Europe drives effort for an online 'library of libraries'

October 5, 2009

by Mark Ollig

A significant European effort is underway to create a huge digital storehouse of information which will be accessible by everyone.

The name European researchers have given to this on-going project is “Digital Repository Infrastructure Vision for European Research,” or DRIVER.

DRIVER currently stores over 1 million documents of information gathered from books, lectures, journal articles, reports, and more.

This project is funded by the EU (European Union).

Sources of information come from 29 European countries in 25 languages and are gathered regularly from over 250 institutional collections.

According to its web site, “DRIVER’s vision is to build a Europe and world-wide digital repository infrastructure, which follows the principle of linking users to knowledge.”

What makes this project special is the breakthrough software technology they have created called D-NET.

D-NET version 1.0 is software used for the collection, management, and storage of information for DRIVER. This open source code provides the ability to “talk” with and integrate those 250 institutional collections seamlessly together, even though they may operate on dissimilar or older computer operating platforms. I guess you could call this a sort of universal computer software user interface.

The technological breakthrough achieved in DRIVER was the solution, according to the project’s coordinator, Professor Yannis Ioannidis.

I mentioned earlier that project DRIVER has over 1 million documents stored and, according to Professor Ioannidis, “. . . this number looks set to grow, as more and more organizations and institutions realize how simple and fast it is to register their online repositories, as well.”

The DRIVER search portal also acts as a powerful display of the D-NET software, so that anyone can access and work with it.

Managing and keeping this knowledge safe for today and into the future is one of the goals of the DRIVER project.

The Guidelines for Repository Managers, a key document that establishes the rules for creating interoperability between different systems, is an important design of DRIVER.

The DRIVER’s research portal can be accessed at http://search.driver.research-infrastructures.eu.

Not only in Europe is the DRIVER project being noticed.

Countries like China, India, South America and elsewhere are making contact with the DRIVER partners and are developing plans for their own use. In fact, the Chinese Academy of Science is currently evaluating D-NET software for its own national repository. So far, there have been more than 800 downloads of the D-NET open source code.

The DRIVER technology is quickly becoming a standard in Europe and also around the world because of its potential for linking data among private content providers and also with public organizations.

“Our next task is to extend the system, so that it goes beyond text documents and can handle any type of media. But certainly, it is available to commercial enterprises, and anybody else, under the open source license,” said Professor Ioannidis.

This project to accumulate the “sum of all knowledge” reminds me of the July 21, 2008, column I wrote about Paul Otlet.

Paul Otlet had a vision of producing one master “bibliography” of the entire world’s published knowledge.

Otlet was from Europe also; he came from Mons, Belgium.

Starting in 1895, Otlet and another person who shared in his vision, Henri La Fontaine, set out to collect data on every book, newspaper, magazine, photograph, poster, and pamphlets ever published, and even the vast collections of written articles from libraries.

Using the “state-of-the-art” in storage technology available at the time (3-by-5 index cards); they went on to create an enormous gigantic paper database called a “universal catalog of all that had been written.”

Thousands upon thousands of boxes containing these indexed cards were stored in wooden cardholder drawers which lined the walls of the Mundaneum building in Brussels, Belgium.

Otlet and Fontaine needed to hire people who were trained “catalogers” to help them.

As Otlet’s Mundaneum operations evolved, it began to be overwhelmed by the huge amounts of paper documentation being housed in it.

In the 1934 book based on his research, called “Monde,” Otlet presented his vision of a “mechanical collective brain” containing all of the world’s information.

Indeed, if he were here today, I am sure Paul Otlet would be working right alongside this latest European effort to accumulate the world’s depositories of information and make it available to anyone, anywhere.

I wish good luck to everyone involved with DRIVER, as this project represents the latest attempt to unite collectively all knowledge and research-not only accumulated in Europe, but from organizations around the world, as well.

To access the DRIVER search portal, go to this shortened link I made: http://tinyurl.com/yc5kpzf.

The main DRIVER page is at http://www.driver-repository.eu.

Be sure to check the Web Site of The Week, for more information about the Digital Repository Infrastructure Vision for European Research.