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    The conceptual challenge raised by the open library

    The open library as defined in Subsection 13.4 may be a relatively obvious concept. It certainly is not an elaborate intellectual edifice. Nevertheless, the open library idea raises some interesting conceptual challenges.

    Supply of information. To me as a newcomer to the Library and Information Studies (LIS) discipline, there appears to be a tradition of emphasizing the behavior of the user who demands information rather than the publisher—I use the word here in its widest sense—who supplies it. I presume this orientation comes from the tradition that almost all bibliographic data were sold by commercial or not-for-profit vendors, just as the documents that they describe. Libraries then see their role as intermediaries between the commercial supply and the general public. In that scenario, libraries take the supply of documents and data as given.

    The open library proposes to build new supply chains for data. If all libraries contribute metadata—data about data—about objects that are local to them—what that means would have to be defined—then a large open library can be built.

    An open library will only be as good as the data that contributors give to it. It is therefore important that research be conducted on what data contributors are able to contribute; on how to provide documentation that the contributor can understand; and on understanding a contributor's motivation.

    Digital updatability. For a long time, libraries could only purchase material that is essentially static. It might decay physically, but the content is immutable. The advent of digital resources provoked a debate. Because they may be changed at any time, digital resources may be used for more than the preservation of ideas. Traditionally inclined libraries have demanded that digital resources be like non-digital resources in all but appearance, and view the mutability of digital data more as a threat than as an opportunity. The open library, however, is more concerned with digital updatability than preservation. Clearly, this transition from static to dynamic resources poses a major challenge to the LIS profession.

    Metadata quality control. In the case of a decentralized dataset, an important problem is to maintain metadata quality. Some elements of metadata quality cannot be controlled by a computer. For example, each record must utilize a structure of fields and values associated with these fields to be interoperable with other records. In some cases the field value only makes sense if it has a certain syntax. This is the case, for example, with an email address. One way to achieve quality control is through the use of relational metadata. Each record has an identifier. Records can use the identifiers of other records. It is then possible to update elements of the dataset in an independent way. It is also simple to check if the handle referenced in one record corresponds to a valid handle in the dataset. Highly controllable metadata systems are an important research concern related to the open library concept.