Sunday, July 1, 2007

Digital Libraries and Personalization Part 1 of 5

The following post is part of a series about personalization of digital libraries. Please click below to read further:

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5


A large amount of newly created information is electronically published in digital libraries, whose aim is to satisfy users’ information needs. Digital libraries are not only an information resource where users may submit queries to satisfy their information needs but also a collaborative working and meeting space of people sharing common interests. As users become more familiar with digital libraries, these libraries will become personalized environments, where users can organize the information space according to their own subjective view, build communities, become aware of each other, exchange information and knowledge with other users, and get recommendations based on their preference patterns. This paper will explore the issues of personalization and digital libraries, giving an overview of collaborative, content-based, and knowledge-based filtering, as well as personalized information environments (PIE).


The amount of information published digitally and the number of users accessing it to satisfy their information needs is growing exponentially. Although information is easier and faster to access, it is increasingly difficult for users to control and seek specific information available on the Internet unless they know exactly what they need and where and how to obtain it. Emerging services are required to assist users to access and organize information among this growing data torrent.

Among the various information sources, digital libraries play an important role in terms of providing information and services to these users. Digital libraries (DLs) can be defined as consisting of collections of information (text, audio, video, and/or multimedia) which have associated services delivered to the user communities by a variety of technologies. An essential technological component of DLs is that they are networked, meaning that access is shared and collaborative.

Chowdhury and Chowdhury (2003) in their book Introduction to Digital Libraries provide a clear picture of why digital libraries are important:

Digital Libraries have the potential to make a tremendous impact on our everyday life. They will bring a paradigm shift in the ways we create, distribute, seek and use information, and thus will make significant impact on the way we do our day to day work—study, research, jobs, problems solving, decision making, and so on. Digital libraries will also have a tremendous impact on the information industry, affecting the information generators, publishers, and distributors, and information service providers (12).

Additionally, Schatz (1997) alludes that the emergence of the Internet, “has made the process of organizing and searching digital collections a critical international need. As the Internet itself becomes increasingly part of the structure of the world, so will the process of creating useful digital libraries become a critical part of society” (332). Internet access has resulted in DLs that are increasingly used by communities with diverse needs. As DLs become more commonplace and as their service and contents become more varied, users will expect advanced services, especially as they become more experienced with technology. In order to remain effective, DLs must offer and tailor information for their users and support community efforts to capture, structure, and share knowledge.

The emerging generation of DLs is more diverse then before. The collections themselves are becoming more heterogeneous, in terms of their creators, content, media, and communities served. The range of library types is expanding to include long-term personal DLs, and well as DLs that serve specific organizations, educational needs, and cultural heritage that vary in their reliability, authority, and quality. The user communities are also becoming diverse in terms of their interests, backgrounds, and skill levels, ranging from novices to experts in specific subject areas. The growing diversity of DLs, the communities accessing them, and how the information is used requires the next generation of DLs to be more effective at providing information that is tailored to a person’s background knowledge, skills, tasks, and intended use of the information. One cannot deny the significance and need for research to be undertaken where digital library usability is made optimal for users.

Despite technological advances, usability issues in digital libraries and other information systems persist. The usability problems may be associated with the emergence of a new community of users that lack the technological orientation and are much less tolerant of poorly designed systems. Earlier, people were counted on to adapt to systems, but now they expect more. Adams and Blandford (2002) believe that “the invisible presence of [DLs], their poor usability, and user support has made their impact less dramatic. These issues cannot be avoided as digital libraries become more and more influential…” (393).


What is needed are tools that will enable users to create personal collections of information resources of interest to them. It will be necessary to cull tens of thousands of resources for those of a specific interest and to monitor available resources to detect new useful sources or to decide that others are no longer of interest. Efficient search strategies are required to support the discovery of resources and to search and fuse information gleaned from those resources.

Personalization is one option in which DLs can support this goal, offer users better service, and assure their patronage. Personalization, in the context of DLs, refers to the ability of users to customize the information they access and to adapt the presentation according to their personal preferences (Riecken 2000). Personalized DLs brings to light the suite of resources being offered and empower users to create information systems that are responsive to their needs.

Lisa Cerrato, of the Perseus Digital Library defines personalization as “the ability of a user to customize the display and actions available in the DL. Thus, limiting the results of a vocabulary tool to only textbooks the user has seen or remembering where the user left off in a particular text, storing search results, and allowing the user to view or hide certain default features” (personal communication, June 24, 2007).

Personalization can range from user-driven to automatic, with many personalization tools combining elements of both approaches. User-driven personalization asks users to provide explicit input about their information needs. Automatic personalization is engaged when the system observes user activity and tailors the system accordingly. Users who supply an array of information about their interests and skill levels might make their searches more effective and the results better tailored to their real needs. At some institutions, like universities, some of this information could be automatically supplied from registration files and other sources.

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