October 24-26, 2007
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Paper: Towards Hybridism in Curricula-based Cultural Heritage Information Management Education

Mary Edsall Choquette, The Catholic University of America, USA


As the lines of distinction among systems of information management in cultural heritage institutions meld and integrate, so must the professional preparation of archivists, curators, librarians and other keepers of cultural phenomenological documentation and information. This white paper investigates the change in the vision and mission, as well as the physical and administrative infrastructure of cultural heritage institutions and how this change is mandating a new understanding of what is needed in emerging cultural heritage information management professionals. A look at how one academic program in library and information science at a university is addressing this need through research into and the subsequent creation of a program emphasis on Cultural Heritage Information Management Education (CHIME) is presented in this paper.

Keywords: education, curricula, practice, museum education, archival science, information science


The individual fields of education in archival science, library and information science, and museum education have long offered segregated approaches within generalist curricula which purport to prepare students to be active professionals in a variety of cultural heritage information management environments. As a result, new professionals have been traditionally placed (or misplaced) in positions in museums, libraries, and archives based on the identity of their educational programs, not on the content of those programs and the resultant capabilities of the graduated professional. In addition, the traditional identities of these cultural heritage institutions no longer match their institutional function and form. These two situations, separate or combined, can contribute to institutional dysfunction. Increasingly, museums and archives are being administratively and physically housed within public, academic and special libraries. A converse phenomenon is also occurring as more and more libraries are being created, located (physically and administratively), and utilized in museums. As a result, the management of the contents and work of libraries, museums, and archives is integrating on many levels.

Places, spaces, and locations, physical and virtual, have evolved, creating a demand for a more cross-disciplinary approach to curricula development among these fields as they continue to organically morph and change. As the lines of distinction among systems of information management in cultural heritage institutions meld and integrate, so must the professional preparation of archivists, curators, librarians and other keepers of cultural phenomenological documentation and information. This white paper investigates the change in the vision and mission, as well as the physical and administrative infrastructure of cultural heritage institutions and how this change is mandating a new understanding of what is needed in emerging cultural heritage information management professionals. Through personal professional experience the aim in this investigation is to review how cultural heritage information management is ideologically and pedagogically defined and how it could be redefined.
A look at how one academic program in library and information science at a university is addressing this need through research into and the subsequent creation of a program emphasis on Cultural Heritage Information Management Education (henceforth referred to as “CHIME” as named by this particular university program) is presented in this paper. A solution to the existing problems of academic and professional education and training is provided through the example of this emerging curriculum. The CHIME curriculum as initially diagramed as a program emphasis and the relationship of the program to this particular school’s core curriculum as well as to this university’s mission is demonstrated. How this program dovetails with regional opportunities for experience in cultural heritage information management is detailed. Because this program is currently under construction, the intention is that this presentation be given in the form of a white paper within a forum session, so as to invite active feedback that can be incorporated into the research and development of the curriculum.

Background And Rationale For Research

More than a decade ago I came to the library and archives profession armed with a dozen years of dancing, a master’s degree in dance from Columbia University, and a sadness and anger about the loss the field of dance was experiencing due to the AIDS crisis. Colleagues and friends whom I had studied with, performed with, and grown to know and love were dying, and there was no concerted effort underway to preserve their legacy or cultural contribution. I had focused my master’s thesis on the collection development of dance libraries and the identification of core resources. Dismayed at the lack not only of information and research in the area, but also of actual repositories and staff trained and dedicated in dance collection work, I decided to couple my education in dance with graduate education in library science and become one of only a few dance librarians and archivists in the field.

I entered into the library program at the University of Maryland, and specialized in what was then called archives and manuscripts. Given my interest in dance and a lack of any formal coursework related to that, my wonderful advisor Dr. Frank Burke allowed me to focus papers, projects, field studies, and independent studies in the area of dance and performance and archives. I conducted research into the state of the art of dance documentation and preservation, and the effects of the AIDS epidemic on dance heritage in North America. Through the kind understanding of adjunct faculty member Jack Robertson, who taught the only art resources course in the curriculum, I also began what was to eventually become my doctoral dissertation, research in cultural memory, specifically dance biography, through documentation of the life and work of modern improvisation theorist and one of the founders of the Judson Dance Theater, Robert Ellis Dunn.

