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Introduction

The Internet and World Wide Web (WWW) provide users with unprecedented access to information resources. In many ways they emulate the functions of traditional libraries, by making it possible to search and locate information using simple tools. But the potential is far greater in areas such as electronic commerce and in supporting new ways of finding information that go far beyond the services of the traditional library. One such possibility is the distributed geolibrary, the subject of this report. A distributed geolibrary would allow its users to search the resources of the WWW for information about a place,1 to evaluate the information, and to retrieve and work with it as appropriate.

A geolibrary is a digital library filled with geoinformation and for which the primary search mechanism is place. Geoinformation is information associated with a distinct area or footprint on the Earth's surface. A geolibrary is distributed if its users, services, metadata, and information assets can be integrated among many distinct locations. Chapter 2 develops a more detailed vision for geolibraries.

This report begins with a series of four examples to illustrate the range and importance of the practical problems that could be addressed by the services of distributed geolibraries. The following

1  

The term place is used throughout this report to refer to a location of interest on or near the Earth's surface. It might be a single point or an extended area or a volume above or below the surface; it might be defined by name or by coordinates, and it might be exact or ill-defined.



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1 Introduction The Internet and World Wide Web (WWW) provide users with unprecedented access to information resources. In many ways they emulate the functions of traditional libraries, by making it possible to search and locate information using simple tools. But the potential is far greater in areas such as electronic commerce and in supporting new ways of finding information that go far beyond the services of the traditional library. One such possibility is the distributed geolibrary, the subject of this report. A distributed geolibrary would allow its users to search the resources of the WWW for information about a place,1 to evaluate the information, and to retrieve and work with it as appropriate. A geolibrary is a digital library filled with geoinformation and for which the primary search mechanism is place. Geoinformation is information associated with a distinct area or footprint on the Earth's surface. A geolibrary is distributed if its users, services, metadata, and information assets can be integrated among many distinct locations. Chapter 2 develops a more detailed vision for geolibraries. This report begins with a series of four examples to illustrate the range and importance of the practical problems that could be addressed by the services of distributed geolibraries. The following 1   The term place is used throughout this report to refer to a location of interest on or near the Earth's surface. It might be a single point or an extended area or a volume above or below the surface; it might be defined by name or by coordinates, and it might be exact or ill-defined.

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chapters discuss the full vision, social and institutional context, and steps that will need to be taken to make distributed geolibraries a reality. Because this is the first discussion of the topic, it falls short of a complete blueprint, and much more exploration will be needed. But this report is perhaps the first step in that direction. Place is a common theme in many events, activities, emergencies, and issues. Terrorist acts like the World Trade Center bombing and natural disasters like Hurricane Andrew affect specific locations on the Earth's surface and call for relief efforts that must occur quickly and that are sharply focused in space. Accurate knowledge of the place at which an emergency occurs and of surrounding conditions is of critical importance in dispatching ambulances and other forms of relief. Place is important in learning about the world and in understanding its environment. Distributed geolibraries are intended to provide new kinds of place-based information services that are not available from the traditional library or from the current WWW. The user of a distributed geolibrary should not be required to be an information retrieval expert, to be proficient in computer technology, or to live in a metropolitan area. The distributed geolibrary envisioned in this report could be an information service for every American—for students and teachers, scientists, community members, government officials, business men and women, and families—by allowing ready access to available information about any place on the Earth's surface. The following hypothetical examples illustrate some of the potential uses and the critical importance of distributed geolibraries. Examples Emergency Response A tanker truck carrying hazardous chemicals is traveling on the highway around a major metropolitan area. Just as the driver approaches a bridge his truck collides with the car in front of him. The truck flips, pinning both drivers inside their vehicles and

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rupturing the tanker. From the debris a plume slowly rises from the chemical spill and is carried by the wind into the surrounding neighborhood. A liquid chemical drips over the bridge into the water below. To deal with the emergency, metropolitan officials need to alert schools, residences, and businesses in the neighborhoods nearby. There has been a recent building boom, and new roads have been constructed. Local maps are out of date. Evacuations must be discussed and planned; routes need to be determined and reassessed; and the effects of weather on the plume need to be monitored continuously. Will it drift to the nearby airport as well? Meanwhile the spill must be contained, the traffic rerouted from the accident scene, and the way cleared for medical assistance. What human health hazards might be related to the contaminant? Hospitals and medical centers in the affected area must be put on alert. Dealing with the potential contamination of the river requires considerable attention as well. What is the current rate of flow and level of the water? Who and what will be affected? Information is immediately required on towns, public and private sites, and beaches and harbors along the river. What access to these sites is possible? How can containment be achieved? The fast-running river passes many small communities and runs between two states. Data from many sources must be integrated and used in order for officials to deal with the effects of the accident. Other needs will emerge after the emergency is contained, such as dealing with the effects on wildlife habitat along the river and the fishing interests that flourish in the area. But the immediate information needs are critical. Although emergency officials have access to their own local sources, they know some of their own maps are not current, so other data should also be checked. And the small towns along the river have limited information resources. The officials need services that allow them to access and browse available imagery, thematic maps, current public and private data resources, and even services available through commercial subscriptions. They need to reach other libraries

