D-Lib Magazine
May 1999

Volume 5 Number 5

ISSN 1082-9873

Education for Digital Libraries

Amanda Spink
University of North Texas
Denton, Texas

Colleen Cool
Queens College - City University of New York
Flushing, New York

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This article looks at the state of education in digital libraries. It reports findings from an international survey of library and information science (LIS) and computer science faculty, and websites, regarding digital libraries courses and curriculum at their institutions. Results of the study show that, currently, few schools offer courses specifically in digital libraries. While many schools have not developed Digital Library (DL) courses, they are aware of the need to develop curriculum in this growing area of research and practice. In this paper, selected examples of current DL course offerings are also provided to illustrate the variety of current DL courses. The web-based Diglib Education Collaboratory being developed at Rutgers University is discussed as an example of collaborative efforts amongst faculty at disparate locations. From our experience teaching a digital libraries course, students currently enrolled in DL courses often have mixed, and only vague, notions of both the nature of DLs and the content of courses devoted to their study.

1. Introduction

Digital libraries (DLs) are emerging as an important area of research and education for information science, computer science and a number of other related disciplines. In this paper, we briefly discuss the state of DL research, including the growing body of funding available for DL studies, and the state-of-the-art in DL education worldwide. Our discussion is based on a recent worldwide survey of DL courses. What we conclude from our analysis is the urgent need for the development of DL education programs amidst a burgeoning growth of DL research and practice by librarians, and information and computer scientists.


1.1 Digital Libraries Research

Many books and articles are being written about this growing interdisciplinary area of research [Ben97] [Sch97] [Sam98] [BS96] [FM98] [Les97]. Increasingly, conferences worldwide are being devoted to examining the technical, social, political and user aspects of DLs, including conferences in the United States, from 1994 to the present. In the United States many different types of DL projects have emerged within university research environments, libraries and publishers.

A major impetus to the development of academic DL projects has been the United States National Science Foundation (NSF) provision of more than $90 million in research funding, primarily to computer science oriented DL projects (NSF Digital Libraries Initiative I, 1994). During the first phase of funding, NSF, DARPA, and NASA provided $24 million to DL projects at six universities -- the University of Illinois, the University of Michigan, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Santa Barbara, Stanford University, and the University of California at Berkeley -- to construct and research DL testbeds. NSF has announced that the second phase of DL funding being awarded in early 1999 will extend to a larger variety of DL projects, including those studying usersí interactions with DLs. Similar projects are being conducted in Europe, Australia and the UK. Additional sponsors in this second phase include the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Library of Medicine, and the Library of Congress.

A second group of DL projects is primarily made up of development projects to create digitized collections, rather than research projects. Some are conducted by librarians at major public and university libraries, such as the Library of Congress's American Memory project and the Western Digital Library Initiative (WDLI). Other projects are coordinated by the Digital Library Federation (DLF), which exists under the umbrella organization of the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The Federation includes twelve university research libraries, the Library of Congress, the National Archives and Records Administration, the New York Public Library, and the Commission on Preservation and Access, who participate in a variety of projects and other initiatives designed to develop digital library capabilities. There are also numerous projects being conducted by societies, publishers, and other varied organizations to create digital materials and make them available online, (e.g., the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Digital Library, and Elsevierís ScienceDirect for current scientific literature, as well as JSTOR for older journals). At the same time, a number of publications dealing with DLs have emerged, including the CNRI publication D-Lib Magazine, and journals that publish research on digital libraries.

1.2. Digital Libraries Education

Despite the boom in funding for DL research, development, and publications, DL education is behind in funding and practice. Currently, there is little systematic support for developing DL courses and curricula, and no coordinated effort in library and information science (LIS) or computer science to provide DL education. At present, we do not know much about good digital library education. We do not know what knowledge is required to produce information or computer professionals to work as digital librarians, digital developers, or in other job categories, or even what the job designations or requirements will be in the future. Computer scientists may be responsible for the technical development of digital libraries, with information scientists focusing on the content, organization, users, and retrieval of information. Most of the development of information retrieval has been done by computer scientists, (e.g., Salton at Cornell, van Rijsbergen at Glasgow, and Croft at the University of Massachusetts were all in computer science departments). The current shortage of librarians and information professionals with the expertise to fulfill the current technological demands of libraries will be exacerbated by the future demand for digital librarians.

