"If you feel more connected, you behave more responsibly." Esther Dyson.
This book is about connecting people to distributed knowledge and thus improving their economic, educational, and social conditions. Esther Dyson, the controversial chairperson of ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) said the above in a recent interview *. It is quite likely that with more knowledge and information distributed more widely and freely, countries and their citizens will behave more responsibly and create more opportunities for economic development and personal growth.
The vision of Dr. Carlos Paldao of the Inter-American Agency for Cooperation and Development of the Organization of American States made this monograph possible. The agency understood the need for a book that would address the information technology building blocks for digital libraries and their potential to create and support new knowledge environments, especially in Latin America.
The intent of this book is to provide an understanding of digital library concepts. However, considerable effort has been made to also paint the broadest possible picture of future ways of working with knowledge and deploying digital content to improve local and regional economies and social conditions. The chapters range from conceptual to actual implementations and case studies. The conceptual chapters on managing in the 21st Century, electronic commerce, scholarly publishing and intellectual property could be used as stand alone briefing documents for decision makers or as needed to inform policy makers and politicians. The chapters on foundations of digital libraries, implementation advice and step-by-step instructions will be useful to those planning such services or in the process of developing them. Digital librarians will find these useful to describe their work and why it is important. The chapters on Latin American regional projects could serve as examples to present to administrators and funding agencies of the impact of successful digital information initiatives.
The first chapter explores the leadership challenges in an interconnected digital world where workers could be virtual and where corporations and institutions must rely on distributed knowledge and customers based in a global economy. It describes an economic reality where competition could come from well-established national and international companies or from a totally unknown source such as an Internet start-up. Where the next transformational innovation could be discovered in the Amazon as well as in a sophisticated high technology company! The next chapter on electronic commerce develops this theme further and provides an excellent overview for the business community and those who are developing the tools and databases underlying such services, including digital library components. Chapter 3 outlines the challenge of accessing information and intellectual products produced through such initiatives and the importance of keeping scholarly communication affordable and available to educational and research enterprises.
Chapters 4 to 7 get into the nitty gritty of developing digital library content, services, access and integration. The authors provide both practical and conceptual overviews and case studies. The chapters on Latin American science, technology and health information initiatives (Chapters 8 and 9) provide examples of existing successful regional projects. Chapter 10 shows how all the databases, digital products and services discussed in the other chapters can be organized and integrated into knowledge or electronic commerce portals.
Ultimately, the challenge of living in a digital culture is not technological but human. All societies, not just in Latin American, face socio-economic conditions that result in having strong national cultures but also a growing sub-culture of citizens who "live" in an international Internet culture. The Organization of American States plays an important role in developing the necessary knowledge, educational and technological infrastructures to encourage such virtual communities. The final chapter will describe future directions for the OAS.
The chapter authors were drawn from the three major fields of study that support digital libraries: library science, engineering and computer science. They come from academic environments in the Americas which are representative of the region and are well versed in their specialties. Some are internationally known and have authored books in related fields. I am grateful for their participation in this project and the support of the OAS.
Johann van Reenen, Editor
* Freed, K. 2000. People beforeTechnology; A conversation with Esther Dyson. Media Visions Web zine, 2000 Edition, Vol. 4.1 [Online at]: http://www.media-visions.com/dyson.html