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Conference Report


D-Lib Magazine
September/October 2007

Volume 13 Number 9/10

ISSN 1082-9873

The 3rd Annual Digital Libraries Workshop at the JCDL 2007 Conference


Javed Mostafa
University of North Carolina

Red Line


The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Virginia Tech University received an NSF grant to investigate the area of digital libraries education. These two universities and the two IMLS funded schools, namely the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and Indiana University at Bloomington collaborated to organize this year's workshop. The principal organizers of the event were: Dr. Linda Smith, Dr. Jerome McDonough, and Dr. Stephen Downie (from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign); Dr. Barbara Wildemuth and Dr. Jeffrey Pomerantz (from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill); Dr. Edward Fox (from Virginia Tech University); and Stacy Kowalczick and Dr. Javed Mostafa (from the Indiana University at Bloomington).

As the title of the workshop indicates, it was the third in a series of workshops held in conjunction with the JCDL conference and with primary support from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) [1]. Understanding the key challenges for improving DL education and identifying and developing strategies to tackle the challenges were the main goals of the 2007 workshop. The workshop events were divided into five segments, with each segment focusing on a critical topic. The day ended with a summary from one of the organizers.

The title of the inaugural segment was: A Core for DL Education. It included presentations by Dr. Nicholas Belkin (Rutgers University), Dr. Jerome McDonough, and Dr. Edward Fox respectively. Dr. Belkin launched the event on a provocative note by stating that we need to carefully examine the concept core and inquire if a core is actually needed. He offered several different definitions of the term "core" in terms of comprehensive proficiency, knowledge of some aspects of the domain, and general practices. Then he explored what the DL profession typically aims to achieve. Next, he presented a description of potential knowledge a DL core might have to encompass, and he asked if the DL knowledge dimensions are feasible on the grounds of professional proficiency, some knowledge of the field, and in terms of general practices. Finally, he compared his suggested DL core with the core of the general librarianship field and concluded his talk by stating that perhaps a 'No core for DL' is a good course to pursue.

Dr. Jerome McDonough started his presentation by stating that we need a good understanding of the term "core" and should justify why we need a DL core at all. According to him, a good core should prepare students for leadership, provide a tool-kit for social and technical theory, offer a synthetic view of DL activities, and train students to be researchers. Then, he discussed what a core should teach and what professional positions it should target. He pointed out that skills associated with programming, metadata creation, DL management, user interface design, preservation, taxonomy development, and collections management are in critical demand, and most DL positions are currently in research libraries and museums (about 80%). He followed up by providing an overview of DL core creation and its evolution in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science in UIUC. He ended his talk by stating that a growing number of DL positions are outside the common library settings, for example in data curation, corporate information services, and in various informatics initiatives, and that there is increasing need for digital library skills in all library positions.

Dr. Edward Fox initiated his presentation with a discussion of various dimensions of the core. He focused on societal needs, DL community needs, disciplines that directly contribute to the core, and theoretical frameworks that may provide a structure for the core. He talked about a new NSF proposal, of which he is a PI, that aims to clarify the emerging 'knowledge society' and attempts to improve education of current generation of students by adding new courses (for example, on knowledge management) and updating current courses by paying special attention to core concepts and knowledge needed to thrive in the knowledge society (for example, analysis/mining, modeling/simulation and search/discovery). Dr. Fox shared a list of topics that are considered critical to a curriculum appropriate for a knowledge society and showed that many topics are actually closely related to core topics in Library and Information Science and Computer Science. Following the same theme of identifying new courses, he discussed the joint project between the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and the Virginia Tech University on DL Module Development. This initiative engages an expert group, employs key theoretical frameworks (for example the 5S DL model), and conducts analysis of current DL course offerings, publications, and presentations. A key goal is to identify a core set of modules.

The second segment of the workshop concentrated on the topic of 'IT Applications in DL Teaching' . There were three presentations in this segment, by Dr. Jeffrey Pomerantz, Dr. Stephen Downie, and Dr. David Nichols (University of Waikato, NZ), respectively. Dr. Pomerantz is an active participant in the joint DL curriculum development project with Virginia Tech University. He discussed the key topical areas where IT applications are required. Dr. Stephan Downie concentrated mainly on Greenstone Digital Libraries (GSDL) software and provided ten observations on the software based on feedback he has received from students. He said that notable positive features of the GSDL software include the following: the means to quickly prototype interfaces, the function to create standards-based metadata, a workflow support tool oriented toward librarians, a large install base, support for different standard OS platforms and media types, and the GSDL software tie-in with a textbook ('How to build a digital library') . He also pointed out that the lack of a roll-back feature (to reverse bad designs or mistakes), the interplay between various subcomponents, and the difficulty to comprehend the difference between tasks that produce immediate feedback (for example, interface redesigns) and those that may require longer engagement (for example, re-indexing) are some of the limitations of the GSDL software. Dr. Nichols, representing the GSDL development team, picked up where Dr. Downie concluded, by following up on recent developments of the software. He started by discussing the main findings in a paper on the educational impact of the GSDL software he was planning to present at the conference. A key advantage of the GSDL software was found to be the explicit workflow support. However, similar to Dr. Downie's conclusions, lack of a redo/undo feature, complexity of the components, and difficulty to distinguish between instant change and long-term change features were found to be some of the negative aspects of the software. Dr. Nichols showed a few examples of the latest version of the GSDL software and explained how the features attempt to address some of the limitations.

