D-Lib Magazine
October 1999

Volume 5 Number 10

ISSN 1082-9873

The International Summer School on the Digital Library

Experiences and Plans for the Future

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Jola G.B. Prinsen
Deputy Manager
Ticer B.V.

Hans Geleijnse
Tilburg University Library


In August 1999, the Fourth International Summer School on the Digital Library ( was organized by Ticer at Tilburg University in the Netherlands.

Again, this two-week course was a success. In this article we would like to report on the set-up of the course and the changes we have seen in content, participants and lecturers over the past four years.

Tilburg University library and Ticer

Tilburg University in the Netherlands was the first university in Europe to develop a strategic vision of the digital library (Wieërs, 1989 and 1990). This strategy focussed on electronic access to information from the users' desktops. In 1992, the library ( managed to initially implement these ideas with a new library building, 450 computer workstations for students in the library, and integrated access to various electronic information sources for all university staff and students (Dijkstra, 1994) (Geleijnse, Roes, 1996).

Tilburg University library

Picture 1: Tilburg University library

From 1992 to 1996, more than 9,000 visitors from 33 different countries, including Australia, Bolivia, India, Japan, Russia and South Africa, visited the library to see and discuss these developments and to get inspiration for the development of their own digital library. From these visits we learnt that there was a great need for the exchange of experiences and for re-education. Many colleagues in the profession wanted to know what we were doing, how we did it, and what they could learn from our experiences. However, due to limited resources within library and computer centre, we often were not able to completely fulfill these needs.

In 1995, due to increased market demand, the library and computer centre started a private company: Ticer (for Tilburg Innovation Centre for Electronic Resources) ( The company is 100% owned by the university and has now been in operation for four years. It has a modest turnover of US$ 500,000. Profits are exclusively used for new innovations within the university. Ticer offers the library and computer centre a way to market their experiences and skills and to transfer knowledge in a cost-effective and efficient way. The key activities include:

During the start-up of Ticer in 1995, ideas for a summer course were discussed with several colleagues in the library community and with senior officers from Elsevier Science Publishers who also felt that there was a great need for educating librarians who wanted to be prepared for the information age. We felt that a Ticer summer school at Tilburg University would differ from other schools and courses on the subject of digital libraries in various ways and was therefore feasible:

The first summer school was organized at Tilburg University in August 1996. It was a two-week course that attracted a total of 57 participants. From this course we learnt that the group was too large to have sufficient interaction. In the next courses, we set a limit of 45 people. The four courses were attended by 194 people coming from 25 different countries.

Contents of the summer school

The aim of the summer school is to prepare librarians for setting up their own digital library. To achieve this, the course tries to offer strategic and managerial insight into the field. The 1999 course dealt with topics which are, at present, key for the development of the digital library:

Various examples of innovative libraries were provided. At the 1999 course, up-to-date information was provided on developments at Hewlett Packard Research Laboratories (USA), Delft University of Technology (the Netherlands), the University of Bielefeld (Germany), the University of Ghent (Belgium), the University of Leeds (UK), Stanford University (USA), Los Alamos National Laboratory (USA), the University of Hertfordshire (UK), Utrecht University (the Netherlands), and Tilburg University.

If we compare the previous courses with the 1999 summer school, some remarkable differences and changes with respect to the content can be observed:

Some topics proved to be of such relevance that they survived the continuous renewal of the course. Nine topics were covered in all four courses. The items listed below marked with an * were rated highly in all four summer schools.


Lecture on strategic planning

Picture 2. Lecture on strategic planning

Difficult topics to teach in this setting, according to the annual evaluations, included technical subjects such as Z39.50, meta data, knowledge navigation, relevant IT developments, and encoding. However, the general opinion on technology is that it is an increasingly necessary part of digital libraries. As one participant from 1999 put it, "As long as librarians keep the attitude that 'this ICT stuff is not really our thing' our efforts towards the digital library will never succeed."

In some cases it proved very difficult for lecturers from the supplier market (publishers, subscription agents, library cooperatives) to give a strategic presentation instead of a commercial product presentation. The majority of the summer school participants do not appreciate commercial presentations. "The summer school is not the Online Conference," some said.

The two-week course is quite demanding for the participants: in the past four years 40-50% of them say that the programme is too full, but on the other hand 81-91% said that they would recommend the course to colleagues in the field, and 78-94% say the course was well worth the money.

Teaching methods

The first course was heavy on lectures (38) and had one workshop. We changed this approach in favour of more interactivity between the participants and the lecturers, and more group work. The 1999 course had 27 lectures and 11 workshops or group assignments. The first course, therefore, was very similar to a small conference; the others provided much more opportunity for discussion in small groups and input from the individual participants.


Workshop discussion

Picture 3. Workshop discussion

The practical character of the summer school also changed dramatically. The first course offered seven hands-on sessions on topics such as the integrated desktop, HTML, PDF, and "building your own home page." The last two summer schools had no hands-on sessions at all. It is the opinion of the organisers that the summer school should offer a general overview of and strategic insight into the field of digital libraries. There are an abundance of courses on the market to increase the librarian's hands-on experience.

