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OCLC Extends Digital Library Offerings
Posted On July 1, 2002
OCLC continues its push into the digital library software and services market with two recent announcements. OCLC Digital & Preservation Resources now offers the CONTENTdm software suite in support of building, preserving, and providing access to digital library content. Separately, OCLC and the Research Libraries Group (RLG) announced a new report on using metadata to support digital objects in libraries.

CONTENTdm was created and is marketed by DiMeMa, Inc., a Seattle-based firm that spun off from research into digital media management at the University of Washington. (DiMeMa stands for Digital Media Management.) Greg Zick, the company's president and a professor of electrical engineering at the university, founded the company in early 2001 after several years of research and software development. DiMeMa's arrangement grants OCLC exclusive rights in marketing CONTENTdm to libraries, while DiMeMa retains the right to market to other entities.

Zick explained that CONTENTdm was designed from the beginning to conform to Web standards. The back end can be either a UNIX/Linux/Apache or Windows and IIS environment. He notes that the software does not require a separate back-end database, such as Oracle or SQL. He said, "We wrote a highly optimized, multidimensional metadata search engine that's uniquely suited to the needs of digital libraries." Customers can add or change fields, add unique fields, or map into Dublin Core as they wish. Data can be imported using delimited ASCII and can be exported in XML, SGML, or delimited ASCII.

CONTENTdm is intended to support a wide variety of document applications, including scanning newspapers, postcards, photographs, and even 3-D objects. The company claims 50 customers in 20 states and three countries. Zick points to a Frank Lloyd Wright architecture site at the University of Utah and a map collection at Washington State University as representative of the software's capabilities. Samples of library collections that are already online can be found at

Digital representation of images for scholarly purposes can present a challenge to users with slow Internet connections. To address this, the software stores images in "MrSID" format, an image-storage scheme popular in the geospatial data community because it supports the incremental transmission of images. Thus a user can easily start at a low-resolution thumbnail and progress to higher resolutions.

I asked Zick if the software supports Query By Example (QBE) for image searches, a technology touted by IBM and others for its ability to search across a large collection of images for similar ones. CONTENTdm does not currently have this functionality. "Query By Example is more useful for trademarks or other sorts of confined image collections whose characteristics are definite," he said. "Context is more important for historical kinds of collections that we focus on, and for that you need strong metadata features, not QBE."

Meg Bellinger, vice president of OCLC's Digital & Preservation Resources, explained that OCLC will market the software for installation at a library's premises, as well as offer a hosted solution. "That way a library that is starting out in building a digital collection can leave the server administration details to us, whereas perhaps an institution with a large digitization project may opt to run the software on their own servers."

Bellinger indicated that the two companies are committed to working together on developing CONTENTdm. As an example, she said, "OCLC and DiMeMa are committed to global services and in the future will extend language support." OCLC also plans to integrate CONTENTdm into WorldCat and the new Digital Archive services.

Librarians and historians are keenly concerned about the preservation of content once it enters the digital realm. The OCLC/RLG announcement involves a joint report called "A Metadata Framework to Support the Preservation of Digital Objects." OCLC says the report is a comprehensive guide to preservation metadata that represents a consensus of leading experts from their working group. It is based on the Open Archival Information Systems (OAIS) reference model, which describes the functional components and data models for a digital archive. "A Metadata Framework to Support the Preservation of Digital Objects" appears at

OCLC's recent announcements demonstrate that it intends to be a player. More and more libraries are moving into the role of publisher by hosting digital renditions of their own unique content for global access by users.

Richard W. Wiggins is an author and speaker who specializes in Internet topics.  He is a senior information technologist at the computer center at Michigan State University.

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