The author describes the implementation of an innovative digital library that is the result of inter-institutional cooperation. The Mediterranean Coastal Marine Environment Digital Library (MeCME DL) covers scientific documentation in the fields of marine biology, marine microbiology, oceanography, and marine chemistry as they apply to marine pollution monitoring and environmental impact in the Gulf of Taranto, the sea between the front and heel of the boot of Southern Italy. The article explores what MeCME DL offers technically, how it differs from other digital libraries, what difference it makes to scholars in the relevant disciplines, and proposes including it in Italy’s National Science Digital Library.

The Gulf of Taranto, between the front and heel of the boot of Southern Italy, has a unique ecosystem and biodiversity. It is made up of two connected seas, “Mar Grande” and “Mar Piccolo.” Mar Grande opens up into the Ionian Sea, which is part of the Mediterranean; Mar Piccolo is a semi-enclosed brackish lagoon with some freshwater underground springs. Some areas of Mar Piccolo are the exact replica of areas in South Africa, owing to their similar climates and resident species. This peculiar ecosystem has attracted biologists from all over the world.

The ecosystem is affected by a busy industrial area known for the production of steel and for its oil refineries. The waste water from the steel factory and the resulting polluted mud and sediment have had a significant environmental impact on the Mar Piccolo ecosystem, and the Italian government is funding efforts to protect and improve this unique environment.

The environment itself and the government attention have led to an increase in documentation by academic and scientific research institutions, in particular on the chemical monitoring of heavy metals in waters and sediments. Because of interest by the national and international scientific communities studying the preservation of the costal environments, the papers, technical reports, and other documentation, produced by the Marine Coastal Environmental Institute (IAMC)-CNR (Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche) in Taranto, Italy, need to be easily and quickly retrieved.

The MeCME DL was created in 2002 to provide bibliographic information and full-text documents, including technical reports, proceedings, pre-prints, theses, published documents, analytical data, bibliographies, maps, etc., from disparate sources—a virtual library, in essence. Today it focuses on marine biology, marine microbiology, oceanography and marine chemistry as they apply to marine pollution monitoring, and features documents from the Istituto Talassografico “A.Cerruti” (IAMC-CNR, Taranto, Italy) It and the Laguna di Venezia Digital Library are the only two in the world focused on these areas.

The MeCME DL is not the first effort in Italy to create a virtual library, but it is one of the newest, and was designed to be easier to use than its predecessors. Researchers may use the ASFA (Aquatic Sciences and Fisheries Abstracts) thesaurus descriptors or a free key-words scheme for searches. The MeCME DL is at http://mecme.isti.cnr.it/.

Aims of the Project and Data Implementation

MeCME DL was developed to meet the specific need for information about industrial pollution in marshlands and seas. The project was a joint effort with the Information Science and Technologies Institute in Pisa (ISTI CNR), which had built an earlier experimental thematic digital library covering applied mathematics and computer science more than a decade ago, and which hosts MeCME DL.

The principal service offered to users is an advanced online search-and-browse capability across collections located in Taranto, Venice, and Pisa. Librarians involved in the project collect the information, and use the same international standards for document metadata and semantic description (classification systems and thesaurus) to make cross-library searching possible. MeCME DL follows the pattern set by the Laguna di Venezia Digital Library (LVDL) in Venice, which specializes in the marine biology of the Venice Lagoon.[1] That archive brought together three collections from Chioggia (University of Padova): the university’s Geology, Paleontology, and Geophysics Library, the Natural History Museum of Venice Library, and the Naturalistic Observatory of the Lagoon. The combined collection includes bibliographic information, full texts, and multimedia information, as well as technical reports and proceedings. It uses three levels of semantic descriptors, free key words, the ASFA thesaurus, and the Library of Congress classification). LVDL stores its paper documents in Venice, but the electronic documents are all on servers in Pisa, as are the MeCME DL documents.

Unlike the ECRIM Technical Reference Digital Library, the 1997 European sub-collection of the US Network Computer Science Technical Reference Library, MeCME DL is going to convert to the new Digital Library Service System, “Open Dlib,”[2] developed at the ISTI CNR in Pisa. ETRL, a distributed digital library that holds the documents of ERCIM[3], the European Consortium for Informatics and Mathematics[4], is based upon RFC 1807 metadata (Dublin Core Mapping) and the Dienst Protocol—the system MECME uses now.

MeCME DL data customization made it necessary to accurately select the collection and plan the repository features (record fields, file formats, and languages) and policies (publication date span, document type, classification, and subjects). It is a planned collection, not just an opportune one. The intent is to make MeCME DL a technologically innovative resource, providing bibliographic, full-text, textual, and multimedia information through customized search-and-browse user interfaces. The library staff at Pisa manages both the submission of new documents and the administration of MeCME DL collections, using a specialized Web interface.

At this stage, the technical reports, theses, conference proceedings, and conference/journal abstracts submitted cover the same thematic content of the digital library (in digital, digitized, and/or paper format), stored at the IAMC-CNR library in Taranto, but it the library expects to have documentation from the main office in Naples as well.

