Sunday, July 19, 2009

Information is “Virtually” at Your Fingertips

According to Public Works and Government Services Canada, "Virtual libraries are delocalized and universally accessible; instead of having a physical address, they are constructed on Internet sites, and bear evocative names like Alexandrie, Bibliotheca Universalis and Project Gutenberg. Individuals access them via a computer connected to the Internet, navigate from one site to another, and participate in discussion groups, seminars [sic] and conferences organized on these sites. They may also download documents to their own computers for later consultation."

There may be some confusion regarding the difference between virtual libraries and digital libraries. states that a digital library is "a library in which collections are stored in digital formats (as opposed to print, microform, or other media) and accessible by computers. The digital content may be stored locally, or accessed remotely via computer networks. A digital library is a type of information retrieval system." Many people consider virtual libraries to the same as digital libraries, and for the purpose of this blog, they will be considered synonymous.

When the term digital library is used, I immediately think of materials being digitized so that they can be made available online. The term virtual library, however, makes me think of some online virtual library where you are a character online and enter a library online. Virtual reality comes to mind - sort of like the holo-deck of Star Trek.

Probably one of the most commonly known and oldest virtual libraries in Project Gutenberg. It is the "first and largest single collection of free electronic books or eBooks" (About Us, Project Gutenberg). Michael Hart started the project in 1971 when he was provided with $100,000,000of computer time. He realized, a short time after he was placed in the position, that "the greatest value created by computers would not be computing, but would be the storage, retrieval, and searching of what was stored in our libraries."

I found Project Gutenberg quite easy to use. The user is given the option of browsing through the lusts of the top 100 authors and works or searching for a particular work in the online catalogue or through the advanced search feature. There is also a section particularly for audio books. Also available is the option of downloading various ebooks selected by Project Gutenberg for distribution. The aspect of Project Gutenberg that is the least appealing is the user interface. It resembles something that would have been commonly found on webpages in the 1990s. I am surprised that the interface hasn't been updated to match what current webpages look like.

A great virtual library is that of The National Science Digital Library (NSDL). It is geared towards educators and librarians and contains quality resources related to science and math. Various Web 2.0 applications are included within the site, such as blogs and wikis, and there is an opportunity to participate in the library (through recommendations and contributions). The great thing about this resource is that as a teacher, you can go to one place to find a variety of information on a certain science-related topic for yourself and for your students. As a librarian, this digital library is useful because you can recommend the library to anyone so that they may explore and see what they can find, as opposed to being limited to what is in the physical library.

I like the convenience of a virtual library. I like being able to access the information when and where it is good for me. I also like not having to go anywhere to get the information. Although, I must say that I am one of those people who LOVES the physical book, there are a lot of added benefits that come along with virtual library resources. For those who cannot easily get to the library, this offers a comparable alternative. A digital library also allows students to access information from home (provided they have a computer and an Internet connection).

Do you think there is any way to differentiate between virtual libraries and digital libraries, or do you consider them to be one and the same?

"Digital Library." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 1 July 2009. 18 July 2009

Public Works and Government Services Canada. "Tools for You." 2007. 18 July 2009

"About Us." Project Gutenberg. 25 Nov 2006. 18 July 2009


  1. Convenience is a huge factor when considering virtual libraries--as a student (and also as an instructor) I loved being able to access the UofA databases through the UofA virtual library 24/7. Although I made use of a lot of print sources over the 3 years I was studying, I definitely used the virtual or digital sources I had access to from home even more. It was very handy!

  2. I know what you mean about convenience. I have stopped using print sources unless I have to because online resources are so much easier. And you don't have to worry about late fees.