What is a Digital Library or e-Library?

digital library or e-library

An e-Library or Digital Library (both terms often used interchangeably) can be defined as a collection of digital objects such as text, visuals, video, audio, etc. stored as standardized and customized electronic media formats (as opposed to print, micro form, or other media), along with means for organizing, storing, and retrieving the contents at existing access points or on own devices.

A comparison of traditional physical libraries with digital library:


    1. A physical library consists of Physical Books, Magazines, Newspapers, Monographs, reports, etc., whereas, digital library consists of digital content viz e-books, e-magazine, e-newspapers, e-reports, video, audio, rich media, animations, etc.
    1. A physical library has Limited Space and thus is difficult to expand, whereas, a digital library has limited (limited till scalability of underlying IT infrastructure) but large space and thus makes it easier to expand.
    1. An object in a physical library could be accessed via Issue and borrow system limited to number if available quantities, whereas, an object of a digital library could be accessed any number of times by any number of users.
    1. A physical can be created on a physical space, whereas, a digital library is created on virtual space viz. data centers, cloud, servers.
    1. A physical library follows rack-based search and indexing, whereas, a digital library provides Web/ Interface based search and indexing.
  1. The major demerit of physical library is material degradation, mutilation and loss over time, whereas, a digital library provides digital preservation and longtime archival of the contents.

Components of Digital Library:

An e-Library typically consists of the following components:

  1. e-Content
  2. Repository
  3. E-Library software
  4. Underlying IT infrastructure


The content of a digital library could be broadly classified in two categories, first that is created in a digital format, also known as born-digital is a collection of texts, images, etc. so as to be stored, retrieved and read over devices like computers, mobile, digital readers, etc. The second form of content could be as information that has been converted from a physical medium, e.g. paper, Journals, books, etc. by digitizing.

The e-content also contains invisible properties known as Metadata, also described as data that describes other data. It is often called data about data or information about information. Meta is a prefix that in most information technology usages means “an underlying definition or description.” Metadata summarizes basic information about data, which can make finding and working with particular instances of data easier. For example, an image may include metadata that describes how large the picture is, the color depth, the image resolution, when the image was created, and other data. A text document’s metadata may contain information about how long the document is, who the author is, when the document was written, and a short summary of the document.

Metadata is an important aspect of e-Library as it is the structured information that describes, explains or otherwise makes it easier to retrieve, use, or manage an information resource.

For educational purposes, a set of metadata relevant to learning objects can be adapted from schema.org or Learning Resources Metadata Initiative (LRMI).

Schema.org is a collaborative, community activity with a mission to create, maintain, and promote schema for structured data on the Internet, on web pages, in email messages, and beyond. Schema.org vocabulary can be used with many different encodings, including Resource Description Framework in Attributes (RDFA), Microdata and JavaScript Object Notation for Linked Data (JSON-LD). These vocabularies cover entities, relationships between entities and actions, and can easily be extended through a well-documented extension model.

Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (LRMI) is a later version and a super-set incorporating all relevant portions of schema.org. Since, schema.org didn’t have a way of naming the educational parameters that could help narrow down the search; LRMI added them such as Educational Use, Interactivity Type, Typical age range, etc.

Central Repository:

A reservoir of e-contents could be created at a central repository which is basically a network connected storage space. Typically, in a Data Centre. The central repository should have access mechanisms along with data backup policies. The repository is ever growing with new e-content being created and added to the repository.

e-Library portal:

The e-Library portal acts as the front-end and predominant mode of access to knowledge and learning for any user to access the huge reservoir of e-contents stored at a central repository.

IT Infrastructure:

The underlying IT infrastructure would be required for hosting of web application, repository, e-Library Studios and e-Library sections.

The web application could be hosted at web, application and database servers in a secured environment of a Data Centre. Also, the repository could be created in the data center itself with features of scalability as the repository is ever growing as informed above. The repository will grow with addition of new e-contents. The e-contents could be created in e-Library studios with facility of creating digital contents. A typical e-Library studio may consist of audio-video recording and scanning equipment with features of editing and mixing. e-Library sections could be established at schools, colleges, community centers and of course in physical libraries for accessing of e-contents. A typical e-Library section would consist of desktops (for personal access), TVs (for broadcasting content to a larger audience) and required network infrastructure for connectivity to the central repository.

e-Library Software:

The e-Library software should provide web-based access to the e-content stored at a Central repository. It should have option to view, upload and manage the e-contents.

It should be an open to view for all i.e. anybody who wish to view contents through this portal can view the available contents, whereas, for uploading new contents one needs to be an authenticated user. Each user who wants to upload contents to e-Library portal has to register himself as a content provider and duly approved by the Administrator. On successful registration, a username and password should be assigned to the user for accessing the portal for uploading contents on the portal with relevant information in the form of metadata and license. After successfully passing through a number of validation steps and duly approved by an authorized person (could be a subject matter expert) the uploaded content should be available under an appropriate category.

The software should be accessible on desktop, laptop, mobile, tablets, etc. It would have advance search features for filtering content uploaded based on standards, categories, age groups, etc.

Content policy:

The e-Library should clearly define the policy of use of e-contents available via the software. The content provider could upload the content with a license of use. The license could either be copyright of the creator or may be uploaded under open licenses with relevant attributes for use and distribution such as creative commons.

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