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Issue 1 : April 2004
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DELOS: A Network of Excellence on Digital Libraries

Costantino Thanos introduces the new DELOS Network of Excellence on Digital Libraries and describes it in terms of its objectives, activities and expected results.


Digital libraries represent a new infrastructure and environment that have been brought about by a number of factors, principally the integration and use of a number of Information and Communication technologies, the availability of digital content on a global scale and a strong demand from users who are now online. There are destined to become an essential part of the information infrastructure of the 21st Century [1].

In Europe, partly stimulated by US activity, the digital libraries field started to emerge as a distinct area of research in the middle of the 1990s with the funding of some important national initiatives, (for example the eLib Programme in the UK and the Medoc Project in Germany). In addition, the role played by the 5th Framework Programme of the European Commission in the emergence of digital libraries as a research discipline has been particularly important as it has funded a large number of European digital library projects. In particular, the EC recognized the need to stimulate the creation of an integrated European digital library research community and, for this reason, from 1997 on, supported first a working group and then a fully fledged 5FP Network of Excellence on Digital Libraries: DELOS. DELOS has had considerable success in stimulating European research activity and promoting the building up of expertise in DL-related fields in order to maintain European R&D at a globally competitive level in this important area.


The DELOS 10-year grand vision is that "Digital Libraries should enable any citizen to access all human knowledge any time and anywhere, in a user-friendly, multi-modal, efficient and effective way, by overcoming barriers of distance, language, and culture and by using multiple Internet-connected devices" [2]. However, the new generation of digital libraries should not just be regarded as mere repositories of static information. Rather they should be regarded as the initial nuclei of what, at a future stage, will constitute a substantial part of human knowledge, which will depend as much on communication as on information, and which will grow in an integrated fashion and be used both interactively and collaboratively.

In recent years, a large number of digital library systems have been developed. Typically, however, each system is built from scratch, develops its own techniques, focuses on a specific type of information or services and addresses the needs of a specific application domain. In the light of these initial experiences, it has become clear that the future of digital libraries goes beyond what these initial efforts have individually achieved [3].

DELOS aims to develop generic digital library technology to be incorporated into industrial-strength Digital Library Management Systems (DLMSs), offering advanced functionality through reliable and extensible services.

The main objectives of 6FP DELOS are, thus, to:

6FP DELOS will build on top of the achievements of the 5FP DELOS NoE and will pursue the objective of structuring the European research space in the field of digital libraries by defining and conducting a joint programme of activities which will integrate the current research activities of a large number of active European research teams. We expect that the proposed programme of activities will have a strong and durable structural impact upon the European digital library research community and contribute to the growth of knowledge in the digital library domain.

Specific technical objectives of the DELOS NoE are to:

  1. develop a common architectural digital library infrastructure that can be customized to meet the requirements of different sectors and applications;
  2. provide a common foundation for several forms of information seeking, searching and querying in digital libraries, so that it becomes possible for all resources to be provided by digital library systems in a cohesive way;
  3. establish a sound framework for defining and managing unconventional information handling processes that are critical to many applications;
  4. provide both a theoretical framework and practical technologies for supporting comprehensively personalized, profile-based access to diverse forms of information in digital libraries;
  5. establish and demonstrate integrated methodologies from different scientific fields for capturing the meaning of audio-visual data in different domains of knowledge and contexts, building on the frameworks of established or emerging multimedia standards;
  6. manage multimedia data integration and highly effective retrieval, taking into account domain knowledge and context, as well as community-related information and interactions;
  7. establish a theoretically motivated and empirically supported frame of reference for designers and researchers in the field of user interfaces and visualization techniques;
  8. develop mechanisms for the preservation of complex and dynamic objects;
  9. provide a theoretical and practical framework for the evaluation of digital libraries and their components.

Other important objectives of DELOS are to:

Expected Results

The major milestones for the DELOS NoE are:

The DELOS portal

This will maintain and make accessible the collection of all the results and reports made available by the Network. It will also provide information on the latest research results in the field of digital libraries as well as the latest information about international projects, initiatives, conferences, etc. in the digital library domain. In addition, the website will provide tools to facilitate the exchange of information and the discussion of research topics among the Network participants.

A cross-referenced survey of all DL-related fields

An extensive survey of the technologies and the state of the art in all the DL-related fields will be carried out and made available to the research community. The different enabling technologies will be examined and cross-referenced, in order to provide indications for the main components of a Digital Library Management System.

A reference architecture of a Digital Library Management System (DLMS)

A reference architecture for a generic DLMS will jointly be defined by the Network, based on the concepts and indications provided by the survey. The main components of the DLMS will be identified and defined, having determined the most appropriate technologies in the different DL-related fields.

A DLMS prototype and joint evaluation

An implementation of the new architecture will be carried out jointly by some of the Network participants. A limited-functionality DLMS prototype will be tested and evaluated in some specific application areas in order to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the reference architecture. The results and the refinements of the demonstration system will be made available to the research community.


