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Executive Summary A distributed geolibrary is a vision for the future. It would permit users to quickly and easily obtain all existing information available about a place that is relevant to a defined need. It is modeled on the operations of a traditional library, updated to a digital networked world, and focused on something that has never been possible in the traditional library: the supply of information in response to a geographically defined need. It would integrate the resources of the Internet and the World Wide Web into a simple mechanism for searching and retrieving information relevant to a wide range of problems, including natural disasters, emergencies, community planning, and environmental quality. A geolibrary is a digital library filled with geoinformation—information associated with a distinct area or footprint on the Earth's surface—and for which the primary search mechanism is place. A geolibrary is distributed if its users, services, metadata, and information assets can be integrated among many distinct locations. This report presents the findings of the Workshop on Distributed Geolibraries: Spatial Information Resources, convened by the Mapping Science Committee of the National Research Council in June 1998. The report is a vision for distributed geolibraries, not a blueprint. Developing a distributed geolibrary involves a series of technical challenges as well as institutional and social issues, which are addressed relative to the vision.
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Characteristics and Benefits of Distributed Geolibraries A wide variety of human activities could benefit from the services of distributed geolibraries. The activities include many for which the timely provision of information could minimize loss of life or result in more timely and effective use of existing information resources. The contents of a distributed geolibrary are not limited to information normally associated with maps or images of the Earth's surface but include any information that can be associated with a geographic location. In this sense the vision thus extends far beyond the context of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI). New technological developments make it possible for people to gather data germane to their own needs more readily, extract data from online and other electronic repositories, develop the information products they need, use the products for decision making, and contribute their locally gathered geoinformation and derived products to libraries or other repositories. Developing the technical and institutional means to support incorporation of local knowledge into networked repositories presents a novel challenge. Although many projects currently exhibit elements of the vision of distributed geolibraries, the lack of a clear statement of that vision impedes coordination and leads to duplication of effort. A clear statement can provide a sense of common purpose. New technological initiatives such as the Next Generation Internet and Internet II are likely to provide extensions to Internet and World Wide Web (WWW) protocols and orders-of-magnitude increases in bandwidth. Many of these developments are expected to be relevant to distributed geolibraries. The National Spatial Data Infrastructure The vision of the NSDI as expressed by the Mapping Science Committee in 1993 (NRC, 1993) did not anticipate the
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enormous impact and potential of the Internet and WWW. By emphasizing the problems of production of digital geoinformation, it underemphasized the importance of effective processes of dissemination to users. User communities are growing rapidly and are likely to grow even more rapidly if current difficulties associated with finding geoinformation on the Internet can be addressed. Distributed geolibraries provide a useful framework for discussion of the issues of dissemination associated with the NSDI in addition to organization and access issues. The vision is readily extendible to a global context. An essential component of a distributed geolibrary is a comprehensive gazetteer, linking named places and geographic locations. A national gazetteer would be a valuable addition to the framework data sets of the NSDI. These framework data sets are being coordinated by the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC), which also has the responsibility for associated standards and protocols. Production and maintenance of the national gazetteer could be through the National Mapping Division of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in collaboration with other agencies and could be an extension of the USGS's Geographic Names Information System. Contents, Services, and Functions of Distributed Geolibraries A distributed geolibrary would allow users (and computers) to specify a requirement, search across the resources of the Internet for suitable information, assess the fitness of that information for use, retrieve and integrate it with other information, and perform various forms of manipulation and analysis. A distributed geolibrary would thus integrate the browsing functions of the WWW with those of geographic information systems and related technologies. In addition, a distributed geolibrary would support collaborative work, such as multidisciplinary research by teams, decision making by groups of stakeholders, and classroom projects by
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groups of students. It would provide mechanisms for capturing the knowledge that results from such work and making it accessible to others as appropriate. It could also provide mechanisms for storing and archiving such knowledge. Many important applications of distributed geolibraries are best located in the field, using portable systems and wireless communications. Delivery of services to the field is important in emergency management, agriculture, natural resource management, and many other applications. The United States possesses vast archives of information that could be incorporated into distributed geolibraries and made accessible to users whose need for information is defined by geographic location. Linking much of this information to geographic location—in other words, to transform it to geoinformation—would be valuable within a geolibrary context. Significant research problems will have to be solved to enable the vision of distributed geolibraries. Research needs include problems of indexing, visualization, scaling, automated search and abstracting, and data conflation. In addition, there are a variety of social and institutional issues that need further investigation. Research on these issues targeted to improve access to integrated geoinformation might be pursued by the National Science Foundation and other agencies sponsoring basic science, as well as by the National Mapping Division of the USGS, and the National Imagery and Mapping Agency. Architecture of Distributed Geolibraries There are several alternative architectures for distributed geolibraries, including a single enterprise sponsored by a well-resourced agency, analogous to a national library; a network of enterprises with their own sponsors, analogous to a network or federation of libraries; and a loose network held together by shared protocols, analogous to the WWW.
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Intellectual Property Issues The development of distributed geolibraries will need to consider issues related to intellectual property rights. These need to be considered in the broader international debates about the nature of electronic information and databases as intellectual property. A distinction with respect to intellectual property rights needs to be drawn between raw data and knowledge works as they appear very differently from the perspective of the functions and services of a library. Strong arguments are presented for focusing distributed geolibraries on knowledge, rather than merely providing access to raw data. Organizational Issues While traditional production of geospatial data has been relatively centralized, the vision of distributed geolibraries represents a broadly based restructuring of past institutional arrangements for the dissemination of geospatial data, one that is much more bottom-up, decentralized, and voluntary. Many prototypes that include elements of a distributed geolibrary already exist, but it will take many years to realize the full vision, and it will be important to be able to measure and monitor progress. The vision of distributed geolibraries has distinct aspects that may not be addressed effectively by current programs aimed at digital libraries in general. The success of a distributed geolibrary is largely dependent on the ability to integrate information available about a place. That ability is severely impeded today by differences in formats and standards, access mechanisms, and organizational structures. Integration is a formidable problem for today's users of geospatial data.
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