Volume 6 Issue 1
Spring 2010
ISSN 1937-7266

Unraveling the Dynamics of Digital Library Community:
A Social Network Analysis Approach

Monica Sharma

Department of Library and Information Science
University of Mysore, Mysore, India


The purpose of this research is to investigate the networks of ‘academic community’ of Digital Library (DL) using various Social Network Analysis (SNA) tools and metrics. Digital Library emerged from convergence of several fields. This study is expected to give insight of how an interdisciplinary discipline evolved and emerged. Our research is in the direction of understanding the centrifugal forces in the shaping of the interdisciplinary field, most prolific countries and institutions of digital libraries. Based on the premise that the community structure of the academic community reflects the knowledge structure of the field, we draw inferences and conclusions on the dynamics of the digital libraries.

1. Introduction

An interdisciplinary field is a field of study that crosses traditional boundaries between academic disciplines or schools of thought, as new needs and professions have emerged. New communities are built, in part, through partnerships of individuals within and between existing communities. Scientists come together and interact and collaborate by writing a paper, sharing or discussing their thoughts, revising a project etc. Journals, conferences, Invisible Colleges, and editorial boards are a few platforms that facilitate interaction between researchers, help to share and exchange ideas and expose a researcher to other research areas, thus initiating cross border partnership. These platforms are beneficial to new community building [1].Success of any such emerging discipline is highly dependent on collaboration among researchers around the world. By studying the co-citation and co -authorship in published articles, it is possible to study the structural features and relationships of academic communities.

Given that journals and conferences play a critical role in the structure of science, the influence of the two key players--the editors and authors--in the sociology of science is fairly significant. In a competitive academic environment, scholars pay attention to the quality and quantity of their published research and the number of citations to their work. According to Faria, editors enjoy the market power and they play the game as leaders in shaping the structure of any discipline [2]. By directing the editorial processes and policies of journals, the EB of journals shapes the community and the discipline. Also in the making and shaping of a science, scholarships of researchers as in academic publications play a very important role. Research efforts have consistently shown that it is possible to unravel various structural features of research communities by studying the network structures of their communication systems.

1.1 Network of Science

The network of science refers to the collection and connections of scientists and scientific organizations. Social Network Analysis (SNA) helps identify people who may be at the centre of groups or people who are peripheral. Social network analysis has emerged as a set of methods for the analysis of social structures, methods that are specifically geared towards an investigation of the relational aspects of these structures [3]. In order to understand the dynamics of scientific research, it is important to examine the formal and informal communication networks of researchers. Today, the use of SNA for the study of academic networks has brought in a fresh dimension to the exploration of collaborations, research trends and paradigms, and behavior of the academic community and its impact.

2. Need and Importance of the Study

New communities are built, in part, through partnerships of individuals within and between existing communities [1].Researchers integrate from different communities and collaborate. Digital Library is one such interdisciplinary community that despite its relative youth has emerged as a discipline and an area of research and education for information science, computer science and a number of other related disciplines. In a relatively short period of time, DL has become a global phenomenon, with considerable funds spent in research. DL represents the meeting point of a large number of technical areas within the field of informatics and several other disciplines and fields beyond informatics, such as library sciences, museum sciences, archives, sociology, psychology, knowledge management etc. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of this field, it has drawn the attention of information professionals and scientists from other fields such as computer science etc.[4][5].

The present study is an attempt to understand the network dynamics of a interdisciplinary field---the Digital Library community--focusing on the linkages of the core members with an understanding that these are the leaders in shaping any academic community. It would attempt to find answers to issues such as the “Diversified Convergence” of Digital Library as a discipline to define the structure of this interdisciplinary domain that emerged as a result of intersection of various communities and to find out how this discipline evolved over the years.

