Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Western Waters Digital Library

The Western Waters Digital Library ("WWDL") is an impressive digital library. It is a collaborative, distributed collection of resources concerning water issues in the Western United States. It was created by twelve research universities that are each members of the Greater Western Library Alliance ("GWLA") and has been supported by grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the GWLA.

Selection Decisions:

The WWDL has an extensive, ambitious, and well-conceived collection policy. The digital library seeks to include "historic materials, published works, bibliographies, audio and video media, online exhibits, related web resources, RSS feeds, and any other resources that are deemed appropriate to the research community’s needs and expressed interests."

A potential negative aspect of the collection is that the materials are not centrally located on the Western Waters servers and could potentially disappear if one of the institutions decided not to participate in the project in the future. However, there appears to be a serious commitment by each of the institutions to make this project broadly available, interoperable among the institutions, and sustainable over time. Each collection in the WWDL appears to be curated very well, and there is a strong emphasis on respecting the intellectual property rights of the various member institutions and the owners of the objects. The WWDL maintains a database record of all copyright permissions.


The WWDL also does a very impressive job of providing metadata about each of its objects. Although the collection is dispersed among several institutions, the metadata standards appear uniform throughout the collections. On the website, they state that one of their objectives is to "[f]ollow accepted open standards for digital formats, metadata, and resource sharing; standards include DLF benchmarks, Dublin Core and OAI for metadata, and cooperation with the IMLS-funded Western Trails project." The standardization of the metadata allows for a broad range of options for browsing and searching the collection; it is searchable, among other things, by file type (text, image, video, and audio), keyword, and subject matter.

Object Characteristics:

There is an amazing amount of information about each object in the various collections. Many items include not only information about their digitization in TIFF format, but also sometimes even include information on the archival copy in TIFF format maintained by the institution. The WWDL allows researchers to adjust the size of the objects, rotate them, and cut and paste them. The metadata for each object does a very thorough job of authenticating the object, including information, such as the publisher, the collection information, and the contributing institution.

Intended Audience:

According to the website, the WWDL wants to be an online resource for "researchers and other interested patrons." The website seeks to cater to this audience by providing a number of well-organized bibliographies for related reading on water issues, links to materials that could be utilized to teach water and environmental issues, and links to government, non-profit, commercial, and international entities that address water issues.

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