An enormous amount of attention is being given to making data sets collected by scientific projects available to broader communities of users. International efforts such as the Earth Observing System (EOS) and the human genome project demand large investments of public resources and create huge volumes of data. Multiple forces act to cause the development of digital libraries of scientific data from these projects. First, the tools used to collect, transmit, and analyze data generate or require digital signals, thus the information materials are in digital form rather than paper form. Second, the data must be made available to scientists worldwide on a timely basis and digital electronic networks make this possible. Third, the huge public investments encourage scientists to disseminate data as widely as possible to maintain public support and further educational and social progress. Providing access to these data sets through electronic libraries is a important challenge, especially in the U.S. where law mandates that publicly supported scientific data be made freely available to citizens (see the sidebar by Gey).
One example of how primary data sets are used in education is the Earth System Science Community Curriculum Testbed project that links students and teachers in high schools and universities in an effort to build an earth system science (ESS) community (http://www.circles.org/ESSCC/ESSCC.GIF). The project aims to build a curriculum for the interdisciplinary field of ESS by linking teachers of physics, chemistry, biology and other sciences to ESS scientists and NASA data sets. Topics such as acid rain and global warming are explored by teams of students in each classroom by taking advantage of a growing electronic community of students, teachers, and researchers. Using tools such as Mosaic, FTP, and Stella, teachers and students in schools in North America access data sets at different levels of representation, analyze the data, simulate scenarios, collaborate with scientists and students at remote sites, and publish reports. This project has been funded as part of the NASA digital library initiative and illustrates how electronic technology can support collaboration among scientists and students and how digital libraries of data, messages, and student reports are grown and managed. The ESS community is thus manifested as an organic, evolving digital library that includes primary data sets, conversations about them, and the results of using them.Back one topic. Forward to next topic. Back to Outline.