Cloud computing and virtual machines in LIS education: options and resources

Published date13 February 2017
Date13 February 2017
AuthorChristinger Tomer
Subject MatterLibrary & information science,Librarianship/library management,Library technology,Records management & preservation,Information repositories
Cloud computing and virtual
machines in LIS education:
options and resources
Christinger Tomer
School of Information Sciences, University of Pittsburgh,
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to consider how and why virtual machines (VMs) and cloud
computing and related development environments built on cloud-based resources may be used to support and
enhance the technological elements of library and information science (LIS) education.
Design/methodology/approach It is based on analysis of available technologies and relevant
Findings Cloud computing and virtualization offer a basis for creating a robust computing infrastructure
for LIS education.
Practical implications In the context of LIS education, cloud computing is relevant in two respects.
First, many important library and archival services already rely heavily on cloud-based infrastructures, and
in the near future, cloud computing is likely to dene a much larger part of the computing environment on
which libraries and archives rely. Second, cloud computing affords a highly exible and efcient environment
that is ideal for learning about VMs, operating systems and a wide variety of applications. What is more
important, it constitutes an environment for teaching and learning that is vastly superior to the ones that
currently support most LIS degree programs. From a pedagogical perspective, the key aspect of teaching and
learning in the cloud environment is the VM. So, the article focuses a signicant portion of its attentions on
questions related to the deployment and use of VMs and Linux Containers, within and without cloud-based
infrastructures, as means of learning about computer systems, applications and networking and achieving an
understanding of essential aspects of both cloud computing and VM environments.
Originality/value Based on a search of available literature in computer science and library and
information science, the paper has no counterparts.
Keywords Cloud computing, Library and information science, Computer science, LIS education,
Virtual machines, Virtualization
Paper type Case study
Technical advances in machine and system virtualization are creating new opportunities for
teaching and learning in both face-to-face and remote settings, providing new economies and
substantially better support for active approaches to instruction. Today, many students
have personal computers that are powerful enough to support the virtualization of operating
systems and networks. As a result, it is now possible to provide teachers and learners with a
learning environment for computing that retains the conveniences and exibilities that made
personal computers popular in the rst place, yet is largely independent of the types of
physical computers on which those learners work.
In the context of the education of archivists, librarians and other information specialists,
the advances in machine and system virtualization may be especially important. While it is
clear today that information professionals must be conversant with a wide array of
information technologies, in many instances their education in these matters has been and
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
DigitalLibrary Perspectives
Vol.33 No. 1, 2017
©Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/DLP-02-2016-0008
continues to be diffuse and supercial. Many of the problems underlying this aspect of
library and information science (LIS) education are matters of professional culture and
probably cannot be addressed in more than small measure by technological advances. Such
conditions notwithstanding, virtualization technologies offer LIS educators new
opportunities, and opportunities that may enable them to break through longstanding
constraints, both economic and technical, and build teaching and learning environments for
computing and networking that are exible, inexpensive and conducive to learning.
The question of how much students need to learn and know about information technology
(IT) is an abiding problem of LIS education. For decades, the prevailing attitude among LIS
educators has been that students need to learn how to use various software applications, but
not necessarily understand how computers work or learn how to control them in ways more
creative than the basic procedures and routines dened by operating systems and
applications. For many students, this approach turns the computer into a “black box”, and
that, in turn, renders computing more alchemy and less science.
In recent years, this attitude has begun to shift, inasmuch as it is clear that there are now
many situations in which the ability of a librarian or archivist to do his or her job requires a
much greater knowledge of computing and networking (Marshall, 2015;Bowers and Polak,
2014;Yongming and Dawes, 2012;Ping, 2014). Yet, few of the students that enter LIS
programs have either broad or deeper experiences in dealing with information technologies.
Most of the students have never used a computer from the command line, many of them have
a sense of operating systems that is, at best, hazy and few of them know much about the
systems or applications that are used to present archival or library services in networked
environments. So, teaching prospective librarians and archivists to work in distributed
environments involving different operating systems and various service models is a
formidable challenge.
One of the less obvious problems of LIS education in dealing with information
technologies is provisioning a technological infrastructure that is sufcient to support the
instruction of prospective librarians and archivists in the fuller and more modern sense. The
computing and networking congurations in place are varied, but most of them are based on
so-called “enterprise solutions”, that, for reasons of economy and security, place substantial
limits on what can be undertaken by students or instructors[1]. For many LIS programs,
these congurations are regarded as adequate to the needs of the program and its students,
inasmuch as the computing requirements of teaching and learning are limited and fall within
the latitudes afforded by enterprise solutions. In some instances, this does not appear to be
viewed as a problem. In other cases, however, where curricula are informed by a more
digitally oriented view of the information professions and there are efforts to develop a
comparatively higher degree of technological competence, the congurations may be viewed
as a signicant and untoward constraint.
In this paper, the use of cloud computing and some other technologies allied by their
common reliance on virtual machines (VMs) are considered in the context of the IT
component of LIS education and how such technologies may be used to provide a more
substantial and more relevant basis for teaching and learning.
Background: IT in LIS education
How LIS educators deal with the matter of IT has been the subject of periodic commentary
and critique for many decades. Teaching and learning within the LIS domain has long been
confused by the tensions between theory and practice, with the tensions being perhaps more
troublesome than in other professions on account of the fact that the theoretical basis for the
eld of library and information science is essentially non-existent. Another conict at work
LIS education

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