A very crucial feature of a functional scientific community is the "small world" property [6,7]. This feature has been of a great interest to researchers in understanding co-authorship networks [6]. Newman studied the small world property of Biology, Medicine, Physics and Computer Science, and found that, in all cases, scientific communities seem to constitute small world, in which only 5-6 steps are necessary to reach any scientist in that community[6]. The smaller the world is, it is very easy to disseminate the information or it would be fast for a research made to be known. Our previous study showed that the average distance of shortest path from one author to another in the co authorship network is 3.5, which proves that the Digital Library world is indeed a small world [8].

It would be interesting to study the small world phenomenon of an interdisciplinary scientific community to see whether it is still possible to form a small world in spite of its convergence from various other disciplines.

To the best of the researcher's knowledge, in depth studies examining the co authorship network in Digital Libraries (DL) have not been carried out. A small study was carried out on the DL community, which was restricted to the networks of authors and referees of JCDL and its two predecessors [9]. Considering this fact the present research problem was conceptualized during the early stage of the researcher’s work. To understand, the potential and challenges, a pilot study was carried out. This pilot study indicated the potential of the research problem and the intellectual dimensions of the issues. The results of the study have been significant. A co-authorship network of 11 core authors of Digital Library community is presented in Fig1[8].

3 Statement of Purpose and Objectives

The proposed research would concentrate three different yet interlinked and important aspects of an interdisciplinary scientific community by studying the phenomenon of ‘networks’ and ‘small world’ applying the social network analysis parameters.

  1. This part would concentrate on defining the structure that forms DL community and how different communities intersected and gave birth to DL community. It will attempt to understand the emergence and evolution of an interdisciplinary community. Studying these network characteristics would give better understanding of its cohesiveness as a discipline.
  2. This part would involve analyzing various kinds of networks of the research community to identify the figureheads and their linkages responsible for shaping DL community. Identifying underlying factors that contribute to these linkages would also be made by analyzing the community at micro and macro level.
  3. The third aspect which would be studied and analyzed is the small world property of this Digital Library world.

4 Methodology

The methodology of the present research is categorized under three headings. These are explained in detail below [10].

4.1 Social Network Analysis and Bibliometrics

  1. To understand the patterns and characteristics of network of the DL community, various metrics of bibliometrics and social network analysis would be used as exemplified in literature and other sources.
  2. The SNA metrics would be applied at two levels of the network.
    • Ego network analysis: The network of the individual researcher is analyzed.
    • Global network analysis: Relations between researchers in a network are analyzed.
  3. Based on these metrics, front-runners in the DL community would be identified. Data would be further augmented and the front runners would be interviewed by telephone / questionnaire via e-mail.

4.2 Tools for Network Creation

Social network analysis works with special software (e.g.UCINET, Pajek, NetDraw, etc.) to develop detailed maps of social, economic and cultural relations and visualization of the linkages. The graphs show through which formal and informal channels information, knowledge and resources are being exchanged and who the key players are at the center and who wields the most control.

4.3 Data Collection

This research is data centric, analytics oriented and visualization based. Various kinds of networks such as collaboration networks, editorial board networks, affiliation networks, co-citation networks, etc would be studied to get a clear insight of the dynamics of the DL community.

The datasets for the research work would be from the following sources:

  • Literature: Prestigious conferences and journals in the domain of DL
  • Online database of DL literature, repositories
  • Informal groups such as social networking sites

The identified conferences are:

  • JCDL (Joint Conference on Digital Libraries)
  • ECDL (European Conference on Digital Libraries)
  • ICADL (International Conference on Asian Digital Libraries)
  • DL (IEEE Advances in Digital Libraries)
  • ADL (ACM Conference on Digital Libraries)

The journals that are in ISI (Thomson Scientific) Web of Knowledge are regarded as standard and reliable.

5 Work Done so Far

Authors and editors are the two important forces behind shaping any emerging community; therefore it is very important to study various kinds of collaboration networks of the researchers to understand the dynamics of a research community.

Collaboration that leads to co-authorship is the most formal and arguably the most significant evidence of an intellectual partnership. There has been a vivid interest in scientific collaboration networks in recent years [6,7,11]. In particular, co-authorship networks have been widely used to examine the patterns of collaborations within a scientific community and determine the status and influence of individual researchers.

