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    Digital libraries in the context of social systems: the roles of academic support function.

    Apantree Kandet*

    Librarian Practitioner

    Academic Resource Center

    The world of media, news and online information is growing continuously, playing

    significant roles in the lifestyles of people today. Many people are bypassing traditional

    media such as newspapers, magazines or books, and entering the world of online media and

    news media, most of which are in the form of electronic media that are convenient and easy

    to use. The boundaries of knowledge are open worldwide, so that people can access

    information everywhere and at any time. Online information is a part of everyday life that

    people will interact with, either for individual purposes or to communicate with each other.

    People, as members of a community, have to communicate with other people in knowledge

    societies. Their activities must engage with information-seeking to support their needs in

    terms of learning, understanding, making decisions or solving their problems - the necessities

    of their life (Case, 2012). Nowadays, the regular method of people to search for everyday

    information is to involve themselves with information systems in the form of information

    technologies, in order to find useful information. The way for people to find information in

    the age of social media and the web is affecting institutions such as libraries by changing

    their roles to support user needs, creating innovations to disseminate and share information

    between users and libraries in the context of social communication. Creating digital libraries

    for collecting, disseminating, preserving and contributing digital documents, by integrating

    many important social and public information systems so that they work together, means that

    the role of the library occupies a vital part of society, as a learning centre that concentrates on

    interaction with users and building collaboration in the research community. This essay will

    focus on digital libraries as social systems that are places for the providing, collecting and

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    sharing of knowledge in the form of digital resources. This essay will also refer to digital

    libraries in the context of them being the centre of social communication as information

    repositories and user communities, making them a socio-technical system, which is an

    organizational design regarding interaction between people and society by using technology.

    Information-seeking behaviour in the social system in the digital age

    In social systems, people have to communicate with each other; every person is part of social

    groups, whether at home, at school or the workplace, which are the places where knowledge

    will be shared, created and organized between people. The traditional way of information-

    seeking to gather information or knowledge when people need to know something is to ask

    friends or colleagues or find information in the library. People in the digital, web-based age

    have changed their behavior in regard to seeking information, the way in which people search

    for information to find answers is more complex than in the past. Search engines are popular

    tools for people to access information via digital devices; through them, it is easy to get

    information by typing their question in a search box such as Google, from which the answer

    will be shown in a few minutes. However, people still have questions: how do they know that

    the answers they get from search engines are reliable or accurate, and where do they find

    specific knowledge to make decisions or solve their problems?

    A wide range of information in the new forms of multimedia, which are mostly in digital

    form, affect libraries as information services by creating technologies to support the large

    amount of digital information in terms of social information retrieval and social networking

    technologies. Digital libraries are the new model of library, which use new technologies to

    manage digital resources and operate digital information systems available to their users.

    The definition of a digital library, from the Digital Library Federation (2004), is: Digital

    Libraries are organizations that provide the resources, including the specialized staff, to

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    select, structure, offer intellectual access to, interpret, distribute, preserve the integrity of, and

    ensure the persistence over time of collections of digital works so that they are readily and

    economically available for use by a defined community or set of communities. In the

    information landscape, digital materials are increasing; people can access information by

    using the internet network anytime and anywhere. In terms of libraries without walls, the

    significant point seems to be that all libraries are beginning to realize and try to create a

    strategy to reach the target groups under a communication framework which focuses on the

    new form of materials or new formats of information, combined with new technology.

    Among digital content, digital libraries are created and managed systems to access digital

    information in the role of information providers in the learning community that are suitable

    for people to access information easily and take them to the right information at the right time

    (Chowdhury and Chowdhury, 2011).

    Figure 1. Definition of a digital library, based on a practice community

    (Choi and Rasmussen, 2006)

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    In Figure 1, Choi and Rasmussen (2006) described the transformative model which focuses

    on a user-centred design that shows how digital libraries connect with their users and this

    model presents the system framework of digital libraries characteristics as host systems for

    gathering collections for communities and organizations.

    Digital libraries: institutional repositories in research communities

    Libraries are non-commercial organizations where people can access information for free;

    this is the main reason why libraries are important for society, because libraries provide

    powerful information collections to serve their patrons, which can be different types of user

    group. The architecture of digital libraries is focused on integrating various kind of data

    formats that are designed to interact with patrons in terms of social communities, where users

    can communicate and participate with the system. Digital libraries, in the context of

    institutional repositories, have a responsibility to manage repositories of digital materials,

    such as online journals, e-books, images, etc. The roles of digital libraries in terms of

    institutional repositories in social and research communities are to generate digital content via

    online networks, by using standard tools which can support metadata formats and data

    storage through a host of information and knowledge communities (John, Richard D. and

    Theo, 2006).

