Conference Report

D-Lib Magazine
October 2001

Volume 7 Number 10

ISSN 1082-9873

Report on the 5th European Conference on Digital Libraries, ECDL 2001

September 4 - 9 Darmstadt, Germany


Sally Jo Cunningham
University of Waikato

Red Line


The ECDL 2001 call for papers emphasized "convergence": the drawing together of features from existing libraries, archives, and museums to create integrated digital resources; the exploration of the relationship between physical and digital artifacts; and the examination of the commonalities in the roles of library users and developers. The theme of convergence drew together -- appropriately! -- ideas from many of the presentations at the conference.

The first invited speaker, Mike Keller (Stanford University), drew attention to the effects of the brief .com bubble on digital libraries. The claim was made that the youth of today know more about searching and retrieving information than we old-timers did after four years of university-a claim that I suspect many teachers would dispute, but that certainly underscores the increased public awareness of, and demand for, digital information resources. Interestingly, the possibility of a generational divide in perception of information accessibility was further explored by the paper "Digital Libraries in a clinical setting: friend or foe?" (Adams and Blandford). This study of the impact of a medical digital library on clinicians noted that senior staff members were more frequently computer phobic than younger staff, and perceived the introduction of the digital library as a threat to their status as experts.

Mike Keller also highlighted the growing partnership of librarians, IT professionals, and document/information providers in the development of deployed digital libraries. He noted that at the start of the WWW revolution many IT professionals believed that conventional (physical) libraries would die off, at best turning into dusty museums of outdated formats and obsolete information. The fact that ECDL 2001 was co-organized by the Technical University of Darmstadt and Die Deutsche Bibliothek (the German National Library) is a significant indicator of the extent to which IT and libraries are now working together.

The question of whether digital documents will supercede physical documents was brought up again during a panel discussion ("Open Archive Initiative, Publishers and Scientific Societies: Future of Publishing - Next Generation Publishing Models"). This lively session included proponents of digital-only publication, digital publication in the first instance followed by physical publication for archiving, and parallel physical and digital publishing. Arnou de Kemp, representing Springer, announced that Springer had recently decided to print its formerly electronic-only journals, and predicted that research in the near future would focus on presenting electronic documents on paper. Panel members raised the problem of archiving: who is responsible for archiving documents in a digital, or indeed mixed digital and paper, world? And if two versions of a document exist, which is the 'document of record'?

During this panel, Carl Lagoze drew attention to publishing alternatives that charge for value added to document collections rather than for the documents themselves, noting that we shouldn't confuse raw content with the value of cooking it. Papers throughout the conference focussed on techniques for adding value, primarily through interface tools to support users in searching and browsing (for example, "A combined phrase and thesaurus browser for large document collections", Paynter and Witten), and through connecting documents by cross-referencing, reference linking, clustering and classification.

The panel also emphasized the importance of understanding, and then building on, the existing culture of the intended user community for a digital library. The Physics Pre-print archive (, one of the early and successful WWW-based document collections, appears to owe much of its success to a previously existing tradition of pre-print sharing among research groups. Failed attempts to start similar archives in other fields were discussed, and the common feature in these failures was the absence of a culture of sharing pre-publication versions of research results, or the lack of a tradition of user-based archiving.

The role of user in a digital library is blurring with the roles of collection developers and document providers. Users are seen to play a far more active role in digital libraries than is the norm in physical, conventional libraries. For example, a study of the potential user community can inform the design of a library ("Ethnography, evaluation, and design as integrated strategies: a case study from WES", Khoo). Recommender systems learn from user preferences, in effect allowing users to influence each others' perceptions of the collection contents ("Dynamic models of expert groups to recommend web documents", Kim and Kim). Architectures supporting online publishing and 'harvesting' allows users to become publishers and providers ("A deposit for digital collections", Noronha et al). Users may also retrieve documents from the digital library, modify them to create new documents, and then feed these new documents back into the library, all using tools within the digital library framework ("Building and indexing a distributed multimedia presentation archive using SMIL", Hunter and Little).

Unlike earlier digital library conferences, few papers at ECDL focussed on descriptions of a deployed digital library; the field seems to have moved past the point of finding the mere existence of a collection interesting, and researchers are instead presenting innovations in digital library architectures, collection development and maintenance tools, and tools to support user interactions with the digital library.

Another heartening sign of the maturity of the field is the growing number of papers examining user behavior in deployed digital libraries. The research methodologies include both quantitative methods (for example, transaction log analysis in "Search behavior in a research-oriented digital library", Mahoui and Cunningham) and qualitative methods (for example, an ethnographic study in "Digital Libraries in a clinical setting: friend or foe?", Adams and Blandford).

Text documents, and primarily English text documents, were the focus for most of the digital library systems discussed in the conference. However, other languages and formats were also discussed, and were not restricted to the sessions on "Multimedia digital libraries" and "Multilinguality". It is good to see non-text, non-English collections and their associated tools moving into the mainstream of digital library work.

A stated objective of the ECDL conference series is the fostering of a multi-disciplinary community of digital libraries researchers, embracing both the theoretic underpinnings of the field and the practical issues involved in digital library development, deployment, and maintenance. The diverse range of departmental and institutional affiliations of authors at ECDL provides strong evidence that this goal is being achieved: authors are associated with university departments ranging from archaeology to computing/IS/informatics to anthropology; with centers for digital library research; with national and institutional libraries; and with the commercial publishing world.

As one would expect in such an interdisciplinary field, collaborative research is common. Only 6 of the 38 papers accepted to ECDL 2001 were single author papers; the average number of authors per paper is 2.8, and the maximum number of co-authors on a single paper is 7.

Collaboration crosses national as well as disciplinary boundaries. This year the ECDL program included 22 "regular" papers and 16 "short presentation" papers, selected from a total of 79 submissions-an acceptance rate of 49%. The authors of accepted papers came from 20 countries (Table 1). Note that the level of international collaboration pushes the total in the second column of Table 1 well over the total number of papers accepted to the conference; 7 of the ECDL papers (18%) had authors from 2 or more countries, with the authors for one of the 7 scattered across 5 countries! This substantial degree of international co-authorship is a sign of a close-knit community despite its geographic dispersion.

Country No. of papers
USA 13
UK 7
Germany 6
New Zealand 3
Australia 2
Japan 2
Norway 2
Austria 1
China 1
Denmark 1
France 1
Greece 1
Hungary 1
Italy 1
Korea 1
Portugal 1
Singapore 1
Spain 1
Sweden 1
Taiwan 1

Table 1. National affiliation of ECDL 2001 authors

The ECDL program committee is similarly international -- the committee includes 36 members from 14 countries and 4 continents.

The 5th ECDL continued the ECDL tradition of wrapping the conference with tutorials and workshops immediately before and after the conference-providing opportunities to network and permitting in-depth exploration of additional ideas beyond those offered by the conference program. Tutorials were pitched to a variety of audiences, ranging from an overview of digital libraries directed at newcomers to the field, to technical discussions suitable for digital library developers, to research-level exploration of applications of machine learning to classification. The conference also included opportunities for research groups to run demos of software and digital library applications, and for researchers to present work in progress in a poster session.

The published proceedings are available in print format as Proceedings: Research and Advanced Technology for Digital Libraries; Panos Constantopoulos and Ingeborg T. Solvberg (Eds.), Lecture notes in computer science, vol. 2163, Springer, 2001.

The proceedings are also available online at:

Copyright 2001 Sally Jo Cunningham

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DOI: 10.1045/october2001-cunningham