A clutch of British universities are to play a major role in a ground-breaking international research initiative aimed at making the digital library a reality for academics worldwide.
The first six research projects under the Pounds 3 million scheme, managed and funded jointly by the National Science Foundation in the United States and the funding councils' Joint Information Systems Committee, were announced this week.
Southampton University is joining forces with Cornell University and the Los Alamos National Laboratory to link up each of over 100,000 papers in the laboratory's giant physics archive to every other paper in the archive it cites.
Stevan Harnad, project leader at Southampton, says the Pounds 300,000 project aims to develop a "powerful, remarkable new way" of navigating scientific journal literature.
He adds: "We hope it will encourage authors in other fields to collaborate to create interlinked online archives like Los Alamos."
The University of Liverpool's library will be collaborating with the University of California to create a next-generation online information retrieval system. The system will be based on international standards and will facilitate searching on the internet across collections of original materials, including printed books, archives, manuscripts and museum objects and multimedia data resources.
Another project involves the University of Bristol Institute of Learning and Research Technology, Cornell University and Australia's Distributed Systems Technology Centre. The work aims to find better ways of describing and retrieving highly complex multimedia digital objects.
King's College London, meanwhile, is linking up with University of Massachusetts to devise an efficient, user-friendly online system for searching and retrieving musical information from databases. There is also a project looking at the long-term preservation of information in digital form that involves collaboration between the universities of Leeds, Oxford and Cambridge and Michigan.
In total, the six projects under the International Digital Libraries initiative are worth Pounds 3 million over three years, and backing for more is planned by JISC and NSF.
A JISC spokeswoman said: "There are uncoordinated efforts in many countries on the digital libraries front. We hope cooperative programmes of research can help avoid duplication of effort and fragmented digital systems. Truly digital libraries created in partnership are something all countries stand to gain from."