The WWW has made everyone a potential publisher and distributor of information, blurring old distinctions between authors, publishers, distributors, and librarians. The important library function of collection building, which involves the library staff in making careful decisions about what should or should not appear in the library, has no equivalent on the WWW, where there are no gatekeepers or custodians of quality.
If library information assets can be accessed from anywhere, how will each library determine what to collect or acquire, if anything? In a digital world and barring direct control and restriction on access, a library will be able to leave more general resources to others and to emphasize those information assets that it alone is best qualified to provide. There would be little value, for example, in serving recent issues of a journal if the journal's publisher and other libraries already provide the needed service at no charge. Unique assets might include the products of the parent institution's own research and scholarship, unique information resources donated to the library by bequests, or information on the library's own local region.
In short, the library of the future will be able to make a clear distinction between the services it provides in helping its users find, access, and use information and the information assets that it collects, builds, and maintains itself. Metadata, or data about data, are likely to become much more important, as libraries seek to refine the services they provide by including more and more tools designed to assist in search, evaluation, and use. Just as today's library needs a catalog that tells users where to look in its stacks for given information resources, so tomorrow's digital library will need the tools (cataloging, indexing, abstracting) that help users navigate the vast communications networks and distributed information resources of the future.
This chapter addresses the services and functions of distributed geolibraries against this background of traditional and novel library services. As noted in Chapter 2, the functions and services of a library are often less obvious than and confused with its physical structure. Some, like information abstraction and