January 25, 2001

Online Library Delivers

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Cornell researchers now have the potential to enhance the way everybody — especially students from kindergarten to college — experiences the World Wide Web.

Thanks to a one-year grant of approximately $800,000, researchers plan to develop a system that makes it simpler for students to access age-appropriate, relevant and credible information. The grant is part of the National Science Foundation’s $13.5 million project to create a National Science Digital Library (NSDL) by fall 2002.

The principle investigator of the Cornell NSDL project is Prof. William Arms, computer science.

The online library includes the development of a customizable interface that facilitates access to useful information.

Research associate Dean Krafft, computer science, who is involved with the project, compared the interface to MyYahoo!, a website that allows the user to choose what type of news to show on the screen as well as the source of the information.

Collaborators Herbert Van de Sompel and Carl Lagoze demonstrated on Tuesday in Washington, D.C. how a prototype online library would work.

“We’re developing the technology that lets the user configure the Internet interface,” Arms said.

Arms also mentioned problems that the online library and its customizable interface could solve.

“If you found something on [a search engine] you might ask, ‘Is this good science? How much science do I need to understand this? Do I need to take 23 science classes to understand it?'” he explained.

Under the NSDL system, the user can ensure that the websites, or hits, found from its search engine have a certain amount of credibility, as well as an appropriate level of difficulty. For instance, a college student might require highly technical websites to write a research paper, but a more basic website would suit the interests of a child in the first grade.

The online library system will work by storing information about websites in a centralized location. This information, called “metadata,” will be used in a new way to search the web. Current metadata already exists, but the NSDL will also include information about a website’s credibility, grade level and content, among other factors.

“Full text and multimedia [such as pictures, videos and sounds] can be searched” using the NSDL, said Diane Hillmann, librarian and metadata specialist.

“We [will centrally] index their metadata information without being stymied by the fact that some websites have text and some do not,” Hillmann added.

Other possible uses of the NSDL include finding links to references cited by the websites, as well as links to reviews of the site, Arms said.

Archived article by Peter Lin