The emerging demand for digital librarians and digital libraries may warrant the restructuring of the library and information science, and the computer science curricula. The development of a "digital libraries" track for information and computer science students that focuses on the technical and human aspects of the web and digital libraries seems inevitable. In the United States, several universities have reorganized existing library schools to emphasize digital information and online services. Two notable examples are at Berkeley and Michigan. The TICER summer school at Tilburg University in the Netherlands and several of OCLC's programs aim to update the skills of experienced librarians. In addition, there are numerous specialized courses, ranging from creating web sites for computer scientists to seminars on intellectual property for lawyers. Nevertheless, the number of courses that are specifically on digital libraries is surprisingly small.

2. Research Questions

In order to assess the state-of-the-art in DL education, we conducted a study of the current courses and curricula worldwide that are explicitly on digital libraries. We sought to address the following research questions:

  1. Which universities are offering DL courses?
  2. Are DL courses taught in schools of library and information science, computer science, or other departments?
  3. Are DL courses taught at the undergraduate or graduate level?
  4. What is the primary emphasis in courses that explicitly address the subject of digital libraries?

The results from this study provide important data and insights into the current state of DL education, and generate suggestions for educators and policy makers for developing this emerging educational phenomenon.

3. Research Design

3.1 Data Collection

We conducted the data collection for the study in two parts. First, we sent an email survey to LIS and computer science faculty, and we followed that with a survey of websites maintained by schools of library and information science.

3.2 Email Survey

During September 1998, a short survey consisting of three questions was emailed to all LIS and computer science faculty who had attended the June 1998 ACM Digital Libraries conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Due to a lack of resources, the researchers were unable to survey all faculty at all LIS and computer science schools worldwide. Those faculty who attended the 1998 ACM Digital Library conference were a convenient sample, but were probably overly representative of United States schools. The survey was also distributed through various listservs catering to DL issues.

Email survey respondents answered the three questions listed below:

  1. Does your university offer courses in digital libraries or related areas? If so, please provide as much information as possible, including URLs.
  2. Are the DL courses taught in information science, computer science or other schools or departments?
  3. Are the DL courses for undergraduate, graduate or the doctoral level?

Potential respondents were told that the results of the survey would be used to produce an academic paper outlining the state-of-the-art in DL education.

3.3 Website Analysis

During September 1998, the researchers examined the website of each school of library and information science, worldwide, to identify any DL courses offered. We realize the survey of websites may not reveal all DL courses currently offered by LIS schools. However, we feel the website survey offers some insight into the state of DL courses at LIS schools. No attempt was made to discover DL courses taught outside LIS schools, e.g., by computer science departments. Also, much of the academic work in digital libraries has been carried out in other disciplines, such as medical informatics, which are beyond the scope of this study.

3.4 Data Analysis

Responses to the emailed questions were content analyzed for information regarding the presence or absence of courses specifically in the area of digital libraries. Where possible, the nature of specific DL course content was examined. Next, US and Canadian LIS websites were examined, using content analysis, to any identify DL courses.

4. Results

We collected data on twenty (20) institutions offering DL courses. Most of the data came from faculty responses to our three email questions to the listservs. Very little additional data was obtained from the Website analysis. The results are listed below in Table 1.

Table 1. Institutions Offering Courses in Digital Libraries.


Course Title




Loughborough University (UK)

Advanced Internet and Digital Libraries

Information & Library Studies

Undergraduate & Masterís

University of Waikato (NZ)


Computer Science

Undergraduate & Masterís

University of Technology, Sydney (AU)

Digital Library Manager

Department of Information Studies

Graduate Level

Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais Escola de Biblioteconomia (Brazil)

Bibliotecas Digitais

Library Science

Graduate Level

Monash University (AU)

Managing Virtual Libraries

School of Information Management & Sys.