The third segment of the workshop focused on 'Balance between Theoretical and Practical Topics in the Curriculum'. Dr. Christine Borgman (UCLA) led this set of presentations. She started the talk by providing two definitions of digital libraries: one definition established DLs as an extension of information retrieval systems and the other definition emphasized the role of the communities that create and use DLs. She then presented several treatments of DL topics in key courses taught at UCLA and concluded her talk by stating that the balance between theory and practice depends on what definition of DL is adopted, the degree program (doctoral, masters, or undergraduate), the distribution of courses in the curriculum, and the goal of the program in terms of theoretical, practical, and policy development. Dr. Gary Marchionini (UNC) explored the relationship between theory and practice from various perspectives. He showed that it is not a simple dichotomy, rather the relationship is quite complex. He went on to present an overview of critical knowledge domains that provide a foundation for both theory and practice in DL. He concluded by proposing a relationship between theory and practice, as these may be treated in DL courses or other learning contexts. Mr. William Mischo, representing science and engineering librarianship, was the last speaker and he concentrated on professional issues that may impact the balance between theoretical and practical DL topics. He noted that budgets from home institutions are in perpetual flux and therefore professionals need to be vigilant to ensure that funding for various projects are available from other sources (soft money or endowments). The landscape of DL practice is being radically influenced by voluminous growth in sources of information from vendors, software companies, and local projects. It is, for example, harder than ever to answer the simple question: Do you have this journal? Integrating locally generated content with public content and commercially acquired content is a major challenge. DL education, he noted, must address the checkered relationship that exists between LIS education and practice. Some of the difficulties arise due to knowledge demands in diverse areas, varied background of students, and an ambiguous relationship between systems librarianship and digital librarianship. According to Mr. Mischo, some of the emerging areas to which we should be sensitive are institutional repositories, OpenURL-based systems, mass digitization of content, and the role of grant agencies.

The fourth workshop segment concentrated on the topic of 'Sustainability of DL Education Programs'. Dr. Linda Smith led this session. She framed her talk in terms of the ALA Accreditation Process. One of the main requirements of the accreditation is that there must be an ongoing planning process that directly involves the constituency the program seeks to serve. She described five areas that sustainability initiatives must focus on, namely: physical resources and facilities, administration and financial support, students, faculty, and the curriculum. She concluded by elaborating on how expansion of teaching through online modalities and forming partnerships with peer schools, practitioners, and professionals organizations may contribute to sustainability. Dr. Bob Allen from Drexel University opened his presentation with an example of a successful project to illustrate an outcome of an effective DL program. He then pointed out that in order to have sustainable DL programs we must take into account the fast changing world of librarianship and the information professions. He noted that the DL field has strong ties to broader fields such as Computer Science, Educational Technology, and Information Science that must be acknowledged. He also asserted that topics such as multimedia, natural language processing, and community informatics have strong links to DL, and DL courses are likely to succeed if they are offered as part of a broader set of foundational courses. He stated that in the long term we probably should not be too concerned with sustainability as the 'world is actually moving to us' in terms of availability of new resources. This segment ended with a presentation by Ms. Parmeet Chilana, a recent graduate of the UIUC and holder of a DL fellowship there, who described her UIUC educational experience and discussed how she is applying the knowledge in her new position at the Princeton University libraries.

The final segment of the workshop dealt with the critical topic of 'Evaluation of DL programs'. Dr. Megan Winget of the University of Texas at Austin presented a survey of professional positions in the field as a way to analyze if the current content of DL programs matches the practical demands. Ms. Stacy Kowalczyk of Indiana University, Bloomington, discussed a new way to conduct evaluation that she referred to as 'Goal-centered Evaluation', which aims to establish the strategic objectives of the program a priori and then conducts the evaluation to establish if the long-term goals match tactical plans. She emphasized that such an evaluation must be both broad and deep, encompassing the broad degree program and perhaps employing longitudinal methodologies. Among the strategic objectives that the IU DL program attempted to achieve, a few were imparting skills for professional needs, for life-long learning, and for research and expanding the domain. She described how ongoing evaluation at IU is attempting to establish if the goals are being attained. Dr. Barbara Wildemuth described a two-stage evaluation methodology that they are employing for developing and analyzing the DL instructional modules at UNC. In the first stage, named 'Evaluation by inspection' the modules are analyzed in terms of six criteria: objectives, body of knowledge, readings, learning activities, logistics, and overall structure. An advisory board and additional experts typically are engaged to conduct the inspection. In the second stage, the modules are evaluated in the field in terms of teacher and student perceptions and student outcomes. She noted that evaluation is closely tied to the development process and generally requires several iterations of developmental and evaluative steps before modules are ready to be used.

The workshop ended with a brief survey of the participants on the most pressing needs of the DL education community and how those needs may potentially be addressed. A DL Education discussion group will be created for publishing the results of the survey and providing a forum for ongoing exchange of ideas.


[1] Summaries of the last two workshops were published in previous issues of D-Lib Magazine. See <> and <>.

(On September 19, a typographical error of one of the speakers names was corrected.)

Copyright © 2007 Javed Mostafa

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