5.1 DL Community-Co authorship Network

This section describes the studies carried out to analyse the characteristics of the co-authorship network of the DL community. Scientific collaboration and “Small World Phenomenon” are research areas of great interest. In this paper, scientific collaboration of authors in the field of Digital Library has been examined. The co-authorship network of 11 authors in the DL field were analyzed using various parameters [8]. We have also tried to compare the study carried out by Liu et al on Digital Library research communities. Liu et al have considered DL conferences and studied the network of authors as well as referees of JCDL. In this study, our aim is to identify the core authors using journals and study network pattern of only those core members. Different Parameters such as Betweenness centrality, Degree centrality, clique, etc. were studied. All the measures strongly suggested that Edward A. Fox and Hsinchun Chen are the most active members in terms of co-authorship and record count of the group and play a very important role in the network. We also found that the network is divided into 2 components; the Giant component comprises of the majority of nodes or the authors (Fig. 1).

The small world effect can be seen in this network. The average geodesic distance between any pair (Reachable) is as low as 3.5, which suggests that Digital Library world is indeed a small world where anyone can reach the author in 3.5 steps on average. This study is the first level or look at the scientific collaboration in DL world.

Fig. 1. Co authorship Network of authors in the field of Digital Library

Similarly another study carried was out on co-authorship network of authors as represented in Journals. D-Lib magazine and International Journal on Digital Libraries (JODL) formed the basis of data source. (Fig.2). This study also showed that Edward A. Fox is one who plays a very important role, as also shown in our earlier study. We also found that the network is divided into many components, the Giant component comprises of the majority of the authors. The average geodesic distance between any pair is 6.1, indicating that six degrees of separation theory holds true for the Digital Library world [12].

Fig.2 Co authorship network of D-Lib plus JODL research community

5.2 Editorial Board Network of DL Journals

To unravel the structure of DL community by studying the diversified convergence of DL domain, this study was undertaken. Also following the premise that boundaries and directions of a field, especially an evolving one such as digital libraries, is shaped by journals and their editors, editor network of top 56 journals in the field of digital libraries was studied. The editor network was analyzed using the social network analysis techniques and tools such as centrality, betweenness of journals and editor.

Fig3. (a)Network of Editors

Fig3. (b) Journals and the components they form

Our results show that while computer science is the common thread, the library and information science is the field that dominates both in the category of top ranking journals and also the editors(Fig 3 a and b). It also shows that the network is highly connected with giant component comprising of 84.1 percent of editors. Geographical distribution of these editors confirms the dominance of USA [13].

5.3 Network of Online Database-Citeseer

CiteSeer has emerged as a web-based scientific literature digital library and search engine that focuses primarily on the literature in the fields of computer and information science. Hence it is expected to present a fairly comprehensive and huge collection of literature on Digital Libraries. Premised on this, the CiteSeer was chosen as a dataset for the study. This study attempted to map the collaboration network of CiteSeer digital library research community (Fig. 4). Top six authors were identified based on the record count in CiteSeer and their co authorship network of data taken from DBLP database was created and analyzed using various measures of Social Network Analysis. The results showed that, Digital Libraries community of CiteSeer is a fragmented world forming number of components. CiteSeer is a heterogeneous community of authors whose expertise is diverse and inter-disciplinary [14].

The difference in the present work with other mentioned studies is because of the fact that networks of the studies are co authorship network of peer reviewed conferences and journals dedicated to a specific domain thus forming a dense, homogenous and a small community. The CiteSeer is a database of online literature of computer science and information science. As a result, only limited amount of literature is available in the database, unlike journals or conferences, which makes it a fragmented and heterogeneous community.

Fig.4 Collaboration network of CiteSeer

The above mentioned studies are concentrated on the collaboration network of authors and editors with the understanding that they play a very important role in growth of any emerging discipline.