Fortuitously, at the same time a movement among the library and archives repositories in the United States that held primary resource materials in dance had begun. These seven institutions at that time included the Library of Congress (LC), Harvard Theatre Collection, the Dance Collection at the New York Public Library, the theatre collection at Ohio State University, San Francisco Performing Arts Library and Museum, the American Dance Festival and Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. They collectively founded the Dance Heritage Coalition (DHC) to develop a documentation strategy for the field. The DHC quickly raised money from the Mellon Foundation for initial studies and papers, and after a couple of years received a large grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to locate, preserve, and provide access to the dance materials in theses institutions. I happened to be in Washington, DC as a matriculated MLS at the University of Maryland, and was hired as dance archivist in the Music Division at the Library of Congress, an institution that houses traditional library collections, archives, and special collections and functions partly as a museum in its public programming.

As thrilled as I was to have landed the position, I found it interesting that among the three people hired to work on this project at the Library of Congress, we did not have a preparatory graduate degree in common. At the time of hiring, I held an undergraduate and a master’s degree in dance and was working towards the MLS degree; my counterpart in the American Folklife Center held a degree in ethnographic studies; and my counterpart in the Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division of the LC held master’s degrees in film and library science. Not only did we not hold the same degrees, but our sense of professional identity varied as well. I considered myself (on the way to becoming) a dance curator while my two colleagues considered themselves to be an ethnographer and a film archivist, respectively. Because of a lack of understanding of the education and training required to conduct this type of work, though unified by the project’s mission, we were segregated professionally. To this day, the Music Division of the Library of Congress continues to hire professionals with advanced degrees in the performing arts who do not hold master’s degrees in library, archival, or information science. Indeed, this past year a woman with a Ph.D. but no library, archival, or information science graduate education was hired as the new curator for dance.

After close to three years at the Library of Congress, I accepted the position of assistant curator and dance specialist in the Harvard Theatre Collection at Harvard University. At the start of my tenure, a new reference librarian and a curator were hired as well. All three job descriptions asked for advanced degrees in one of the performing arts and a master’s degree in library science from an ALA accredited institution. The reference librarian who was hired held an MLS, no subject degree, and little experience working in a performing arts collection. I was hired as assistant curator with an MLS, an undergraduate and graduate degree in dance, and previous experience working in a performing arts collection. The curator was hired with a master’s degree in museum studies, no advance subject degree, but relevant experience in a performing arts collection in the Pierpont Morgan Library. The reference librarian and I had worked in university libraries before; the curator had not, yet was hired to head a collection which was a library, an archive, as well as a museum collection in its contents, and was administratively and physically located within a large, hierarchical, university library. We had little common experience to share in building this collection and connecting it to the larger library, institutional, and professional missions.

While at Harvard, I was assigned to serve on the steering committee for the first strategic plan for the Houghton Library of which the Theatre Collection was a department. The Houghton Library is part of the Harvard College Library (HCL), which is part of the larger entity, the Harvard University Library (HUL). The College Library had recently hired as its new head, a professionally educated librarian with experience in running large academic library systems; the Houghton Library had hired a Ph.D. to serve as its new leader. This strategic planning process represented the first in the history of the Houghton Library and offered the unique experience of in-depth self-examination for members of the steering committee. It became clear to me that the lack of standards and consistency in hiring professionals in the Houghton Library was in part responsible for the cultural disconnection and administrative dysfunction within and among its departments, as well as the greater disconnect from the university and the profession. The Houghton Library was isolated and insularly detached from the realities of being a modern ARL-member library, located in an educational institution.

