Digital library

A digital library comprises digital collections, services and infrastructure to support lifelong learning, research, scholarly communication and preservation.

A digital library is, like a traditional library, a collection of books and reference materials. Unlike a traditional library, however, the collection of a digital library is, as you would expect, digital, and is usually served over the World Wide Web. Some of the largest and most successful digital libraries are Project Gutenberg, ibiblio and the Internet Archive.

Some people have criticized that digital libraries are hampered by copyright law, because works cannot be shared over different periods of time in the manner of a traditional library. The content is, in many cases, public domain or self-generated content only. Some digital libraries, such as Project Gutenberg, work to digitize out-of-copyright works and make them freely available to the public.

Genre publisher Baen Books has made many of its titles available electronically through the Baen Free Library.

See List of digital library projects for an extensive listing.

The Digital Library is:

  • The collection of services
  • And the collection of information objects
  • That support users in dealing with information objects
  • And the organization and presentation of those objects
  • Available directly or indirectly
  • Via electronic/digital means.

Advantages and Disadvantages of the Digital Library Over a Traditional Library


  • Universal access - people from all over the world could gain access to the same information, as long as an internet connection is available.
  • Capacity - Whereas traditional libraries are limited by storage space, digital libraries have the potential to store much more information, simply because digital information require very little physical space to contain them.
  • Cost - The cost of maintaining a digital library is much lower than that of a traditional library. A traditional library must spend large sums of money paying for staff, book maintance, rent, and additional books. Digital libraries do away with these fees.
  • Any time, any day- Digital libraries can be accessed at any time of the day, where as traditional libraries have "operating hours".


  • Copyright- One difficulty to overcome for digital libraries is the way to distribute information. How does digital libraries distribute information at will while protecting the copyright of the author?
  • Efficiency- With the much larger volume of digital information, finding the right material for a specific task become increasingly difficult.
  • Environment- Digital libraries cannot reproduce the environment of a traditional library. Many people also find reading printed material to be easier than reading material on a computer screen.
  • Preservation- Due to technological developments, a digital library can rapidly become out-of-date and its data may become unaccessible.

-- The Scope of the Digital Library (, draft Prepared by Barry M. Leiner for the DLib Working Group on Digital Library Metrics, January 16, 1998

While the first definition is focussed on ebooks, this is much more general. Information objects can be anything expressed in a digital format: books, journal articles, maps, picture, sounds, etc. The important thing is that, like a "regular" library, the Digital Library is organised to store and make accessible the objects it contains, but the storage and retrieval methodologies used differ in being "electronic".

External links

fr:Bibliothque en ligne it:Biblioteca digitale nl:Digitale bibliotheek ja:インターネット電子図書館 pt:Biblioteca digital


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