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and online sites that specialize in key information, including contaminants. They need to identify personnel in other cities who have dealt with similar spills. In short, they need access to the best information available to cope with the emergency. Information resources through distributed geolibraries could greatly assist rapid response to such emergencies and longer-term efforts aimed at prevention and mitigation. Moreover, it is important that information be available where it is needed most, which in many instances will be at the location of the emergency or in a local command center. The tools to access and work with information may have to operate in difficult environments using specialized field computers (palmtops, portables, or pen computers) and wireless communication. New sensors may be brought to the site, supplying data that will have to be integrated with existing data. Decision makers will want access to powerful aids for decision support and for rapid simulation of future scenarios. Housing Relocation A family is relocating to Southern California. They want to find a home in a suitable environment. They are concerned about earthquake hazards and want information that might help them avoid vulnerable areas and fault lines. After having identified several possible home sites, they further refine their search by excluding undesirable areas—such as high-crime districts or hazardous materials storage sites. They have read newspaper stories about brush fires. Has there been a history of such brush fires in any of the neighborhoods they are considering? They look at maps for the locations of churches, schools, shops, and parks. Special medical services are needed for one family member. What services are close? They consider distances to workplaces. They also worry about the wisdom of such a large investment. Will their home retain value? What are the neighborhood's economic trends? The family wants to know about the place where they will live, work, and play. As responsible citizens they want to be informed about issues affecting their neighborhood. If such information is readily accessible, it could make a significant

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difference in their choice of where to live. Today they might not have the resources, skills, or special education to find the answers to all of these questions, whereas most of this information would be available through the services of distributed geolibraries. In the future, however, they may be able to access information using wireless links directly to their vehicle as they explore potential neighborhoods. Public Health A researcher begins the task of analyzing the association of environment and disease in a particular urban area. She needs access to housing information and population characteristics, as well as health and medical histories in the geographic area of interest. She needs to examine health care facilities, types of buildings, disease rates, even summer heat fatalities, as well as environmental aspects, all over several decades. Incidents with contaminants and pollutants in the area must be located, assessed, and factored into her research. Finding the information will require searches through countless government institutions, media reports, and scientific journals. She begins her work by visiting the local library; contacting responsible local, state, and federal agencies, talking with colleagues; and using search engines on the WWW. Finding the appropriate information, dealing with issues of confidentiality of health data, and putting the information into a form that can be integrated with other data about a given place can be time consuming; eventual success depends heavily on her background, technical training, and experience. Paradoxically, a request that can be expressed in very simple terms ("give me everything available about environment and disease in this place") turns out to be enormously and unreasonably complex, using the limited tools available today, and to consume the vast majority of the resources available to the project. Better tools for data access and management would allow more time to be spent on data analysis.

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Natural Resource Planning The year is 2010. More than 1,000 summer homes have been built within 10 miles of the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and the Bridger-Teton Wilderness Area. Numerous pets have been killed by grizzly bears, wolves, and coyotes, particularly in the early summer of 2009, when heavy snowpacks kept many wild animals from moving into the high country. The conflicts were capped by the deaths of a brother and sister, ages 7 and 8, following an attack by a grizzly bear, which was subsequently killed by wildlife authorities. The National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service are concerned about ever-increasing conflicts between wildlife and humans. Pressure from new residents and from ranchers has led to the death of 20 percent of the reintroduced wolves. Counties, once hungry for the economic growth brought by the construction of luxury summer homes, are now concerned about degradation of water quality and the demands of new residents that their assets be protected from wildlife. Fire management has become an increasing concern at multiple levels of government; officials recognize the need for frequent exposure of forests to fires in order to reduce fuel load, but with greatly increased private property near the forest they have found it increasingly difficult to allow fires to burn without risk to structures. Local and federal agencies recognize the need to draw on common data resources that describe terrain, vegetation, and wildlife habitat in order to solve common problems of resource management. These data must be integrated across many different themes, topics, and disciplines and must be readily available to users needing to assess and plan effectively based on place. The distributed geolibraries available to these stakeholders in 2010 allow them to assemble quickly information in the archives of the various levels of government, nongovernmental organizations, and citizen groups that are relevant to an issue centered at a particular place on the Earth's surface. Through distributed geolibraries, decision makers also may learn quickly what

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information is not available elsewhere and therefore may need to be collected. Additional tools support the decisions and choices that need to be made. With these new tools, development of long-range plans that allow growth while minimizing conflicts with fire and wildlife is progressing after long delays. Several developments have now been completed in places where fire and wildlife conflicts are minimized and where drainage and sewage management have provided excellent protection of water quality. A Common Theme A common theme in these examples is the current inability to locate and integrate information quickly and simply based on place. Although place is the definitive element in many issues, it is currently easier to find information about a named individual, an agency, or a field of scientific knowledge than about a place on the Earth's surface. This report explores opportunities that will improve our ability to find, access, integrate, and use information by exploiting the technologies of the Internet, the WWW, geographic information systems, and digital computers. Finding 1 A wide variety of human activities could benefit from the services of distributed geolibraries. They include many where the timely pro-vision of information could minimize loss of life or result in more timely and effective use of existing information resources and others where the costs of bad decisions could be avoided. Distributed geolibraries could provide information services directed specifically at the needs of communities. In a speech given at the Brookings Institution on September 2, 1998, Vice President Gore argued that increased public access to information through mechanisms such as those discussed in this report will put "more control, more information, more decision-making power into the hands of families, communities, and regions, to give them all the freedom and flexibility they need to reclaim their unique

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place in the world." The services of distributed geolibraries that are discussed and elaborated in this report could enhance education, improve the quality of day-to-day living, and provide economic benefits. They could support scientific research by furnishing new tools for search, analysis, data fusion, and visualization. They could provide the means by which officials cope with emergencies, address issues of health and social services, troubleshoot crime, and accomplish urban planning. They could help provide economic benefits by enabling people to research, manage, market, and grow their business ventures. Many of the components of distributed geolibraries already exist or are being developed, and many existing WWW sites offer some limited form of distributed geolibrary services. This report goes beyond the present to articulate a vision of what might be, with the objective of providing a common target and of pulling disparate threads together into a unified effort to achieve that vision in the not too distant future.