International Journal on Digital Libraries

, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 91–114

Towards a digital library theory: a formal digital library ontology

  • Marcos André Gonçalves
  • Edward A. Fox
  • Layne T. Watson
Regular Paper


Digital libraries (DLs) have eluded definitional consensus and lack agreement on common theories and frameworks. This makes comparison of DLs extremely difficult, promotes ad-hoc development, and impedes interoperability. In this paper we propose a formal ontology for DLs that defines the fundamental concepts, relationships, and axiomatic rules that govern the DL domain, therefore providing a frame of reference for the discussion of essential concepts of DL design and construction. The ontology is an axiomatic, formal treatment of DLs, which distinguishes it from other approaches that informally define a number of architectural variants. The process of construction of the ontology was guided by 5S, a formal framework for digital libraries. To test its expressibility we have used the ontology to create a taxonomy of DL services and to reason about issues of reusability, extensibility, and composability. Some practical applications of the ontology are also described including: the definition of a digital library services taxonomy, the proposal of a modeling language for digital libraries, and the specification of quality metrics to evaluate digital libraries. We also demonstrate how to use the ontology to formally describe DL architectures and to prove some properties about them, thus helping to further validate the ontology.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marcos André Gonçalves
    • 1
  • Edward A. Fox
    • 2
  • Layne T. Watson
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Computer ScienceFederal University of Minas GeraisBelo HorizonteBrazil
  2. 2.Department of Computer ScienceVirginia Polytechnic Institute and State UniversityBlacksburgUSA

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