Leaving Harvard frustrated and confused as to what the purpose of higher education in library science actually was in the world of large institutions, I took a one-year position as consulting archivist (a title invented at the time of my hiring) at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. The Festival’s archives represent some of the most important in the memory of modern dance in existence, but had not been preserved or catalogued at that time. In this situation, a director of preservation had been hired from the current staff. The director held a master’s degree in arts administration and had worked for the Pillow for many years in marketing, education, and other administrative capacities. It seemed he at least was aware of the existence of the archives and had a devotion to the institution, but no experience actually managing collections or producing public programs, the job he was hired to do. Much can be said for learning on the job. That said, the archives’ public programs at the Pillow have developed into a thriving component of the Festival, but, in my opinion, based on the education and training I brought to the work, the administration is irresponsible in its attention to the preservation and access of the collection.

So what did these six years of work in dance archives mean to me? Despite the valiant efforts of the Dance Heritage Coalition to preserve the legacy of dance in America as represented in libraries and archives, something was missing. I had worked in some of the most visible and invisible collections of major significance to the memory of dance in the United States, and had witnessed some of the best and worst practices in the attempts to preserve this cultural heritage. Dismayed at the lack of consistency and any sense of agreement and true collegiality among the workers in the field I was devoted to, I set out to make change and create an identity for the work we did.

In 1999 I accepted a fellowship to do a doctoral degree in dance at Temple University, located in Philadelphia, one of the areas where I had danced previously. I focused my research on cultural memory and biography in dance and completed a dissertation looking at these processes through the life and work of Robert Ellis Dunn. While conducting oral history interviews about my subject, I was also conducting meta-observatory work in how and why to research memory in dance. I currently continue to work towards the completion of this biography.

In addition to my academic studies, I was also attempting to create an identity for the professionals in the field of cultural heritage information management. Knowing what a rich and vital dance and performing arts scene continued to exist in Philadelphia, and realizing that its legacy had been overlooked in the recent efforts by the Dance Heritage Coalition, I thought the city and the dance culture needed a dedicated archive. Having worked at almost half of the institutions represented by the Dance Heritage Coalition, I had made note of what I, as a subject specialist and trained information management professional, thought could be done better in developing a documentation strategy. Consequently I took it upon myself while working on the Ph.D. degree to found the Philadelphia Dance Collection. With initial support from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, continued support from the Pew Charitable Trusts and the National Endowment for the Arts, and the ongoing trust of the dance communities in Philadelphia, my efforts were successful - I developed a living archive and a documentation strategy to preserve the Philadelphia dance legacy, located it within the Temple University Libraries, and worked as its founding curator for several years.

Part of the Collection’s mandate was to educate the performing communities as to the need for such a strategy and its connection to the larger need for cultural heritage information management. On behalf of the Philadelphia Dance Collection, I conducted and facilitated workshops in dance documentation and preservation and directed grant-funded projects not only to collect and preserve the Philadelphia dance legacy, but also to teach the inherent significance of this legacy to the community and the public at large. Part of that, to me, meant promoting cultural heritage education and training. While working as the Collection’s curator, I continued to define and redefine what my position was and to identify what is needed educationally to function in that capacity. I became interested in teaching archives management and was hired as an adjunct by Long Island University’s Palmer School of Library and Information Science to teach archives management. During this two-year experience I found a new love of teaching and a greater interest in investigating what education might better prepare professionals to work as cultural heritage information managers in a variety of settings.

In 2005, I was offered a full-time, tenure track position teaching in the School of Library and Information Science at The Catholic University of America, the position I hold today. The courses I currently teach are Archives Management, Archives Fieldwork, Oral History, Storytelling, and Art and Museum Libraries, and I taught the core course, Information Sources and Services. Understanding the School’s current approach to generalist education in library and information science, I was also hired to examine our current “tracks” in archives and music librarianship. I accepted this as an opportunity to develop new curricula that would foster this generalist approach to library and information science education, yet focus on educating new professionals in the theory and practice of cultural heritage information management. In reviewing what current courses were offered by the School, I saw a connection between these two “tracks” and the emerging area of cultural heritage information management.


