Rethinking Information Dissemination and Use:
New Models for Documents, Collaboration and Information Access

Robert Wilensky
UC Berkeley


Information technology can provide for the enhancement of services of the sort we have come to expect from libraries. In addition, it offers the opportunity for new services beyond those associated with traditional libraries. In our view, the full potential of the technology will be realized when expanded beyond the collections building, information organization, and user access services, to embrace the entire lifecycle of information use, from creation and publishing to access, use, annotation and collaboration.

In this talk, we discuss some elements that facilitate this vision. "Multivalent Documents" is a new model of documents, which embodies a network-centric rather than desktop metaphor. The multivalent document model is (i) highly open, meaning that is supports an open-ended variety of document formats and functions, (ii) highly extensible, meaning that it can be extended and customized in novel ways and to meet particular user needs, and (iii) highly distributed, meaning that components of a document may exist as separate networked resources, which are combined dynamically into a coherent documents. A particularly attractive aspect of the model is the manner in which it supports "spontaneous collaboration", the ability of a user to annotate web pages, scanned images, and other networked, resources for which that user has no privileged relation. We will demonstrate prototypes operating on a variety of document types, and on geographic information data.

Multivalent documents address some issues in manipulating on-line resources. Finding those resources is still problematic. "Automatic content analysis" is the set of techniques for analyzing the content of information objects so as to facilitate their subsequent access. We present some recent developments in this area for accessing document images, photographs, and text.

The work described is being conducted within the UC Berkeley Digital Library Project, a multiterabyte collection of multimedia information pertaining to the Calfornia environment.


Robert Wilensky received his B.A. and his Ph.D. from Yale University. In 1978, he joined the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley, where he is now Professor in the Division of Computer Science, and in the School of Information Management and Systems.

He has served as Chair of the Computer Science Division, the director of BAIR, the Berkeley Artificial Intelligence Research Project, and the director of Berkeley Cognitive Science Program.

Professor Wilensky has published numerous articles and books in the area of artificial intelligence, planning, knowledge representation, natural language processing, computer programming and digital information systems. He is currently Principal Investigator of UC Berkeley's Digital Library Project.