The Joint Programme of Activities is organized into seven research clusters (each one is a Work Package) and is composed of three types of activities: integration, research and dissemination activities. The Work Packages and the scientific institutions coordinating their activities are as follows:

Digital Library Architecture (DLA)

A core requirement for digital libraries is a common infrastructure. From a technical viewpoint, this infrastructure has to support state-of-the-art and promising innovative models and techniques, and has to be highly customizable, configurable and adaptive. To this end, various activities and developments have to be seamlessly integrated into a coherent whole to develop such a generic and modular digital library infrastructure. Thus, within the DLA Work Package the following activities will be carried out:

Information Access and Personalization (IAP)

Information stored in digital libraries needs to be accessed, integrated and individualized for any user anytime and anywhere. Consequently, within the IAP Work Package, information access in digital libraries will be studied from three different aspects:

Audio/Visual and Non-traditional Objects (AV)

Digital libraries will organize, store and manage large amounts of human knowledge in different application domains, for a variety of uses and communities. They will provide access to their content in different contexts and from a range of delivery channels. Consequently, the work of the AV Work Package will focus on metadata capture for audio-visual content, universal access and interaction with audio-visual libraries together with the management of audio-visual content in digital libraries.

User Interfaces and Visualization (UIV)

The notion of a "Digital Library" is currently associated with technological and scientific efforts to build, maintain, and use large collections of electronic documents. However this particular perspective brings with it a variety of problems, which will have to be solved in order to ensure the usability and accessibility of this environment to different users with varying needs and capabilities -and both for professional and recreational purposes. The ultimate goal of the UIV Work Package is to develop methodologies, techniques and tools to enable future DL designers and developers to meet not only the technological, but also the user-oriented requirements in a balanced way.

Knowledge Extraction and Semantic Interoperability (KESI)

The KESI Work Package has two strategic goals:


Integrated research in the Preservation Work Package will provide the methodological framework and theory for ensuring that digital library research properly addresses preservation issues and that digital libraries incorporate preservation processes in their design as a matter of course.

The research agenda in digital preservation is very broad and the objective will be to tackle a small number of aspects:


Digital libraries need to be evaluated as systems and as services to determine how useful, usable, and economical they are, i.e. whether they achieve reasonable cost-benefit ratios. The findings of evaluation studies are expected:

Consistent evaluation methods will also permit comparison between systems and services. The evaluation Work Package will work both on evaluation methodologies in general as well as on providing the infrastructure for specific evaluations.

The Virtual D-Lib Competence Center

In order to coordinate the dissemination effort of the wide range of activities carried out by the Network, a Virtual D-Lib Competence Center (VDLCC) has been established. In addition to providing support for the dissemination of the Network activities , the Center can provide education, training and technology transfer to research, memory institutions and industrial organizations in the field of digital libraries. The Virtual D-Lib Center is implemented by the coordinated efforts of three institutions participating in the Network, strategically located in Europe: ISTI-CNR in Italy, UKOLN (University of Bath) in the UK, and Netlab (University of Lund) in Sweden.

The Network is managed administratively and financially by the European Research Consortium for Informatics and Mathematics (ERCIM) and scientifically by the Institute for Information Science and Technologies of the Italian National Research Council (I STI-CNR).


So, by way of conclusion, what can be said to sum up this new FP6 undertaking? Firstly we would recognise that the DELOS Network of Excellence is, by any measurement within this field, a big and indeed ambitious project with a wide range of deliverables to realize. Moreover while the project brings together a large number of experienced partners, those of us who have worked in distributed communities before would readily accept that such distributed working inevitably has implications for our ability not only to communicate effectively but also to achieve the results that we have in our collective sights.

These considerations however also serve to underline the importance that we attach to the work of the VDLCC. The Center is essential to the support for the dissemination work of the DELOS Project for two different but complementary reasons. Firstly it is central to the process by which reciprocal knowledge will be made available to all members of the project right across the Network. Secondly, and equally important, it will assume a central role in raising the profile of DELOS activity and its findings throughout the rest of the digital library community around the world.

Indeed in the latter regard the VDLCC will lead the way in developing outreach activity, which will seek to involve an increasing number of representative user communities (e.g. libraries, archives, museums) as well as industrial partners in the discussions, investigations and developments that DELOS has already begun.


  1. Excerpts from the "Technical Annex to the DELOS contract", December 2003
  2. Digital Libraries: Future Directions for a European Research Programme" DELOS Brainstorming Report, San Cassiano, Italy, June 2001 http://delos-noe
  3. "Digital Libraries Information Infrastructures" DELOS Joint Working Group Report, January 2003

Author Details

Costantino Thanos
Research Director at the Institute of Information Science and Technologies of the Italian National Research Council (ISTI-CNR)
Head of the "Networked Multimedia Information Systems" Lab of ISTI-CNR
Tel: +39 050 315 2910
Fax: +39 050 315 3464

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