    Open Access (OA) is a new service of digital libraries, a kind of institutional repository that

    is a system for disseminating information, data or research in the form of digital content,

    where users can access any information free of charge. The definition of Open Access from

    JISC (2010) is that Open Access is not self-publishing, nor a way to bypass peer-review and

    publication, nor is it a kind of second-class, cut-price publishing route. It is simply a means to

    make research results freely available online to the whole research community. The

    significant role of open access in the form of database publications and digital content is to

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    share and provide free access materials to anyone in a scholarly community. This content can

    be created by authors on their personal websites in a specific subject area by using self-

    archiving software such as Fedora, DSpace and EPrint (Bawden and Robinson, 2012).

    Moreover, the reason for academic institutions to use open access as a broadcast community

    for researchers to disseminate and publish their journal or articles is to promote and

    accelerate multi-disciplinary research areas. Due to the fact that academic institutions will

    face funding problems, which may cause some research results to go unpublished, open

    access can be the alternative way for academic institutions to distribute their scholarly

    information and create new opportunities for their researchers to broadcast their own works

    to the public; this system allows any user to download, copy, or distribute material under

    lawful access (SPARC, 2013).

    The mission of digital libraries as institutional repositories is to provide information services

    and the dissemination of digitized materials, which is stored in digital format as the wisdom

    of academic institutions. The preservation of those contributions will be maintained in the

    long term by archiving. Moreover, these are the places for peer reviews for researchers who

    want to disseminate their works to the public or in a research community, where their works

    will be validated by others who are experts or referees, and their credibility as scholars or

    research experts in their field will be thus proven. This platform will thus be used as a

    channel of communication between researchers, both inside and outside the country, on

    issues or topics of common interest (John, Richard D. and Theo, 2006).

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    Figure 2. The Computing Research Repository of Cornell University Library


    Figure 2 shows the contents of the Computing Research Repository, which is an open access

    of digital content that provides the e-print of scholarly information collections in various

    subjects that are available on the internet and free to access.

    Figure 3. Social media applications for sharing information in the digital library repository of

    Cornell University Library (

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    In Figure 3, the area circled in red on the right hand side of the picture shows mini icons of

    social media applications such as Facebook, CiteUlike, Linkedln, etc. These services allow

    patrons to share web resources as social bookmarks, which enable users to share links or

    make their personal bookmarks. Users can use these sites for tagging, ranking, giving

    feedback, or commentary outside the arXiv webpage. Integrating between social network

    sites and digital libraries is helping users to participate with community information and it

    also facilitates interaction between patrons and media devices to exchange knowledge and

    share information, which is the way of adding value to digital library services (Chowdhury

    and Foo, 2012).

    Web 2.0 and social media: the tools of the digital library in the knowledge society

    Nowadays, digital resources in libraries are increasing: the roles of libraries are about more

    than sharing knowledge and information, due to the new types of information resources that

    are increasing, leading to the development of information technology to support user needs

    and user behavior, which makes the responsibility of libraries more complicated. According

    to Bilandzic and Johnson (2013), the library has an important role in society; it is a place for

    sharing, meeting, and community gathering between members of society, reflecting social

    interaction in different ways. Digital libraries have to make efforts to encourage people to use

    library space as a public space for socialization and creating an information community.

    From this viewpoint, the concept of the knowledge community occurred, which is all about

    the effective way to transform knowledge between people in communities that will focus on

    social interaction in terms of collaboration among users and libraries or information


    The adoption of new technologies through social media is growing among digital library

    services. To connect the users, Web 2.0 and social media applications can help libraries to

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    reach their users needs in the form of social media platforms, which are digital spaces on the

    web that allow users to create and share information (Wang, 2011). Facebook, Twitter,

    Weblogs, Wiki or Pinterest are the kind of social media applications that go together with

    communication technologies; t people can use these social media applications to connect with

    other users and allow people to share, tag or comment on the document or contents (in the

    context of user-generated content), through which libraries can track users or gather feedback

    immediately. Social media, as part of the digital libraries services, can be an effective tool to

    create relationships between libraries and patrons in social communities, which also increases

    the capacity of digital libraries to benefit researchers and users in terms of communication

    processes in the knowledge society.

    Digital library collaboration: communication in a social perspective

    The common ways to make digital libraries be the centre of the information society are to

    engage in user communities and understand the users. Libraries should study user behaviour

    and user needs and know how digital libraries should design the system to support the users.

