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Digital Collections: Libraries, Archives & Repositories Pathway

Digital Collections Information Sciences Pathway

The title for this pathway may appear ambiguous. That is, what distinguishes digital libraries from digital archives or digital repositories? Well, it depends on whom you ask. Arms (2001) defines a digital library as, “a managed collection of information, with associated services, where the information is stored in digital formats and accessible over a network (p. 5).”  As Arms noted in 2001, “there is little consensus about repositories for digital libraries and the field of digital archiving is new” (p. 245). The field of digital archiving emerged in the 1990s, alongside digital libraries, drawing from concepts, principles and practices in the information, library, archival and computer sciences (Galloway, 2009). Considering various definitions of digital libraries, archives and repositories, as well as the unique needs, missions, and objectives of institutions hosting them, such an exercise in distinguishing between these is both elusive and, for the purposes of this pathway, unwarranted.

With the initial emergence of digital libraries, the focus was on providing access services for current use. Since these collections represent a substantial organizational investment to develop, implement and deploy, it follows that institutions be concerned with access and use not just in today’s information environment, but also continued access and use into the indefinite, sustainable future.   Digital collections, whether dubbed libraries, archives or repositories, demand a range of functions to enable various services across a variety of content types, both in regard to context (subject) and containers (formats). This content may be born digital or reborn digital through digitization. Creating, deploying and maintaining digital collections, for access today and into the future, requires skills and knowledge in the areas of digitization and ingest, organization, access and retrieval, dissemination, storage, preservation, and life-cycle management.

Related Terms: Digital Libraries; Digital Archives; Digital Repositories; Institutional Repositories; Data Repositories; Digital Asset Management; Digital Archive Informatics; Digital Stewardship; Digital Preservation

See Also (Pathways):Data Curation/Management

Professional Work in Digital Collections: Position Titles and Descriptions

These are but a few examples of the many roles those working in digital collections may hold, whether for a digital library, digital archive or repository. For more position titles and job requirements, consult job posting services, including the ALA JobList and I Need a Library Job.

  • Digital Services Librarians are involved with an organization’s digital collections and projects. They may identify materials for digitization; design and implement metadata for digital collections; investigate, evaluate, recommend and document best practices; develop and implement policies; and design and implement workflows and procedures for digital collections management. Further, they may be responsible for investigating, testing and implementing methods, standards, and software applications. They may also be required to provide training and advocate and engage community members on the digital library’s services.
  • Digital Repository Managers are involved in the creation and management of digital access and preservation programs for an organization’s digital collections.  Digital repository managers typically: define requirements and specifications, including supported file formats and metadata standards, for digital materials the library creates or acquires; establish and maintain policies, workflows, and procedures that support long-term preservation, access, use and re-use; and coordinate repository workflows including ingest, archival storage, data management, administration and access.  The digital repository manager may also coordinate workflows with external services that support their digital preservation program, and act as a technical liaison on preservation issues to vendors providing digital preservation services. They may also be required to provide training and supervision to repository staff.  Additionally, repository managers may serve in liaison roles, advocating and training community members on digital repository deposit and access services.
  • Digital Collections Archivists typically build and maintain accessible collections comprised of born and re-born digital archival materials. They may be in charge of selecting, configuring, installing and/or managing the repository’s technical infrastructure. Other duties may be the design and implementation of digitization, preservation and metadata services, requiring an understanding of principles, good practices and standards. They may be in charge of training and supervising digital archives staff. They may also be required to advocate and engage community members on the digital archive’s services, such as through promotion through various social media and other channels. Typically a digital collections archivist works in close collaboration with the institution’s archivist, records manager, electronic records manager and/or other related positions.
  • Metadata Librarians primarily are concerned with adding value to existing digital objects by the way of descriptive, structural, administrative, technical, preservation and rights metadata.  They also support initiatives related to digitization, special collections access, and other metadata-dependent efforts to describe, manage, expose, and share collections with users. Metadata librarians need to work closely and communicate effectively with others in the organization to ensure the uniform application of standards for resource description.
  • Programmers/Analysts develop and maintain the technical infrastructure of an information organization’s digital collection services. While qualifications vary by position and organization, typical requirements include programming experience and proficiency with select programming and mark-up languages and open source or proprietary repository applications.

Preparing to Enter the Profession of Academic Librarianship:

Professional Development:

Suggested Associations:

Suggested Conferences:

    • Joint Conference on Digital Libraries
    • International Digital Curation Conference
    • iPres: International Conference on Digital Preservation
    • Library & Information Technology Association (LITA) Forum
    • Open Repositories

Suggested Serials:

    • Ariadne
    • International Journal of Digital Curation
    • International Journal of Digital Libraries
    • The American Archivist
    • Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology
    • World Digital Libraries
    • Library Hi Tech

Other Suggested Resources:

Recommended Courses (in SIS):

In addition to completing the courses required for the MSIS degree, students with an interest in digital collections might consider enrolling in some of these courses (please note that this listing is not a substitute for consulting with the MSIS Program Advisor). 


    • 524 Metadata
    • 562 Digital Curation
    • 565 Digital Libraries


    • 559 Grant Development for Information Professionals
    • 560 Development and Management of Collections
    • 564 Archives and Records Management
    • 584 Database Management Systems
    • 597 Information Architecture
    • 598 Web Design
    • 599 Practicum

Real-World Experience:

Digital libraries, repositories and archives are hosted in a variety of settings including academic and special libraries, archives, museums, data centers, federal agencies and news organizations. See the SIS Practicum Webpage for more information on practicum opportunities. Examples of recent practicum opportunities in digital collections include:

    • Chick History, Nashville TN
    • East Tennessee PBS, Knoxville TN
    • Information International Associates, Oak Ridge TN
    • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library & Archives, Cleveland OH
    • University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Special Collections, Chattanooga, TN

Positions of SIS alumni working in the area:

    • Head of digital services at a large public research university in the Southeast.
    • Associate director of digital library services at a large public research university in the Great Lakes region.
    • Digital repository administer and digital library production manager at a large public research university in the Southeast region.
    • Metadata specialist at a science and technology firm in the Plains region.
    • Digital projects assistant at an academic science and engineering special library in the Southeast.

References: Arms, W.Y. (2000). Digital libraries. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press;  Galloway, P. (2009). Digital archiving. In Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences, 3rd edition (pp. 1518-27).