System Functions

Multilingual access

One unique feature of the system is the cross-language querying function:

  • Users may enter the title either in the original language or in English (or both)
  • Key words, descriptors, and classification codes must always be in English, but the system retrieves documents in other languages as well
  • The summary or abstract is in both English (a compulsory field) and Italian

Submission and administration procedures

Each document is described by a set of metadata (RFC 1807), using an on-line document-submission form that is customized for each library but standardized within subjects. The metadata includes:

  • Title (in the original language)
  • E-mail address of the librarian
  • Subject—two types of semantic descriptors are given, free key words and words from the ASFA thesaurus
  • Collection that owns the documents
  • Abstract in English and Italian
  • Type of document—technical report, proceedings, map, data set, pre-print, graduate or undergraduate thesis, published document, photograph, or bibliography
  • Document language, selected from the drop-down menu.

When documents are electronic (the libraries do not have the ability to digitize paper at this point) and where permissible according to copyright, documents are provided in a full-text format (pdf, MS word, ASCII text, HTML, JPEG, Postscript, TIFF, or GIF).

The MeCME DL librarians use an administrative interface to verify the data and documents before they are accepted into the appropriate collection of the digital library. In case of errors or data miswriting, the administrator is able to remove any documents from the collection.

Search-and-browse procedures

Search fields include author, year, and semantic indexes.

  • SIMPLE SEARCH consists of a single field, and hits include the query words in the author, title, abstract, and subject fields
  • FIELD SEARCH enables users to search in one or more of the following areas:
    • Bibliographic fields (title, author, abstract in other language, or subject)
    • Type, year, and language
    • A menu to select all collections
  • DIRECT SEARCH consists of a text-entry field in which a unique document identifier can be entered to access a specific document directly


The positive response to MeCME DL has encouraged us to continue developing our project. Plans include using the new digital library management system “Open Dlib,” which was developed and is being tested by ISTI-CNR[5]; integrating the collection with documentation from GEOMARE CNR in Naples and eventually with the other branches of IAMC CNR in Messina, Mazara del Vallo, and Oristano; activating the self-archiving publishing function; promoting new cooperation with public and private institutions to increase the number of collections in the system; creating new links from the MeCME DL home page, giving users access to Web sites for other coastal marine environments disciplines.

Making MeCME a National Resource

In Rome in 2004 the European Commission’s Information Society Technologies Programme (IST) organized a meeting of DELOS, the Network of Excellence on Digital Libraries, to begin planning an Italian National Science and Technology Digital Library. The assembled experts included not only representatives of Italian university and research institutions, but foreign experts as well.

CNR, the Italian National Research Council was charged at a national level to create the National Science and Technology Digital Library. A committee began to collect procedures and processes to retrieve documents stored on different servers from a single search interface[6]. The first prototype was set up in 2005 by ISTI-CNR of Pisa and CNR of Genova. It was called POLAR CNR—a Portal of Libraries and Repositories[7].


Certainly MeCME DL is unique for its subject content and allowing information search and retrieval by different types of specialised users. We can say for sure it is so much more advanced than the other digital libraries in Italy and it surely sets new and higher standards that are continuously revised and updated, following the latest technologies. But the real importance of MeCME has been in the information it has made available to researchers in marine biology and environmental pollution at no cost to the researchers. Most of the other articles our researchers use are accessed only through a very expensive databases or through consortium databases that libraries build at huge cost—and which our library and other libraries have dropped because of the cost. This is an affordable way to provide valuable information to researchers at a low cost.

MeCME DL intends to become the main multidisciplinary, thematic digital library for marine biology studies on the Gulf of Taranto and the Southern Mediterranean Sea, and will be a prototype in the field of environmental sciences and environmental impact monitoring.


    1. Laguna di Venezia Digital Library: Available at: http://laguna.isti.cnr.it/return to text

    2. MeCME Digital Library: Available at: http://mecme.isti.cnr.it/return to text

    3. The ERCIM Technical Reference Digital Library. D-LIB Magazine-Dec.1999-vol.5,no.12. Available at: http://www.dlib.org/return to text

    4. Network Computer Science Technical Report Library: Available at: http://www.ncstrl.org/return to text

    5. Castelli D., Pagano G. (2002) “OpenDlib. A Digital Library Service System”. In: Proceedings of the 6th European Conference on research and Advanced Technology for Digital Libraries (ECDL 2002), Agosti M. and Thanos C. editors, pages 292-308. Lecture Notes in Computer Sciences (LNCS) 2458. Springer, Berlin.return to text

    6. DELOS: Available at: http://www.delos.info/return to text

    7. POLAR CNR: Available at: http://polarcnr.area.ge.cnr.it/return to text


    I would like to thank my colleagues for their precious help, advice, and comfort: Stefania Biagioni, Carlo Carlesi, and Giuseppe Romano, working all at ISTI CNR in Pisa. MeCME DL would have not been born nor grown so well without them.