5.4 DL Network of Professional Networking Site - LinkedIn

LinkedIn is one of the most popular professional networking sites and consists of Digital Library group, hence was identified for carrying out the study. This research was an attempt to study the composition of DL community by studying the demographics of the professional group to which they belong and to study the individual attributes, using social network analysis tools[15].

The first step of the study involved joining the Digital Library group of LinkedIn. There were 80 members in DL group as on 26th July 2008, out of which 30 members accepted the invite sent to them and these members formed the dataset of the study. The study involved 2 phases. Phase 1 involved studying the properties of DL group through the first iteration, which included all the 80 members. Various attributes of the members such as gender, affiliations, countries, sectors, designations, groups and associations were analysed. Phase 2 involved thirty members who accepted the invitation. It involved studying the second iteration, i.e. connections of these 30 members, addressed as outer core constituting 1398 members. Organization details of the outer core were studied.

Similar to the findings of the earlier studies on author network and editor network, the results showed that DL is well connected. Similarity can be seen between the earlier editor network study on DL community and the present study in case of geographical distribution, with the USA dominating the network. In addition, dominance of males has been witnessed in DL world. Even though majority of the members are academics, they make connections outside their organization, mostly with people from industry. Analysis of the groups and associations of the inner core members indicates the dominance of members from Computer Science, Information and Library Science, and Libraries. Gene Golovchinsky has the highest degree centrality, i.e. maximum number of direct connections, and Edward Fox acts as a bridge with highest betweenness centrality. These two members play an important role in the network.

The DL discipline has converged from other subjects, varying from Computer Science, Information Science and Library Science and various other domains. Study on the DL group of LinkedIn has indicated the dominance of members from Computer Science, Library and Information Science and Libraries domains [15]. Thus there is strong evidence to show the diversified convergence of DL from various disciplines confirming the multidisciplinary nature of this domain.

Most of the studies aforementioned showed Edward Fox as the star of the DL world. Gary Gorman, Edward Fox and Gary Marchionini are the three editors who are the core members of the network, thus playing a very important role in shaping policies of the journals and thus the DL community. Studies also show the dominance of researchers affiliated to organizations in USA .

6 Research Challenges

There are many technical and ideological limitations of the research. In spite of fifteen plus years of its conception, there are no literature-journals, which are dedicated to DL domain. We have regarded the Journals that are listed in ISI (Thomson Scientific) Web of Knowledge as standard and reliable. Based on a search on the topic “Digital Libraries” in the ISI Web of Knowledge database, journals with the record count of 10 or more were ranked. Most of the journals are multidisciplinary belonging to various domains.

Digital libraries (DLs) are emerging as an important area of research and education for information science, computer science and a number of other related disciplines. They bring together facets of many disciplines, and experts with different backgrounds and different approaches. Because of the multidisciplinary nature of this still emerging discipline, the real challenge is to draw a line, which constitutes DL domain and define the structure of an interdisciplinary domain of DL.

The real challenge in this research work is to identify DL academic community because of the convergence of DL from various other domains. We carried out a study on these top ranked journals in ISI web of Knowledge (Table 1). We observed that all journals have been classified in computer science. Of the rest, Information Science and Library Science has the highest number of journals, followed closely by Education and Educational Research [13].

The other roots from which this new domain is formed are subjects such as law, health care, history, geography to name a few. This shows the character of the diversified convergence of the digital library.

The dataset would include limited number of Conferences and Journals as mentioned above. The interpretation of the findings would have to rely on the limited dataset.

7 Expected Outcomes

The study proposed here is an innovative, theoretically appealing and yet with practical implications. We propose the use of an emergent theory and set of tools for understanding the phenomenon of ‘how DL as a domain shapes up’ and the figures who are responsible for shaping of an emerging community

We expect that this research will result in the following:

  • An understanding of emergence and evolution of an interdisciplinary domain
  • A better understanding of the characteristics of linkages between scientific community of DL
  • Knowledge of he figures responsible for shaping this emerging community
  • Ability to define the community of Digital Library hat emerged as result of intersection of researchers from various communities


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