Digital information organization (DIO) refers to methods of rendering large amounts of information into digital form so it can be stored, retrieved and manipulated by computer. An example of digital information organization is the digital library, a storehouse of largely unstructured text documents that is useful only if it can be searched readily. Another example is the digital museum, which contains pictorial and three-dimensional objects that are much more difficult to digitize and search than text, and that are susceptible to scanning and optical character recognition (OCR). Many other requirements for DIO exist, including corporate databases, videotape collections, map information, census statistics and financial data.

The rapid rise in computer and Internet use has resulted in the creation of vast quantities of digital information being created and transmitted. For example, virtually all business documents are now created in digital form, either by computers directly (in the case of machine-generated forms ) or by humans using word processing software. The fact that this material is digitized makes it amenable to automated storage and retrieval. The sheer volume of it, however, makes it imperative to develop suitable organizational techniques.

The very health of institutions depends on their ability to manage information effectively, whether for educational, research, business, military or governmental purposes. Therefore DIO is a critical technology for entities of all sizes, from small corporations to government departments and even entire nations.

DIO systems employ an amalgam of various technologies, including scanning, OCR, digital storage techniques, data compression, indexing and search algorithms, display devices and the Internet. These technologies must be integrated properly and scaled to enormous proportions to allow humans to deal effectively with the flood of digital information now being made available.


The purpose of this WTEC study was to investigate Japanese hardware and systems for DIO, with a focus on digital libraries. The study was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The panel members were divided into two teams, one of which visited primarily academic and library sites, while the other focused on commercial organizations. The WTEC panel visited 18 sites during its one-week visit to Japan (March 23-27, 1998): nine corporations, five universities, three libraries and one museum.

The teams were composed of professionals from different disciplines who made observations in the following areas:


The WTEC team was interested in comparing the relative progress of the United States and Japan on issues relating to DIO. The panel's conclusions are informal in nature only, as team members, after a literature review, visited 18 sites over a period of a single week during 1998 and cannot claim to be familiar with even a plurality of developments in the United States and Japan. However, some patterns emerged that are summarized in Table ES.1

Table ES.1
State of the Art of Digital Information Organization in Japan Compared to the United States

State of the Art of Digital Information Organization in Japan

Japan Status




Display technology


Virtual reality, immersive technology




Digitization of content



Utilization of digitized content



Catalog accessibility



Catalog scalability



Text search



Translingual search



Image/video processing



K-12 education using digital techniques



Commercialization of digital libraries


Digital library policy



The notation "+" means Japan is perceptibly beyond the United States in capability; "- " means Japan is perceptibly behind; "0" means no significant difference was observed and blank means no conclusion could be drawn. An upward arrow indicates that any observed difference is likely to increase in the future, or, if there is no difference, that Japan is believed to be improving over the United States.

For both the United States and Japan, the following issues must be addressed if digital library efforts are to progress expeditiously:


Systems and Architecture

Text Processing

Digital Imaging and Multimedia

Cataloging: Description, Access and Scalability

Education Using Digital Libraries

Policy, Intellectual Property and Economics

Published: February 1999; WTEC Hyper-Librarian