QNRF Newsletter Archive

Taking digital libraries to the next level

When you search on Google, the results are based on search engine filters that determine what you find, how many ‘hits’ you receive and in what order they appear. In most cases, that search gives you what you need. But for academics and professionals trying to stay on the front edge of their fields, the results need to be confined according to their fields—into digital collections—so that they are rich, focused and current. With around 2.5 million academic research articles published every year, this type of filtering is in demand and is the subject of research by a Qatar-based team.

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(L-R)Myrna Tabet, Head of Information Literacy Program, Qatar University, Dr. Edward Fox, Dr. Mohammed Samaka and Dr. John Impagliazzo
During a discussion recently, Dr. Edward Fox, Professor and Director of the Digital Library Research Laboratory at Virginia Tech University, USA, ran a Google search based on the words “Qatar” and “computing,” which prompted over 10 million results, with top results based on advertising fees and agreements with the search engine.

“One of the systems we are using involves a collection just about computing,” he said as he flipped to a new web page. “Now, I get a little above 1000 hits—this is real computing, not advertising. If you are interested in computing, this is what you are interested in … you wouldn’t care about anything coming from Google.”

Dr. Fox is one of the Lead Principal Investigators (LPI) of a Qatar-based team funded by QNRF to develop a Qatar Digital Library project based on collections for academic and government bodies around the country. The research is divided into several parts, one of which involves user research across Qatar.

“We are involving librarians who go out and meet people and identify requirements,” Dr. Fox said. “We have met with different ministries and open up dialogues, and we have a PhD student [Hamed Alhoori of Texas A&M University, USA] who’s dissertation is specifically about finding out people’s needs for information—what they do, what they would like to see.”

With this information in hand, the team will work with the Qatar-based organizations and information it considers ‘low hanging fruit,’ i.e., data that can be easily adapted to by current systems. Technologically, the project is based on advanced systems like CiteSeer, a search engine developed by and for computer scientists at Penn State University. The team plans to expand the capabilities of this and other similar software to accommodate different topics and will work with language processing and artificial intelligence researchers to adapt the software to the Arabic language.

“This program has to be engineered to understand the documents and extract the right information from them, and we will tailor it for Arabic—currently, there’s no support for Arabic,” Dr. Fox said. “There’s also no support for other kinds of content so we have to tailor this to other kinds of content. So there’s a lot of technology to develop.”

The technology is just half of the project, however. The team will work within the community to help librarians and people create collections so that they understand the mechanics behind them and incorporate them into their lives.

“This is a research project to initiate and promote the concept of digital libraries within the country,” said John Impagliazzo, Professor of Computer Science at Hofstra University, New York, and key investigator on this project. “There are two components of that—one is a technical component, then there is an element of establishing a culture or community of people who are interested in using digital libraries for their purposes, this involves educating people as to how to use collections and how they benefit them.”

The team will create demonstration collections based on government, e.g., museum and ministry data, as well as scholarly information, e.g., computing and chemistry as well as cultural and heritage data. The first collections will demonstrate the capabilities in the local setting and the team will work involve users right away.

“This is very tailored for the Qatari needs,” said Dr. Mohammed Samaka, Associate Professor of Computer Science at Qatar University and Co-Lead Principal Investigator on the library project. “Once we start to develop the first collection, we are sure that other organizations will approach us. We aim to train library staff and provide the consultation and advice to build their own library.”

“We want to do this through a constructive learning approach, where the librarians learn more by actually doing something,” Dr. Fox continued. “So we want to engage people to help us build these collections—if we involve them from the start, they will be invested in the collections, building more and sharing the advantages of these systems.”

NPRP 4-029-1-007
Establishing a Qatari Arabic-English Digital Library Institute
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