Technology has done much not only to provide access to cultural heritage information but also to bridge the gap between the identities of information professionals working in libraries, archives, and museums. Increasingly, information professionals are being expected to collaborate among themselves and their institutions in the interest of fund-raising and resource-sharing, especially in efforts utilizing new technologies. To facilitate these expectations, is there enough common ground to be identified that necessitates common dialogue? Is it possible to develop a hybrid approach to educating information professionals that prepares them foundationally to function in a myriad of cultural heritage environments? Are there common issues, theories, and practices among librarians, archivists, museum curators, and other cultural heritage professionals, to warrant a fundamental approach to cultural heritage information management education?

To begin an investigation into the probability of common dialogue, the development of a definition of the cultural heritage information professional and the core competencies those individuals educated through such a curriculum will acquire must be outlined. If, as David Bearman describes, “cultural heritage, as distinguished from natural heritage, consists of objects created by, or given meaning by human activity” (Bearman 2002), then cultural heritage information professionals are individuals who are skilled at collecting, organizing, and providing access to that information created from the intersection of humans and objects. Cultural heritage information professionals are skilled in the art and science of locating, organizing, and providing this information in a variety of institutional settings including but not limited to: libraries, archives, special collections, and museums, whose mission it is to convey the present and historical cultural activity of humankind.

A preliminary look at the core competencies outlined by the professional associations representing a selection of cultural heritage information areas, with which libraries, archives, special collections, and museum are affiliated, reveals certain commonalities. Indeed, the construction of a new curriculum should be dependent upon the core values of the profession for which the curriculum produces educated competent professionals. The following documents were examined: Guidelines for a Graduate Program in Archival Studies (Society of American Archivists, 2002); Special Collection Education (RBMS, 2004); the ARLIS/NA Core Competencies for Art Information Professionals (ARLIS/NA, 2003); and Core Competencies and Music Librarians (MLA, 2002.) Within all of these documents certain core competencies, focusing on the education of individuals, can be found. Of these competencies, several are presented as preliminary guidelines for the development of cultural heritage information management education outcomes of a curriculum based in an American Library Association (ALA) accredited master’s degree program in library and information science.

Individuals will:

  • Develop a foundation of knowledge in theory, methodology, and best practices.
  • Acquire and apply knowledge from other disciplines.
  • Develop critical thinking skills.
  • Develop effective communication skills.
  • Understand primary research through creation and interpretation.
  • Develop a sense of professional, social, and ethical responsibilities.
  • Learn to publicize, promote, and advocate for the profession.
  • Understand the intersection and relationship of technology and the profession.
  • Develop efficient and equitable management skills.
  • Understand and promote professional development.

The CHIME Curriculum Design

The CHIME curriculum at The Catholic University of America’s School of Library and Information Science (SLIS) is emerging from this definition of the cultural heritage information professional and these core competencies required in assuming the role of that professional. The design includes a diagram of the required program components representing the relationship of the curriculum to the school, the university, and the profession, as well as a written description of the coursework completion required of students selecting this curricular track. Following is an explanation of the curricular structure. I present this evolving curriculum design for discussion, comment, and feedback to incorporate into its continued development.

Figure 1
Figure 1 : CHIME Curriculum Diagram

CHIME Specializations

  • Archives/Records/Special Collections Management
  • Art and Museum Information Management
  • Performing Arts Librarianship

Core Courses (Current core curriculum is under construction) (3 credit courses)

  • 551 Organization of Information
  • 553 Information Sources and Services
  • 555 Information Systems in Libraries and Information Centers
  • 557 Libraries and Information in Society

CHIME Core Courses–New Courses (1-3 credit courses)

  • Cultural Heritage Information Management Institute (1 credit)
  • Cultural Memory Documentation and Preservation (formerly Oral History) (3 credits)
  • Cultural Heritage Seminar–Research Methods (3 credits)

Electives–Current and Possible New Courses (all 3 credit courses)