In spite of the fact that the number of group work and discussion sessions have increased every year, the opinion of some of the participants is that there should be even more opportunity for discussion (1996: 68%, 1997: 64%, 1998: 55%, 1999: 65%).

In addition to the content and quality of the teachers, other factors can contribute to the success of a course. It's obvious that the input of the participants themselves is of great importance. People can learn from each other and be inspired by other participants as well. One of the successful parts of the course is a workshop in which small groups of participants solve a vital problem for one of their colleagues.

In 1999, the programme offered an opportunity for participants to give a presentation about their own (digital) library. This was appreciated very much, and participants suggested that we should have more participant presentations next year. In general, a more formal exchange of experiences among the participants was valued.

We should also stress that the course is not confined to intensive sessions between the hours of 9 and 5. Participants and lecturers socialise and have meals together in the evenings and weekends. The participants also share accommodation. Half of them stay in the same hotel, the other half in student apartments. This provides more opportunity for interactions after the sessions and for sharing information about the special environment in which people work. Participants have often said that these informal meetings contribute to the "Ticer experience".

The audience


The class of 1999

Picture 4. The class of 1999

If we look at the participants in more detail, the following remarks can be made:

The participants back home

One of the important topics addressed during the summer school is what to do back home. At the end of the course, participants return home with a lot of new knowledge and experiences, and especially enthusiasm. Often, participants write about their experiences: a report for colleagues or managers, or an article in a library journal. Often, colleagues and managers are informed via a mini-conference or a lecture held within the library.

In some cases, management is open-minded and takes some new ideas on board. Former participants have reported that digital library projects were started (e.g., electronic theses, electronic research papers, switching from subject codes to keywords), or discussions about library strategy were initiated. In other cases, participants met some resistance from their managers. This is strange because it was often these managers who sent them to the course in the first place.


Informal communication between participants

Picture 5. Informal communication between participants

At the request of the participants, in 1997 Ticer started a discussion list for former participants and lecturers of the summer school. The list has not been used as much as we had expected. Experience shows that participants are sometimes just too busy to keep colleagues abroad up-to-date on developments in their own libraries. The list is sometimes used for questions, but alternatives -- like other library discussion lists, or direct e-mail to a specific colleague or fellow participant -- are used equally. However, the list does create a feeling of togetherness.

The lecturers

Finding the right expert in a certain subject field proved more difficult than convincing the experts to contribute to the summer school. Lecturers very much like to come to the summer school. We had hardly any rejections, which may have to do with the fact that the participants are interesting to the lecturers and that the summer school has developed a good reputation. The Tilburg University library and computer centre staff also find the lecturers very interesting, and sometimes meetings between the lecturers and Tilburg University staff are arranged.


The International Summer School on the Digital Library is promoted both traditionally (paper) and electronically. In November/December, press reports are submitted to (paper and electronic) library journals as well as relevant Internet discussion lists, and all the information on the summer school is put on Ticer's web site. An attractive brochure is also sent to approximately 5,000 potential participants. The Ticer address database consists of addresses of people who have visited the Tilburg University library since its opening in 1992. This extremely valuable database is, of course, continuously extended. When the full programme is available in March, it is put on the Ticer web site ( This addition to the site is announced on several discussion lists, and librarians who have indicated interest, are notified.

From evaluations, we have learnt that the summer school brochure is still a very important publicity medium, although its importance is decreasing (1997: 50%, 1997: 34%, 1999: 16%). Recommendations by former participants are becoming a very important form of publicity for the school. In 1997 and 1998, 12-13% of the participants attended the course because a colleague attended in a previous year. In 1999, the figure increased to 44%.

Evaluation of four years of summer schools

In evaluating four years of summer schools, we would like to stress the following:

Tailored courses

In addition to the summer school, Ticer started organising more dedicated courses, on location, focussing on participants from one country or region. In 1995, a course was organised in Barcelona attended by library staff from several academic institutions in Catalunya. In 1998 and 1999, dedicated one-week Spring Courses were organized for Greek librarians. These two courses in Patras and Thessaloniki in Greece were very successful. The advantages of these dedicated courses are that:

The disadvantage is that these dedicated courses miss the international approach generated in a summer course with participants from many different countries, cultures and experiences. It also proved impossible to have as many outstanding lecturers for the dedicated courses as were available at the summer school in the Netherlands.

It is important to stress the impressive progress of the participants of the Greek courses. Many attended both the first (1998) and the follow-up course (1999). We noticed very clearly that within a year's time:

Similar initiatives by other organisations in Europe

All over the world, the number of digital library courses is growing. An overview can be found at <>. There is an important initiative from the OCLC institute ( with courses on metadata, knowledge management and special courses focussing on change management. In Europe two important courses should be mentioned: the International Graduate Summer School at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth ( and the British Council seminar "The Electronic Library: Strategy, Policy, and Management Issues" (

The 1999 iGSS in Aberystwyth was a three-and-a-half-week programme structured as two courses, each containing two modules. The first course was on "management and the electronic library, and the management of change in an electronic information culture". The second course comprised modules on "collection management and the new technologies, and access to and use of electronic information resources". The school includes lectures, seminars, workshops, case studies, visits and a study tour. The faculty is primarily recruited from the department of information and library studies at Aberystwyth.

