6
Conclusions

Revisiting the Rationale for Distributed Geolibraries

Chapter 1 presents a limited set of examples for which the ability to access information by place from distributed resources would be useful. In the first example, a truck accident has caused the potential for major environmental disaster and possibly loss of life. The accident's impact is directly dependent on the ability of those responding to gather the necessary information on which an effective response strategy can be based. Knowing exactly where the accident occurred can reduce the time taken to make the first response. Knowing what is likely to happen to the spilled liquids or gases can reduce their impact, lead to more rapid cleanup, and avert many possible costly outcomes.

Actual benefits of improved access to information in such circumstances are extremely difficult to estimate. Many of them are intangible and thus difficult to express in dollar terms. Outcomes of such events vary enormously in severity, yet the difference between a life lost and a life saved is immense. In the case of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, for example, it has been suggested that the use of a computer-based model of the Murrah federal building, along with simulations of how the explosion modified the structure and of where the occupants were likely to be found, shortened the total duration of the rescue effort by several days and significantly increased the probability that victims would be found alive.



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6 Conclusions Revisiting the Rationale for Distributed Geolibraries Chapter 1 presents a limited set of examples for which the ability to access information by place from distributed resources would be useful. In the first example, a truck accident has caused the potential for major environmental disaster and possibly loss of life. The accident's impact is directly dependent on the ability of those responding to gather the necessary information on which an effective response strategy can be based. Knowing exactly where the accident occurred can reduce the time taken to make the first response. Knowing what is likely to happen to the spilled liquids or gases can reduce their impact, lead to more rapid cleanup, and avert many possible costly outcomes. Actual benefits of improved access to information in such circumstances are extremely difficult to estimate. Many of them are intangible and thus difficult to express in dollar terms. Outcomes of such events vary enormously in severity, yet the difference between a life lost and a life saved is immense. In the case of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, for example, it has been suggested that the use of a computer-based model of the Murrah federal building, along with simulations of how the explosion modified the structure and of where the occupants were likely to be found, shortened the total duration of the rescue effort by several days and significantly increased the probability that victims would be found alive.

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In the other examples in Chapter 1, the value of improved access to geoinformation lies in the intangible benefits of a better-informed citizenry and of improved access by stakeholders to the information resources of governments and other agencies. In these examples, place provides by far the most effective means of searching for information when the issue is localized to a neighborhood, city, or region and when it spans many different themes, disciplines, and areas of responsibility. Location is the only way to link information from diverse themes in such circumstances, and our current inability to do that is a major impediment to informed debate on many of the issues that concern society. If a distributed geolibrary in some form is not developed, a major opportunity made possible by recent developments in information technology will be lost. With a geolibrary the time needed to respond to emergencies could be reduced, as those responsible for dealing with emergencies would have vastly improved means to assemble needed information. And with distributed geolibraries the average citizen and stakeholder will have a greater opportunity to be better informed about many local and regional issues. Distributed Geolibraries in Context Chapter 2 describes a physical geolibrary as a building containing a large globe with which users would specify their areas of interest; in response, the library would provide all of the information relevant to that area. The concept was presented as a thought experiment, since clearly such a physical geolibrary could not be built. However, the concept suggests two questions that should be addressed: (1) To what extent is the geolibrary an extension of the traditional library with its card catalog and search mechanism based on author, title, and subject? (2) How will the geolibrary complement traditional libraries? The workshop and this report have focused almost exclusively on queries defined primarily by location, arguing that

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for many reasons such queries have been difficult to handle in the traditional library and that the kinds of materials best found through such queries are consequently less likely to be found in the traditional library. Thus, the geolibrary is distinguished by both a distinct search mechanism and a somewhat distinct collection. It is important not to give exclusive emphasis to place-based searches, even in the case of geospatial data. Consider, for example, the following query "Do you have a picture of a hurricane?" Queries of this form are common in education, for example, or the news media, and although they require geospatial data in response, such as an image from space, the data's footprint on the Earth's surface is actually irrelevant to the search. The Panel suggests that the geolibrary is complementary to the traditional library in the sense that it adds a new search mechanism to the traditional one. By adding place-based search to searches based on author, title, and subject, the distributed geolibrary allows users with needs defined by place to search the distributed archive of the WWW in new ways. In turn it encourages producers and custodians of geoinformation to make their information assets accessible through the WWW. Whether a distributed geolibrary evolves into a distinct set of software, protocols, and institutions or whether it becomes fully integrated into the distributed digital library of the future remains to be seen. The ability to search by place should provide a strong stimulus to the producers and custodians of geoinformation to add specifications of footprints and to make use of metadata formats that include such information, including the FGDC's Content Standards for Digital Geospatial Metadata (www.fgdc.gov) and suitably extended versions of the Dublin Core (purl.org/dc). Government agencies could take a lead in this direction by developing a coordinated plan to link as much information as possible to geographic footprints. This is already under way in those agencies represented on the FGDC, since such agencies are mandated to produce metadata according to the FGDC standard for all of their geospatial products. But the United States possesses vast archives of information that could be incorporated in a

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distributed geolibrary collection and made accessible to place-based search if it could be linked to a footprint. Linking much of this information to geographic location—in other words, to transform it to geoinformation—would be valuable within a geolibrary context. Several programs discussed in Chapter 5 might provide support for the development of the distributed geolibrary, although none is targeted to the specific research problems associated with place-based information resources. Funding will be needed to stimulate the development of prototypes, support research, and build partnerships directed specifically at distributed geolibraries, so that the vision outlined in this report can become a reality and the problems of data access identified at the outset in Chapter 1 can be addressed effectively.