Now that our new website is up and running, we are planning the next phase of its development by deciding what features should and should not be part of the Digital Library. In any well-designed (web) project, there are hours and hours of planning and writing and discussing what the website will and will not do and this is an expected part of the process.
However, at the outset of our discussions, we had to discuss a the single most important part of the project: What is a digital library?
Although this ties into what the website will do, how it will act, and what our visitors will be able to do and see on the site, we felt this was almost a philosophical, existential question surrounding what we (the website) want to be and how do we want to present our material on the web. It’s sort of like saying to a child “What do you want to be when you grow up?” except in this case, we plan to move in exactly that direction when the question is answered.
In the end, we decided that the Digital Library was more than just books you could read online, although this is a large and growing part of the site. It’s also more than the collections of content (images, trade catalogs, sewing machines, etc.) that we have gathered over the years. It’s more than the online exhibitions, including online counterparts of physical exhibitions. And it’s more than the online tools and databases that we provide to researchers.
We realized that it’s all of these things. Organized and made usable, linked together to encourage discovery, and built to be shared and reused by anyone in the world and hopefully made into something new that goes beyond the digital libraries that we currently see on the Internet. We want our online books to be able to be cited by researchers, our images shared via social media, our data to be accessible and reused via Linked Open Data, our metadata to be downloadable for inclusion in … whatever!
As is the case with any large, long-term project the end (if there is one) is a long way off, but if we keep this goal in mind, we’ll get there. Eventually!