Witten, who's part of the computer science faculty, has been proposed for the 2004 Namur Award for his work with the New Zealand Digital Library project, a research group within Waikato University’s school of computing and mathematical sciences.
The award, which is given every two years by the non-governmental, non-profit International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP), is for outstanding contributions with international impact to the awareness of the social implications of information technology.
Since 1995 the Waikato project group, which has four full-time staff and up to 20 members including students, has developed Greenstone, a suite of software to create digital libraries. Greenstone is distributed in conjunction with UNESCO and the Belgium-based non-governmental organisation Human Info. Human Info publishes humanitarian information on CD and gives it away in developing countries.
“A digital library is a focused collection of documents -- like a subset of the web -- put together by collection editors and containing browsing facilities that are uniform across the collection," says Witten.
"You can take subsets of the web and build them into digital library collections. Greenstone allows you to stamp a collection on to CD-ROM, which is popular in developing countries because the web doesn’t extend into many of them.”
Witten says it is used in countries such as Uganda, South Africa, India and Russia as well as developed countries such as the US and UK. Greenstone-based sites include the New York Botannical Museum, the Canadian Institute of Science and Techninal Information, and Project Gutenberg. It is also used internally by the BBC to store its catalogue information about programmes.
Witten says the software, which is open source and issued under the terms of the GNU general public licence, has proven to be reliable and the team is now working on an XML version that will be more modular and flexible.
He says he has no interest in commercialising Greenstone but can see the scope for local companies to use Greenstone to build digital library collections for companies and organisations abroad.
Past recipients of the award are Dr Deborah Hurley, director of the Harvard Information Infrastructure, and Professor Simon Rogerson of the Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility within the faculty of computing sciences and engineering at De Montfort University in the UK.