Graduate Level

University of Pittsburgh (US)

Digital Libraries

Library & Information Science

MLIS and Ph.D.

University of Alabama (US)

Issues in Librarianship, Digital Libraries

School of Library and Information Studies

Masterís and Doctoral

Not Available

University of Malaya (Kuala Lumpar)

Digital Libraries

Computer Science


Not Available

Nanyang Technological University Singapore


Division of Information Studies,

Applied Science

Graduate level

Virginia Tech (US)

Digital Libraries

Computer Science

Undergraduate; Master's and Ph.D.

Catholic University of America (US)

Seminar in Digital Libraries

Library and Information Science


Old Dominion University (US)

Introduction to Digital Libraries

Computer Science


University of Western Ontario


Information & Media Studies


Queens College/City University of NY (US)

Digital Libraries

Library & Information Studies


Not Available

University of Michigan (US)

Digital Librarianship Workshop

The Internet Public Library

Graduate level

University of Iowa (US)

Digital Libraries

Library & Information Science


Indiana University (US)

Digital Libraries

School of Library & Information Science


Southern Connecticut State University (US)

Digital Libraries

Library Sciences & Instructional Technology


University of California, Berkeley (US)

Digital Library Seminar

Computer Science

Graduate level

Rutgers University, School of Communication, Information & Library Science (US)

Digital Libraries

Library and Information Science


4.1 International Distribution

The subject of digital libraries clearly is receiving attention on an international level. Eight of the twenty institutions examined in this study were located outside the United States. The number of DL courses currently offered in each country is listed below:

United States - 12

Canada - 1

New Zealand - 1

United Kingdom - 1

Malaysia - 1

Singapore - 1

Australia - 2

Brazil - 1

4.2 Level of DL Education

Digital Library education is being offered primarily at the graduate level. Only three of the responding institutions offer courses in digital libraries to undergraduates. Nineteen courses are at the graduate level and three at the undergraduate level -- in computer science departments. This is unsurprising since most of the courses were in schools of library and information science, which in the United States are primarily graduate schools.

4.3 Type of School

Most of the institutions offering courses in digital libraries did so within Schools of Library and Information Science. Four courses are being offered in Computer Science. The remaining two institutions were a Department of Information & Media Studies, and a Division of Information Studies within a College of Applied Science.

4.4 Course Content

The types of DL courses offered also vary from more technical courses in Computer Science programs, to management oriented courses in Library and Information Science programs. When we examine the content of the digital libraries courses offered by these schools, it appears that the primary emphasis is on issues involved in system building and digital collection building. Less frequent attention is being given to the study of digital library users and usability. The subject of "digital librarianship" is given primary emphasis at one institution. An examination of the available course descriptions reveals a central concern with training students in the use of specific tools and techniques in the construction of digital collections. Some digital library courses also included the words virtual or Internet in their titles. However, "Digital Libraries" appears to be the most popular title for a course.

One clear finding from this study of the current state of digital libraries education is that there is no single agreed upon definition of what constitutes "digital library" or a DL course. For many institutions, the digital library is merely a digitized collection of information items accessible via the web. In other institutional environments, the concept of the digital library hardly goes beyond traditional models of information retrieval systems. One might conclude from this that further advancement in the area of digital libraries rests upon the development of a sound conceptual foundation, which at this time is only emerging.

There is a vast difference between the view of digital libraries innovation revealed by the papers published in D-Lib Magazine and the level of understanding of many students. This point is underscored in the results of a small scale survey that was conducted amongst Masters of Library Science (MLS) students, in a course on digital libraries offered at Queens College for the first time during the Fall semester 1998. Twenty-eight advanced level students enrolled in the course. On the first day of class, each student was asked to write an answer to the question "What is a digital library?" Over half of the students replied "Donít Know" to the question, explaining they hoped to learn the answer by taking the course. Thirty percent of the class used various ways to describe a digital library as a library that provided online access to its catalogue. The remaining students, while not able to formulate a definition of a digital library, all cited the Library of Congress as an example of one.

