From UBC Wiki

Page first created by Aaron Mueller (March 2010)


Cybraries, or digital libraries as they are sometimes called, can be virtual spaces used to supplement online learning environments, or they can be an extension of an existing physical Library, expanding their collection and services to patrons through the internet. Cybraries collect digital resources, digitize analog resources, catalog collections, educate users and attempt to bring the traditional library into the digital age. They provide both services and resources digitally, extending their reach to a global audience, available all the time.


Definitions of Cybraries are very diverse, with many competing visions and ideas of what Cybraries can be. “Defining a Digital Library” by Michael Seadle and Elke Greifeneder(2007) provides a very useful definition: “A digital library is the electronic provision of digital documents in connection with online services, building on the tasks of a traditional library, which enables worldwide access to its collection via the internet” (p.172). This definition accurately captures the essence of what Cybraries are attempting to achieve. Cybraries are not usurping and replacing traditional libraries, instead, they are extending and improving traditional libraries with expanded access, resources, collections and reach.

“What are digital libraries? Competing visions” by Christine L. Borgman outlines two possible visions of digital libraries; one, a research library implementation, which focuses digital libraries as content collected and organized on behalf of their users, for example, databases. The other vision is from a patron perspective; a digital library as an institution or organization that provides not only digital content, but also digital services to their users. The main success of Cybraries will depend on finding a happy medium between these two visions, creating a vibrant community centered on a robust collection of resources.


Cybraries have been around on the internet, almost since its birth; as the goal of a digital library is synonymous with the inherent goals of the internet itself. The early inventor of the world wide web, Vint Cerf, wrote this poem to capture the essence of the pre-connected knowledge based world:

"Like distant islands sundered by the sea,
We had no sense of one community.
We lived and worked apart and rarely knew
That others searched with us for knowledge, too."  (1989)

This poem captures the isolated nature of information at the time, stored, but not shared; available, but not accessible. Cybraries were and are designed to address this problem, to make their collections available across the internet, to anyone, at anytime to access and utilize. One very early Cybrary on the internet was the very popular Gutenberg Project (, which was launched by Michael Hart in 1971 "to make information, books and other materials available to the general public in forms a vast majority of the computers, programs and people can easily read, use, quote, and search" (Hart, 1992). The Gutenberg project is most famous for digitizing copies of out of copyright books, plays and other literary works, and to provide full-text digital versions of these classic works to the public free of charge to use as they see fit.

As the internet blossomed into the global information infrastructure that it is today, traditional libraries began to capitalize on the new possibilities to reach new patrons, to develop new service models, to circulate new types of media, information and cultural objects, and to work with their patrons in a virtual environment.

Implementation and Examples

As traditional school, public and university libraries transition into this digital realm, they are exploring what their place can and should be on the internet. Many libraries are going for a 'hybrid' approach, supplementing their physical space with a virtual portal, a website that connects their catalogs, their resources, and their staff with the patrons online. They are digitizing books, articles, media and communications in order to keep their roles and institutions pertinent and appropriate in the 21st century. Many cutting edge libraries, like the University of California Los Angeles Research Library ( are exploring three dimensional virtual labs where patrons can go and experience virtual environments, ala 'holodecks' from Star Trek fame. These innovative ways to present information in a dynamic and interactive model are going to continue attracting patrons to these Cybrary 'hybrids', who are not only able to expand their physical spaces into the virtual world, but also able to expand their virtual spaces within their physical world.

“The Roles of Digital Libraries in Teaching and Learning” by Gary Machionini and Hermann Maurer (1995) declare that digital libraries have very important roles to play in teaching and learning and that these new roles and technologies will allow “parents, teachers, and students to share common information resources and to communicate easily as needed” (p. 75). The Cybrary, just like the traditional library, can become the information hub of a school, institution, or civilization. The Cybrary will connect patrons together, enable expanded learning opportunities, and increase access to important information and information services. The scale of this change is immense and will be problematic as the Cybraries will need to meet the needs of both types of patrons, both physical and virtual; the designs of these news physical spaces and virtual places will need to take this into account.

Future Directions

The future of Cybraries is a very bright and exciting one, and is most identifiable by the controversial book scanning project by information giant, Google. Google wants to index and catalog the world's entire collection of books; to enable citizens and patrons to find, evaluate, quote, use and reference any and all materials ever published ( This is a tremendous goal, and not without its controversies, most notably the resistance from book publishers, authors and copyright holders. The intrinsic and altruistic goal of Google is very similar to the ancient goal of the Library of Alexandria, to collect and organize as much knowledge and information together in one place to enable scholars to learn and share this with the rest of the known world.

Cybraries have an important decision to make when preparing for their role and place in this digital world. Will they focus on providing access to information, or perhaps to provide access to information services? Will Cybraries be able to do both? Can they collect, digitize and organize materials for easy distribution, while at the same time educate and assist patrons in how to find, access and evaluate these digital resources? Both tasks are very difficult and will take much thought and attention, and both are worthy of this push for a digital presence for these traditional libraries.

External Links


Borgman, CL, & (1999). What are digital libraries? Competing visions. Information Processing & Management. 35, 227-243.

Cerf, Vinton G. (1989). Requiem for the ARPANET. Users' Dictionary of Computer Networks, Bedford, MA.

Hart, Michael. (1992). Gutenberg: The History and Philosophy of Project Gutenberg by Michael Hart.

Marchionini, G. and Maurer, H. 1995. The roles of digital libraries in teaching and learning. Commun. ACM 38, 4 (Apr. 1995), 67-75

Seadle , Michael , & Greifeneder , Elke (2007). Defining a digital library. Library Hi Tech. 25, 169-173.

Borgman, CL, & (1999). What are digital libraries? Competing visions. Information Processing & Management. 35, 227-243.