Among the emerging fields of study in computer science, Digital Libraries (DL) has become one of the most vigorous multidisciplinary research areas. A host of conferences, workshops and electronic publications (see, for example, [ACM. 1995], [Fox and Marchionini 1996], [Schnase et al. 1994], and [Shipman et al. 1995]) attest to the enthusiasm and the creativity of a research community whose goal can be regarded as freeing people from the physical limitations imposed by conventional libraries and enabling new work practices in virtual study and collaboration spaces.*
It is clear that fundamental research issues in various disciplines need to be addressed before digital libraries can become a reality. These issues relate to areas as diverse as information retrieval, copyright regulations, databases, digital video, and user interfaces [Fox et al. 1995]. Just constructing the vast data repositories that will support knowledge-intensive activities poses problems of enormous dimensions. Two problems of particular importance are the digitization of existing data in various formats and media (such as books, magazines, microfiche and newspapers), and the introduction of new data which is constantly generated and needed to kee p the library's holdings complete and up-to-date.
Botanical Digital Libraries
The importance of plants for life on the planet cannot be overemphasized. Unfortunately, plant species are disappearing at a faster than scientists are able to gather and study them using traditional means of collecting and sharing information.
The use of information and communication technologies to support biodiversity activities (a field now known as biological informatics) has fostered the inception of botanical digital libraries, distributed virtual spaces comprising botanical data repositories and a variety of services offered to library patrons to facilitate the use and extension of knowledge about plants.
2. The Floristic Digital Library Initiative
This is an ambitious initiative to create a widely accessible digital library containing authoritative scientific information about plants on planet Earth. The Floristic Digital Library (FDL) will consist of a vast collection of documents in a variety of media and formats, including text data, maps and illustrations, and will offer a wide range of services to patrons who will be able to use the library anywhere in the global network.
Fundamental issues are being researched in the construction of the FDL. Botanists, social scientists, and computer scientists are among the many participants of this initiative.
FDL is an international research and development effort led by the Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG), based in St. Louis, Missouri. Multi-year projects currently under development at MBG and institutions around the world include Flora of North America (FNA) and Flora of China (FOC). The Center for Botanical Informatics (CBI) of MBG oversees technological and socio-technological issues in the development of the FDL.
4. UDLA Involvement
In January 1997, CBI and UDLA's Laboratory of Interactive and Cooperative Technologies (ICT) signed an agreement to cooperate in the investigation of technological solutions to current problems in managing large-scale information projects in the context of the FDL initiative.
Research conducted jointly by CBI and ICT lies in the fields of Digital Libraries, Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, Multi-agent Systems, User Interfaces for Large Information Spaces, and Information Retrieval. The group at UDLA is headed by Dr. Alfredo Sánchez, ICT's director and associate professor of the Department of Computer Systems Engineering. Graduate and advanced undergraduate students of this department are actively participating in the FDL initiative through various funded research projects. Computer equipment and software has been purchased specifically for supporting the research defined under the CBI-ICT agreement.
During the months of June and July of 1997, five members of the ICT group participated in the First Summer Training Program in Biological Informatics, St. Louis, Missouri. The program included lectures in systematics, taxonomy, and biodiversity information management, presented by researchers working at the Garden and other institutions. In addition to Dr. Sanchez, members of the research team from UDLA the participants were Maricarmen Amezquita, assistant researcher; Cesar Flores, a master's level graduate student; and Cristina Lopez and Jorge Cabrera, advanced undergraduate students. The group worked on specific informatics problems for the Flora of North America and Flora of China projects. Continuing research projects begun during the Spring Semester at UDLA, the students developed prototype software tools for the flora projects.
5. Projects at UDLA
Funded projects within the FDL Initiative and the CBI-ICT agreement include:
Chrysalis: User agents in the construction of a digital library
Mutant: Guides in multi-taxonomical floristic libraries
Agent-based personalized information retrieval
Development of Virtual Groups in Digital Libraries
Querying large collections of textual images
Mobile agent applications for digital libraries
Inter-agent communication in the FDL
Cooperative edition of documents in the FDL
6. Contact Information
If you would like to know more about ICT's projects and the FDL initiative, please contact:
Department of Computer Systems Engineering
Universidad de las Américas-Puebla
Cholula, Puebla 72820
Phone: +52-22-29-2666, +52-22-29-2029
(*) Parts of this text have been taken from [Sanchez et al. 1997]