In February 2000, the British Council will run a one-week seminar in Loughborough: "The Electronic Library: Strategy, Policy and Management Issues." The main topics are similar to the topics of the Ticer Summer School, such as the management of technological and cultural change, the role of intermediaries, staffing issues, legal issues, digitalisation, storage, metadata, and user issues. There are about sixteen lectures and a limited number of workshops and training sessions.

The programme focusses, in particular, on "policy makers and managers working in all types of library and information units."

The seminar directors are professors in the department of information and library studies at Loughborough University. Other lecturers are from other UK universities and organisations, one is from the USA.

Plans for the future

The International Summer School on the Digital Library has been a great success for four years, but we should reflect on the gradual changes in the content, the level of skills and experiences of the participants, and changes in the environment. Also, the competition is growing as indicated before.

In the coming years we would like to focus on three types of activities:

1. Summer school

We are considering the idea of changing the two-week summer school at Tilburg University to two, subsequent one-week summer courses. These would focus on specific current topics relevant to the digital library. The topics would change annually and attract both earlier summer school participants and new ones. The one-week courses would also enable people who cannot afford to be away for two weeks or who cannot afford the two-week price to come.


Summer school group work

Picture 6. Summer school group work

2. Executive seminar

The organisation of an executive two-day course in the autumn of 2000 is being discussed. The need to address senior managers was one of the key issues mentioned in all course evaluations.

3. Tailor-made courses

We will continue with the organisation of dedicated, tailored courses in a specific country, institution, or subject field. The "Greek model" can also be adapted to other countries, enabling more people to attend a course who do not have the money to travel abroad. We are currently discussing this "Greek model" with colleagues in Bulgaria, South Africa, and Switzerland.

Libraries have entered a period of constant change. Only if library and information professionals are prepared and capable to add value to the primary process of their parent institution, and to the information needs of citizens in general, will there be a bright future for the library. This will only be possible if we can keep up with new developments in society, in general, and particularly in the information chain. In this respect, there will always be a significant need for extra training through seminars, courses and summer schools.

Literature on the Tilburg digital library

Documentation, information and communication at Tilburg University: plan of action, research, services / Leo Wieërs. - Tilburg : Tilburg University Library, 1990. - ISBN 90-73222-02-8

The New Library and the Development of Innovative Information Services at Tilburg University. - Tilburg : Tilburg University Press, 1989. - ISBN 90-361-9662-0

The Tilburg digital library / by Hans Geleijnse. - In: International Summer School on the Digital Library, 15-27 August 1999, p.2.1-2.10 (8 refs.)

Developing a digital library : strategy and process of a case study : Tilburg University / by Hans Geleijnse. - In: International Summer School on the Digital Library, 15-27 August, 1999

A Digital Library in the Mid-Nineties, Ahead or On Schedule? / by J. Dijkstra. - In: Information Services and Use vol.14 (1994) nr.4 p.267-277 (17 refs.)

Library innovation : experiences at Tilburg University / by H. Geleijnse and H. Roes. - In: Encyclopedia of library and information science; Vol. 58, supplement 21, p.113-134 - New York : Dekker, 1996, (

Articles and reports on the summer school by participants

Bibliothèque digitale? Etat de la question et enjeux : Synthèse de l' "International Summer School on the Digital Library" Tilburg (NL) 02-14 août 1998 / par Joëlle Angeloz, Marie-Pierre Gillieron-Graber et Yves Corpataux (

De digitale bibliotheek - het einde van de gewone bibliotheek? / door Annemarie Koomen. - In: Aspecten (februari 1999) nr.14 p.5-7 (2 refs.)

International Summer School on the Digital Library : Tilburg du 2 au 14 août 1998 / par Joëlle Angeloz, Marie-Pierre Gillieron-Graber et Yves Corpataux. - In: Hors-texte : bulletin de l'AGBD [Association genevoise des bibliothécaires diplômés] (1998) nr.56 p.14-19 (

Jälkeenpäin kaikki olivat "Ticed" - kertomus Tilburgin kesäkoulusta "Second International Summer School on the Digital Library" / by Jaana Kersalo. - In: TietäNet (1997) nr.3 (

Report from the Summer School on Digital Libraries : Tilburg August 1998 / by Catarina Ericson-Roos (

The Summer School on The Digital Library in Tilburg : Observations from a Participant / by Hachim Haddouti. - In: D-lib Magazine (November 1997) (

Ticer summer school 1998 / by Richard Thiel. - In: KUBIT vol.5 (september/oktober 1998) nr.5 (

Ticer Summerschool 1997 / by Trijnie Horlings. - In: KUBIT vol.5 (november/december 1997) nr. 1 (

Copyright 1999 Jola G.B. Prinsen and Hans Geleijnse

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DOI: 10.1045/october99-prinsen