America and Europe, where there is enormous capability to deal with technology.
Although Arab libraries are late in breaking into this area, there are a few Arab attempts to establish these digital libraries, which may have caused some artistic, technical, legal and financial problems. Technology is an important aspect of dealing with the distinctive characteristics of the Arabic language, and the scarcity of financial resources has affected the creation of digital libraries in the Arab world.
The legal aspect of intellectual property rights and the regulation of the transfer of knowledge sources from paper to electronic form has a clear impact on the creation of digital libraries, since the lack of legislation on the one hand, and the failure to apply it on the other, as well as other aspects relating to the behaviour of researchers and access to information, are obvious.
Due to its leading role in this area, the King Abdul-Aziz Public Library, in cooperation with the Saudi Libraries and Information Association, held the Symposium from 21-24 April 2002, in order to achieve the following objectives:
Objectives of the Symposium:
1. To define the general concept of a digital library, as well as the set of vocabulary and terminology relating to the digital library.
2. To introduce the most prominent features of the digital library in the contemporary world in its independent forms.
3. To identify the main preconditions for the existence of a digital library.
4. To introduce the Arabic models available for the digital library and to identify the most important factors influencing the creation and development of the digital library (economic, technical, substantial and social).
5. To introduce the functions performed by a digital library (as a stand-alone model or an integrated model with a traditional library).
6. To identify the main types of digital library information and documentation services.
7. To outline a general vision for the establishment of a public e-library in Riyadh linked to one of the large libraries.
8. To frame the legal aspects of intellectual property rights, and the relationship between this and the creation of a digital library.
Themes of the Symposium:
In the light of the above objectives, the discussion of the Symposium took place on the following themes:
1. The Digital Library between Theory and Application:
This theme included talking about the different conceptions of a digital library, the terminology and vocabulary used to describe it, the historical, functional and practical dimensions, digital library services and their visibility in the contemporary world, especially in developed countries, and presenting real mature models such as are to be found in developed countries.
2. The Digital Library in Saudi Arabia – Present and Future:
A selective presentation was delivered showing the availability of the digital library and of scientific, cultural, educational and economic spaces, either independently or in conjunction with other library institutions and information facilities. Then the discussion moved on to deal with an assessment of how far this type of library had developed and how to improve it in the light of the technological capabilities available, and favourable economic, social and political factors.
3. The Internet and its role in providing components for creating a digital library:
This theme reviewed the pivotal role played by or potentially played by the Internet, in providing key ingredients for the digital library to perform its core functions, which are centred on two elements: provision and service.
4. Saudi Arabia's information infrastructure and its goal of a digital library:
This theme included a general description of the information infrastructure, the extent of collaboration among them, and how this collaboration can be activated to develop a common strategic plan to channel its technical potential into the digital library, with traditional and digital bodies working in parallel.
5. E-publishing as a major source of supplies for the digital library:
This theme dealt with how far e-publishing had progressed, and how it can be seen as a major source of on-line provision for the digital library without the traditional procedures that are followed in library supply departments.
6. Legislation on digital data and information transmission:
The focus of this theme was on the possibility of new legislation being passed that would keep up with the requirements of dealing with the digital library and the Internet, as required in order to preserve intellectual property rights.
Activities accompanying the Symposium:
The initiator of this symposium organized a number of specialized cultural events, including:
1. A specialized workshop on digital libraries, and the use of the Internet in libraries, entitled: Introduction to the Internet for information workers, on:
· An introduction to the Internet (definition, features, and applications);
· Search tools (Arabic and foreign);
· The use of e-mail chat systems and newsgroups.
· Checking out some internet applications in libraries and information centres for online librarians.
· Assessing information.
· A specialized exhibition on e-libraries.
2. An exhibition of books, publications and journals specializing in technical and computing topics, the internet and digital libraries.
3. A specialized technical exhibition on software for the digital library, with the participation of information centres, libraries, companies and specialized institutions.
4. Hosting the Library for the Second Annual Conference (the Annual General Meeting of the Saudi Libraries and Information Association).
Recommendations and Closing Statement
1. Staff should be trained who are capable of dealing with the digital environment, and adapting to its requirements by providing them with the skills that will help them to inhabit the information age, and to take on the new roles that they are entrusted with.
2. Library infrastructure should be developed in Saudi Arabia, including networks, servers, and computers to accommodate the idea of a digital library that requires minimal infrastructure.
3. To develop further training courses on how to deal with the Internet aimed at users and librarians, and create incentives encouraging staff to attend these courses in order to keep up with contemporary changes.
4. To increase attention to the regulation of digital information sources available on the web in a manner consistent with their nature and characteristics, with the purpose of serving scientific research.
5. To include in public and higher education courses and curricula the subject of teaching the use of the Internet in the scientific field.
6. To work to remove obstacles that may limit the start-up of information organizations, and prevent them from being prepared to deal with sources of digital information.
7. To promote digital information awareness in the scientific community in particular, given the need this community has for official information in order to do research and write up research papers.
8. To inform officials (or representatives of libraries who conclude agreements) of various legal aspects of digital sources of information, so that they have sufficient knowledge to read and understand the agreements to be concluded, as regards their legal, financial, technical and other aspects.
9. To take advantage of pioneering experiences in other countries, and seek to utilise them in implementing the idea of digital libraries in the Kingdom.
10. To strengthen cooperation and coordination projects among digital information institutions, in particular with regard to bibliographic data bases in order to optimise the ways in which they are used.
11. The King Abdul-Aziz Public Library will form a committee to follow up the Symposium’s recommendations, implement them, and follow up with printing the conference papers and publish them as a volume of conference proceedings.