:: Digital Libraries Columns


Library Journal "Digital Libraries" Columns 1997-2007, Roy Tennant

Please note: these columns are an archive of my Library Journal column from 1997-2007. They have not been altered in content, so please keep in mind some of this content will be out of date. :: Digital Libraries Columns

Skills for the New Millennium


In a previous column ("The Most Important Management Decision: Hiring Staff for the New Millennium," LJ 2/15/98, p. 102), I described several personal characteristics essential to digital librarians. Those who possess these traits should be able to pick up new skills, e.g., the ones identified here as needed to create and manage digital library collections and services.No one likely will have all of the following skills and experience, nor will most employers require all of them. Some skills may be taught in library schools, while others must be learned elsewhere or on the job.

Imaging technologies

Digital librarians typically capture digital surrogates of physical items (for example, books, journal articles, manuscripts, or photographs). Therefore, they must be aware of the various ways in which such surrogates can be captured-and the respective benefits and drawbacks of each technique. Digital librarians must be familiar with the typical manipulations required to edit an image and save it in different formats. This may require proficiency with software such as Adobe Photoshop.

Optical character recognition

Scanning a printed page will capture an image of the page, but it won't render the text of the page searchable or editable. This requires optical character recognition (OCR), using specialized software, such as Xerox Textbridge or Omnipage Pro. Efficient digital librarians must know how to accomplish such things as "training" the software to better recognize the scans.

Markup languages

Almost any kind of digital library work requires knowledge of markup languages, whether HTML for web pages, SGML for much more complex documents, or the emerging technique of XML for marking up anything from a document to a database record. If you think markup is only for documents, you should read Tim Bray's "Stretching the Document Concept" in Web Techniques, 12/98, p. 43-46.

Cataloging and metadata

As with physical objects, digital objects require organization and description-often more description. Metadata that identify the individual digital images of a book's pages can digitally stitch the pages into a navigable whole. Digital librarians must understand the various ways in which metadata can be captured, organized, and used. While digital librarians may not need the cataloger's in-depth knowledge, they should be aware of pertinent standards such as MARC, AACR2, TEI headers, and the Dublin Core.

Indexing and db technology

Digital librarians often build search systems, perhaps to create a database of digitized images, or to support a directory of Internet resources. To do this effectively, they must be familiar with a variety of tools, from simple and easy indexing or search systems to complex relational or object-oriented database systems.

User interface design

While a certain amount of useful design can be learned, most of it is creative in nature -- functionally creative but creative nonetheless. Some digital librarians may have this talent, but proficient ones will know their limits and seek help from an expert information architect or graphic designer when needed. A good digital librarian must write the functional specifications and work with other professionals to achieve the desired goal.


Digital librarians, by and large, do not need to be programmers, but they should know their way around a programming language or two (or three). The specific languages will depend on various factors, but a general purpose language such as Perl can serve as a digital librarian's Swiss Army knife -- something that can perform a variety of tasks quickly and easily.

Web technology

To deliver digital library collections and services today, you must use the web. Thus, a digital librarian must be well-versed in web technology, which may mean everything from HTML codes to CGI programming. Among the tools of the trade, this is the hammer. You can't frame a house without a hammer and you can't deliver a digital collection without the web.

Project management

While there's such a thing as a typical digital library project, nearly all such projects would benefit from skilled management. Clever managers can communicate effectively with a diverse range of people, often both inside and outside the organization, keep the project on time and within the budget, and envision the goal and track the project to achieve it.


Adobe Photoshop

"The Most Important Management Decision"

Omnipage Pro


Xerox Textbridge