  • Archives Management
  • Archives Fieldwork and Research
  • Special Collections
  • Electronic Records
  • Preservation and Conservation
  • History of the Book
  • Rare Books
  • Visual Arts Resources (formerly Art and Museum Libraries)
  • Performing Arts Resources (formerly Music Bibliography and Music Librarianship)
  • Humanities Resources
  • Collection Development
  • Storytelling
  • Digital Curation - new course
  • Web Design
  • Exhibitions and Public Programs - new course

CHIME Practicum

  • All students complete a 3 credit practical experience in a local cultural heritage institution. Depending upon the student’s selected specialization, the institution would be an archive or special collection, an art museum or art information repository, a performing arts institution or information repository, or other cultural heritage institution.

Culminating Experience–in lieu of the Current Comprehensive Examination

  • Professional Identity Profile and Portfolio Seminar (PIPPS) (2 credits)
    Seminar within which students conduct phenomenological self-study on professional identity; develop a curriculum vitae and cover letter; and assemble a portfolio of projects and research completed and accumulated throughout the CHIME program.

CHIME Specializations

It is recognized that while there are commonalities in the identity and work of professionals who manage cultural heritage information, there are institutions that align and identify themselves more specifically. In a recent article, Francesca Marini stresses that while cultural heritage information professionals quite naturally understand the collaborative nature of their positions, this doesn’t necessarily mean the profession should adhere to complete uniformity of identity (Marini, 2006.) For example, the National Archives and Records Administration, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, the Juilliard School library, the Art and Architecture Library at Columbia University, and the Archives of American Art, to name only a selected few entities, may want to hire professionals that have a solid foundation in the core competencies of cultural heritage information management, but may also want their professionals to have more specialized knowledge in the visual or performing arts, or in the more specialized area of archives and records management. Thus, three specializations within CHIME are offered. These specializations, (1) Archives/Records/Special Collections Management, (2) Art and Museum Information Management, and (3) Performing Arts Librarianship, build on existing emphases in the current SLIS program, and reflect the evolving nomenclature of professional positions. Each specialization further delineates what coursework individuals should complete to prepare for careers in those specific types of entities.

Core Courses

There are four core courses currently in the SLIS program, which are taught by fulltime and adjunct faculty. The core courses represent the competency structure of the Master of Science in Library Science, the degree currently offered by SLIS. All students in the SLIS program are required to complete the core courses. SLIS is transitioning under a new dean and is beginning a strategic planning process and subsequent curriculum revision, which may or may not affect the current core requirements. The core requirements were developed under the 1992 standards mandate by the American Library Association (ALA, 1992), which are also being revised.

CHIME Core Courses

The CHIME core courses are the major developmental part of this proposed curriculum and will be newly designed. They are titled and intended to reflect the core competencies for cultural heritage information management as previously described, but also reflect an inherent relationship to the SLIS core requirements. The CHIME core courses would be required of all students focusing on cultural heritage information management and could be elected by other SLIS students. The CHIME core course would be taught specifically by the CHIME coordinator possibly working closely with one or two adjunct instructors.


The elective course listing is built upon courses currently offered by SLIS to students in the master’s degree program that are occasionally elected by students across the university and taken by students from other local universities by cooperative arrangement. A couple of the courses planned are new, reflecting the changing nature of the creation and provision of information, and a couple of the courses listed are planned revisions of existing courses, reflecting the evolving nature of the CHIME design. The electives would be taught by the fulltime faculty and adjunct faculty. Indeed, it is in the area of elective study that SLIS is at an advantage given the school’s geographic location. There is a wealth of very qualified practitioners with advanced degrees and teaching experience working at the many libraries, archives, special collections, museums, and other cultural heritage institutions in the Washington, DC area who currently teach in the program. Identified as a current program constituency, the adjunct faculty is one of the strongest attributes of the SLIS program. Adjuncts would work closely with the CHIME coordinator to ensure an organic relationship between the courses and the curriculum.

