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Building Bridges with Blocks: Assisting digital library and Virtual Learning Environment integration through reusable middleware

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Various studies have reported that achieving effective use of increasingly heterogeneous scholarly objects within institutional learning and teaching frameworks is becoming critical to the performance of educational institutions. The integration of digital information environments, such as a University library, within a virtual learning environment (VLE) encapsulates this challenge. This paper presents reusable middleware to achieve effective digital library (DL) and VLE integration. The aim of the study is to demonstrate that the use of open standards and service-oriented architectures (SOA) to build “light” web-services-based middleware is a suitable alternative for embedding digital library information sources in learning and teaching frameworks. We argue that by using open-source and open-standards approaches rather than software and practices developed specifically for a particular VLE product, it is possible to obtain open reusable middleware that can simplify the DL-VLE integration and bridge the functionality of both environments. We hope that our methodology can provide a common foundation on which a variety of institutions may build their own customized middleware to integrate scholarly objects in VLEs. The study has assessed the impact of the VLE-library integration on academic users of both the library and the VLE. Performance issues of the proposed digital library-VLE integration are also discussed. A secondary but important finding of our study is that much more effort is required to open and standardize the closed, restricted and proprietary approach of digital publishers to the reuse of scholarly material. This approach can be a serious obstacle to effective digital library-VLE integration and can limit the publishers’ ability to allow the discovery, integration and reuse of scholarly material. Current research in this area is analyzed and discussed.

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