The ever-increasing ubiquity of the World Wide Web in the waning years of the twentieth century served to catalyze the grand vision of a World Digital Mathematics Library (WDML), that will contain digitized versions of the entire corpus of mathematical research literature, both contemporary and historical, in a distributed system of interlinked repositories. The unique attributes of mathematics, including the eternal validity of mathematical results and constructions, make a Mathematical Digital Library especially compelling. More than just a collection of digitized research papers and books, the WDML will include the abilities to search, link, annotate, classify, mine, compute, etc. that will form a wide ranging and dynamic suite of applications that incorporate the desirable features of, but go beyond the current capabilities of MathSciNet, zbMATH, Google Scholar, Wolfram Alpha, etc., and thereby fuel the next generation of mathematical research and its manifold applications. Moreover, a commitment to openness, ensuring that the WDML is accessible throughout the worldwide research and education communities, lies at the heart of this vision.
The WDML vision was codified by the General Assembly (GA) of the International Mathematical Union (IMU) who, in 2006, endorsed a statement, “Digital Mathematics Library: A Vision for the Future“, of the Committee on Electronic Information and Communication (CEIC) that “… endorses this vision of a distributed collection of past mathematical scholarship that serves the needs of all science, and encourages mathematicians and publishers of mathematics to join together in implementing this vision.”
While numerous digitization projects gained momentum and scope in the intervening years, while several “local” initiatives, such as the European Digital Mathematics Library (EuDML), Math-Net.Ru, and several country-based DMLs (e.g. DML-CZ, DML-PL, NUMDAM) have demonstrated proof of (at least some aspects of) the concept, and while many of the required software tools are under active development by a number of groups, both academic and commercial, the overall implementation of a truly Global Digital Mathematics Library has remained tantalizingly out of reach. Nevertheless, several recent developments have rekindled expectations that we may at last have both the means and the will to realize the WDML within the near future. These developments include:
On June 1-3, 2012, the CEIC organized the Symposium on The Future World Heritage Digital Mathematics Library held at the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS), involving over 50 participants from throughout the world. The meeting was supported by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Participants, keynote talks, position statements, panel discussions, breakout sessions and more can all be found on the Conference Wiki.
In conjunction with the NAS Symposium, the Sloan Foundation further funded a broad-based committee to write the report “Developing a 21st Century Global Library for Mathematics Research” that explore the practical mechanisms, challenges, and capabilities that are required for the realization of the WDML. The report was published by the US National Research Council (NRC) in March, 2014, and is also available on arXiv.
On August 17, 2014, in conjunction with the International Congress of Mathematicians in Seoul, South Korea (ICM2014), the IMU and CEIC hosted a meeting of a select group of experts, 13 in person and 8 remote, to plan the next practical steps towards the construction of the Global Digital Mathematical Library (GDML). As a result, a smaller eight person working group (GDML WG), chaired by Patrick Ion, and under the sponsorship of the IMU, was created and charged with, before the end of the year, designing a road map for the practical next steps towards the GDML, determining its organizational structure, prioritizing the different requirements for its implementation, estimating an incremental budget, both start-up and sustaining funds, and fostering the writing of proposals to funding organizations. Further details about the WG can be found in the following blog post by Patrick Ion.
Furthermore, the WDML was the topic of a successful and wide-ranging Panel Discussion at ICM2014 in Seoul on August 20. The panelists were Thierry Bouche, Ingrid Daubechies, Gert-Martin Greuel, Patrick Ion, Rajeeva Karandikar, and June Zhang, with this author serving as moderator. Further details, including links to the panel brief and background materials can be found on the CEIC web site, while a videotape of the entire panel discussion appears on Youtube.
It is the desire of the CEIC and the IMU that this blog will serve as a means for publicizing the ongoing developments in the planning for the GDML among the world-wide mathematical community, as well as serving as a forum for interested mathematicians and users of mathematics to add their views, suggestions, and vision for the enterprise. I invite your input to the blog, encourage your conversations with colleagues, and look forward to a wide-ranging and lively discussion of all aspects of this exciting project and its potential impact on mathematics throughout the world.