Vol. 9 No. 4 April 2001
Dot-Lib for Libraries Can It Happen? Ask ICANN
by Wallace Koehler Assistant Professor, School of Library and Information Studies, University of Oklahoma
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The ice has been broken. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers or ICANN has proposed seven new generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs). [For the full story, see Wallace Koehler's "ICANN and the New 'Magnificent Seven'" in Searcher, vol. 9, no. 2, February, 2001, or] While not quite yet a reality while awaiting U.S. Commerce Department approval, the new gTLDs represent an interesting mix of the general to the specific. The seven .aero, .biz, .coop, .info, .museum, .name, and .pro cover general business (.biz, .info) and specific business (.aero, .coop) classification , as well as professional (.pro), individual (.name), and a gTLD for a specific non-profit sector (.museum).

In a recent Searcher editorial, Barbara Quint asks the interesting question: "So will someone tell me why none of our beloved library associations, no library consortia, no major library vendor, no large library, nor apparently any individual librarian proposed a 'dot-lib' gTLD?" ["Searcher's Voice: Dot-Lib," Searcher, vol. 9, no. 2, February 2001,].

It should be pointed out first, that the "dot-lib" idea is not exactly new. While not a proposed gTLD, Synopsys [] has developed .lib as part of its submicron library support product, Liberty. As a matter of fact, .lib already identifies libraries, usually as a 3LD (third-level domain) in many ccTLDs (country code TLDs) like and [for example, for the San Francisco Public Library, and for the Pioneer Library System]. And Susanne Calpestri of the University of California, Berkeley, has proposed the .lib designation for Web sites that meet standards of or qualify as "libraries."

Still to paraphrase Barbara, if museums have their own gTLD, why not libraries? That's simple enough, but reaching that goal may be a bit more complex. First, let us assume that the most recent ICANN model to select new gTLDs will hold up. In the last round, a substantial number of registrars, ISPs, and other parties proposed all kinds of potential TLDs [for the list see the ICANN page]. We can expect a similar response next time around. Each of the proposing agencies was required to post a $50,000 fee for the privilege of proposing, which probably explains why no librarian or individual library sought to request .lib in round one.

Second, it is still not certain that the process will prove successful. ICANN is under challenge from a number of fronts and the "Icannoclasts" could win at least some of the battles. And finally, ICANN exists at the pleasure of the U.S. Department of Commerce, which in the end must ratify its decisions. Who knows what USDOC will do?

That said, I think it's a good idea for libraries to support the .lib gTLD.

Who then should administer it? ALA (American Library Association)? IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions)? FID (International Federation for Information and Documentation)? Some other library association or consortium of associations? I don't think any single national library association should try to own .lib for the simple reason that the gTLDs have lost most if not all of the regional cachet they once had. They are now accepted as truly global.

The dot-lib gTLD should be used to designate libraries anywhere. To that end, I suggest that .lib should be held by and administered by an international body. Perhaps international library associations could form a consortium to propose and if successful manage the .lib gTLD. If the Museum Domain Management Association can manage .museum, why couldn't a "Library Domain Management Association" do the same for .lib?

I have no idea when ICANN will accept applications for a second round of new gTLDs. I think, however, that it would be wise to begin to build the momentum among librarians, libraries, and library associations to establish a modus vivendi, to build consensus, and to develop a gTLD proposal for .lib.

A Good Idea?
We received several letters and comments in response to the February 2001 editorial's suggestion that the time may have arrived for the Internet and its Web to see a "dot-lib" generic top-level domain go into play. One response came from as far away as Rome, Italy. Another came from the Washington, DC, Beltway region. Natural enough for the elite readers of Searcher magazine top-of-the-line information professionals all both responses took a rolled-up-shirt-sleeve, let's-make-it-happen-and-I-do-mean-NOW attitude.

So we asked Wallace Koehler, our resident expert on all matters concerning domain names, to give us an assessment of what such an effort might require. As you can see, money would be part of it. He suggests and we and respondents agree that the library associations seem the most appropriate candidates for proposing this new change.

Mr. Koehler, however, seems to limit the concept to identifying libraries and their Web productions worldwide. While I agree wholeheartedly that this alone would be a major contribution, I think we should expand our view of the "dot-lib" functionality. The way things are going with expansion of domain name categories, many outfits now have and more will be getting multiple listings that link back to the main site. I believe the "dot-lib" could extend to any URL that librarians have designated as possessing information of "library-quality." It could serve as a mark of approval. Search engines could allow users to specify searches of URLs with the "dot-lib" tag first and move to targets that would transform into "dot-coms," "dot-orgs," "dot-govs," "dot-edus" or whatever. Then, if no library-quality sites were found, the search engines could back off and broaden to full database searches. Remember, the registrar usually gets paid for granting domain names, which should provide a steady income to defray operating costs and maybe even make some profit.

It would give our profession the opportunity to broaden the impact of our professional judgment to serve the worldwide population of Web users. When we categorize Web sources for clients, instead of serving only a few hundred people in a corporation or a few thousand in a university community or even a million or two in a large metropolitan public library, our professional judgment could enrich the searching experience of millions upon millions of Web users.

Ready? Set? GO!

Wallace Koehler's e-mail address is

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