CHIME Practicum Requirement

Currently practica are not required by the SLIS program but, as in the local pool of adjuncts mentioned above, practica are another strong point of the program, given the variety of experiences available to students in the Washington, DC area. In developing the core competencies, the need for practical experience was taken into account. The CHIME track would require a practicum, which although supervised by a staff practicum coordinator, would be designed and evaluated in conjunction with the CHIME coordinator.

Culminating Experience

The SLIS requirement of a comprehensive examination that is currently imposed is a manifestation of an older requirement of the university that is no longer in effect. Consequently, the SLIS faculty is re-thinking this as a culminating experience for students at the master’s level. Alternatives suggested include a thesis, a project, or a portfolio. In reflecting on my own experience in graduate level education, my approach to teaching as a somatic process, the expectations of faculty interaction with culminating experience, and the potential student outcomes associated with each, I view the most beneficial experience for both students and faculty to be in the form of a Professional Identity Profile and Portfolio seminar. This would be required of all students in the SLIS program. Students would be assigned to work with a particular faculty from the onset of their program, designing their course of study accordingly, ultimately forming a professional identity upon which they would build a culminating phenomenological study of themselves as emerging professionals in the seminar setting. Along with this self-portrait, students would build a portfolio of works and projects created during in MLS coursework, reflecting this identity, including the development of curriculum vitae. This would be a contemplative process, collectively assessed by the assigned mentor and seminar instructor, which would prepare students to identify and promote themselves as employable professionals and emerging scholars. The seminar could be taught by any of the fulltime faculty.


The development of the CHIME track was assigned to me by the former SLIS dean and has been under construction for two years, as the former dean announced her retirement. The SLIS faculty are aware of its development and look forward to integrating it into the curriculum revision process. The design is by no means perfect, nor does it represent a definitive answer to the evolving nature of cultural heritage information management. This is a discussion document that will surely morph and evolve just as the nature the profession surely will as well. I, for one, welcome this change.


American Library Association (1992). Standards for accreditation of master's programs in library and information studies 1992. Consulted July20, 2007. http://www.ala.org/ala/accreditation/accredstandards/standardsnumpara.html

Art Libraries Society of North America. (2005). ARLIS/NA Core competencies for art information professionals (ARLIS/NA, June 2005.) Consulted July 20, 2007. http://www.arlisna.org/resources/onlinepubs/corecomps.pdf

Bearman, D. (2002). Issues in structuring knowledge and services for universal access to online science and culture. Nobel Symposium (NS 120): In Virtual Museums and Public Understanding of Science and Culture, May 26-29, 2002, Stockholm, Sweden. Consulted July 20, 2007. http://www.nobel.se/nobel/nobel-foundation/publications/symposia/ns120-lectures/bearman.pdf

Library School Liaison Subcommittee of the Music Library Association. (2002). Core competencies and music librarians.Consulted July 20, 2007. http://www.musiclibraryassoc.org/pdf/Core_Competencies.pdf

Marini, F. (2007). Performing arts information professionals today. In Performance! The Newsletter of the Society of American Archivists’ Performing Arts Roundtable, Winter-Spring 2007. Consulted July 20, 2007. http://www.archivists.org/saagroups/performart/newsletter/PArtsNews2007spr.pdf

Rare Books and Manuscripts Section, ACRL/ALA Task Force on Core Competencies for Special Collections Professionals. (2007.) RBMS core competencies DRAFT (June, 4, 2007): competencies, for special collections professionals. Consulted July 20, 2007. http://www.rbms.info/

Society of American Archivists. (2002.) Guidelines for a graduate program in archival studies (2002.) Consulted July 20, 2007. http://www.archivists.org/prof-education/ed_guidelines.asp

Cite as:

Choquette, M. E., Towards Hybridism in Curricula-based Cultural Heritage Information Management Education , in International Cultural Heritage Informatics Meeting (ICHIM07): Proceedings, J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. 2007. Published October 24, 2007 at http://www.archimuse.com/ichim07/papers/choquette/choquette.html