Also clear, from not only these results but from a reading of the DL literature more generally, is that the creation of digital libraries marks a fundamental shift in the way we ought to envision library and information science education. We need a fundamental re-thinking of LIS education that reflects the need for DL curriculum and courses, not only in LIS but also in computer science, economics, law, and other relevant disciplines. In other words, the current state of affairs in the development of digital libraries necessitates going beyond the offering of one or two digital libraries courses, to an expansion of the traditional LIS and CS curricula to encompass a more general digital libraries track.

5. Toward of Model of Digital Library Education

At this point in time, it is premature to suggest a fully developed curriculum, including courses, for digital library education. However, following the model of the ACM in their development of an undergraduate curriculum in Information Studies, we can suggest several curriculum areas and substantive topics that seem to be important in the further development and incorporation of digital libraries education into LIS. If we are to succeed in developing effective models for digital libraries education, we need to fashion a hybrid curriculum that brings together the complementary strengths from diverse departments such as computer science, psychology, policy studies, and library and information studies. Such interdisciplinary partnerships, while not new, often prove to be problematic in their implementation.

Our personal position is that digital libraries are first and foremost libraries, and, as such, any model curriculum should maintain a core set of courses that address the major functions and activities of libraries in general, in both digital and traditional forms. At the same time, courses explicitly focusing on technology for digital libraries should strive to connect specific technical applications to the library environment. Our suggested list of curriculum areas for digital libraries education takes into account the need for interdisciplinary collaboration.

Table 2. Curriculum Areas and Suggested Topics for Digital Library Education.



Theoretical and Historical Foundations

History of libraries; Human information behavior; Information retrieval theory; Development of digital collections and digital libraries

Technical Infrastructure of the Digital Library

Information retrieval engines; Database construction of digital libraries; Distributed collections; Multimedia formats and applications; Interoperability; Network technology; Web applications in digital libraries; Interface design; Communication protocols; Query languages

Knowledge Organization in Digital Libraries

Metadata; Indexing; Classification; Database integration; Document formats

Collection Development and Maintenance

Digital archives; Digital conversion technology; Digital preservation

Information Access and Utilization of Digital Libraries

Users and uses of digital libraries; Usability and evaluation research; Information behavior in digital libraries

Social, Economic and Policy Issues

Electronic publishing; Scholarly communication; Copyright issues and intellectual property rights in digital libraries; Costs of building digital libraries; Funding for digital libraries

Professional Issues

Roles and responsibilities of the digital librarian; Management of digital libraries; Bibliographic instruction

6. Conclusions and Further Research

Our state-of-the-art analysis of DL education, worldwide, was an initial foray into an important and expanding area of investigation. Ongoing research is required on a larger scale to gather data from every school of LIS and computer science in order to update and extend our findings. We need to develop good models of DL educational programs and courses, and a greater synergy between DL research and education. Finally, we need the resources to develop and sustain an expanding and far reaching program of DL education.

7. Acknowledgment

The authors thank the listserv respondents and the D-Lib editors for their valuable assistance in this study. We also gratefully acknowledge the inspiration, encouragement and assistance of Tefko Saracevic to the development of this paper.

8. References

[Ben97] Benton Foundation. Buildings, Books and Bytes: Libraries and Communities in the Digital Age. Library Trends, 46(1):178-223, 1997.

[BS96] A P. Bishop and L. Starr. Social Informatics of Digital Library Use and Infrastructure. Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, 31:301-401, 1996.

[FM98] E. A. Fox and G. Marchionini. Toward a Worldwide Digital Library. Communications of the ACM, 41(4):28-32, 1998.

[Les97] M. Lesk. Practical Digital Libraries: Books, Bytes and Bucks. San Francisco, CA: Morgan Kaufmann, 1997.

[Sam98] P. Samuelsen. Encoding the Law into Digital Libraries. Communications of the ACM, 41(4):13-18, 1998.

[Sch97] B. R. Schatz. Information Retrieval in Digital Libraries: Bringing Search to the Net. Science, 275(5298):327-333, 1997.

Copyright © 1999 Amanda Spink and Colleen Cool

Corrections made to URLs in Table 1. 5/17/99, 1:44 pm., The Editor.

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DOI: 10.1045/may99-spink