    In recent years, the way in which information-seeking among users has changed, and the

    wide spread of digital resources, has affected information spaces in that most libraries have

    moved to creating a visual space for digital resources. Digital libraries, as new forms of

    research communities, have to create strategies to support their patrons, who are from various

    disciplines. The system will focus on being user-centred in the context of social interactions,

    and a modified version of a library system that focuses on users experience to create usable

    systems. The collaboration between digital libraries and academic institutions to disseminate

    and contribute digital content to share in research communities can support the growth of the

    knowledge society. A collaborative partnership within digital libraries can facilitate

    researchers or scholars in academic institutions such as museums, archives or educational

    organisations, to transform information across institutions, which is the appropriate way to

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    create an academic network for researchers and scholars to gain more knowledge

    (MacMillan, 2012).

    Edward (2012) (cited in MacMillan, 2012), was interviewed by Canadian Broadcasting

    Corporation radio about the collaboration in academic social networks, that there is no

    conflict between data-sharing and getting high profile publications, because the more you

    share the more people contact you, the more ideas you have together, the larger academic

    network you have, the more knowledge you gain and the faster you can publish high quality

    science. From this point, it shows that digital library collaboration and users interaction,

    whether they are researchers or not, can increase the value of digital libraries in the context of

    research communities, and digital libraries can also brand and market digital materials to their

    patrons via online social network applications and make them the centre of the information

    society. Digital libraries will thus play an organisational role of integrating innovative digital

    services to meet the needs of user communities.

    Digital libraries: management role in social systems

    In the era of information technologies, the new services of digital libraries tend to be social,

    that libraries infrastructure will integrate with other systems to provide services to support

    users in communities. Understanding users is the first priority for libraries to create effective

    systems in the form of user-centred design, by observing what users information needs are,

    and finding what they want. This focuses on the real tasks, enabling libraries to design a

    system that matches users needs. Digital libraries can help researchers in the information

    community to design innovative mechanisms to connect with other researchers across

    different domains and they have abilities to manage unique materials or complicated media.

    They are also a gateway to interface with new types of materials and make them visible to

    their users by using social media application tools for helping the users to retrieve resources

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    more easily (Fieldhouse and Marshall, 2012; Chowdhury and Foo, 2012). To support the

    communities that they serve, digital libraries should enable technology to be community-

    empowered by creating various services and developing a system performance that facilitates

    accessibility to digital resources.


    Digital libraries in the context of social systems seem to be more widely popular in terms of

    collaborative activities, by using technology implementation to empower social communities

    which highlight new technology design as social media applications, open access or online

    database applications that are significant to support the users in communities and make them

    available to the public at no charge. To think about the future, the next steps of digital

    libraries in social communities will focus on how to share and disseminate digital information

    at an international level in terms of international collaboration, which allows users to access

    information in different languages and in a wide range of disciplines. Moreover, digital

    libraries and academic institutions should work together to promote and encourage the other

    information institutions participating in worldwide digital libraries communities.

    Furthermore, digital libraries should create some standards to control their users to respect

    intellectual property in terms of digital licenses and the copyright framework, in order to

    create a societal framework according to the same norms.

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    Bawden, D. and Robinson, L.(2012) Introduction to information science, London: Facet


    Bilandzic, M. and Johnson, D.(2013) Hybrid placemaking in the library: designing digital

    technology to enhance users' on-site experience, The Australian Library Journal,

    62(4), pp.258-271.

    Case, D. O.(2012) Looking for information: A survey of research on information seeking,

    needs, and behaviour (3rd edn), Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing.

    Choi, Y. and Rasmussen, E.(2006) What Is Needed to Educate Future Digital Librarians

    A Study of Current Practice and Staffing Patterns in Academic and Research

    Libraries, Available at:

    [Accessed: 10 April 2014]

    Chowdhury, G.G. and Chowdhury, S.(2011) Information users and usability in the digital

    age, London: Facet Publishing.

    Chowdhury, G.G. and Foo, S.(2012) Digital libraries and information access: Research

    perspective, London: Facet Publishing.

    Digital Library Federation, (2004) A working definition of digital library, Available at: [Accessed: 10 April 2014]

    Edwards, A. (2012), ReCivilization, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC),

    Available at:

    [Accessed: 10 April 2014]

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    Fieldhouse, M. and Marshall, A.(2012) Collection development in the digital age, London:

    Facet Publishing.

    JISC (2010) Open access for UK research, available at:

    chure.pdf [Access 10 April 2014]

    John, M., Richard D., J. and Theo, A.(2006) The institutional repository in the digital library.

    Available at: [Accessed: 10 April


    MacMillan, D.(2012) Mendeley: teaching scholarly communication and collaboration

    through social networking, Library Management, 33(8/9), pp.561-569.

    SPARC, (2013) Why Open Access?, Available at:

    access/why-oa. [Accessed: 10 April 2014]

    Wang, M.(2011) The Library 2011 World Wide Virtual Conference: The Future of Library

    in The Digital Age, Library Hitech News, 28(10), pp.1-5.


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