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Internet Public Library to celebrate 10th anniversary

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The Internet Public Library would like to hear from everyone who has worked with them over the past decade, both professional volunteers who have tackled reference questions and the many students who have taken IPL classes. Please send an E-mail "hello" to And stay tuned for the launching of the IPL Alumni blog!

(Feb 2005)

When 35 University of Michigan School of Information students started the Internet Public Library in 1995, they wondered if anyone would notice.

Now, 10 years and hundreds of millions of mouse clicks by users later, the IPL is celebrating its success with a virtual public open house on Thursday, March 17. Watch the IPL for a special anniversary Web page with all the details.

"During our anniversary celebration," said Associate Professor Maurita Holland, executive director of the IPL, "patrons can leave us online messages about what the IPL has meant to them, view some videos of past IPL staff, and read some of the most unusual reference questions we have received."

IPL graphics by Stephen Cotterill

The IPL started with a lofty goal, to be the first "public library of the Internet." Students wanted to know if they could transfer the model of a bricks-and-mortar public library to the fledgling World Wide Web. The IPL has since served as a prototype for thousands of digital libraries around the world.

Over the years, SI students have built a vast storehouse of carefully selected online resources for children and adults. Some "exhibits," such as the popular Presidents of the United States (POTUS), are used daily by K-12 students and teachers.

The IPL's digital content also makes it a premier training ground for librarians. The School of Information offers a course devoted to operating and improving the IPL that serves as a learning and research laboratory for digital librarianship. SI students add to the IPL collections, answer reference questions from all over the world, and train professional librarians on how to build digital collections.

Master's students studying librarianship at SI are the backbone of the IPL, but others from SI's specializations in archives, human-computer interaction, and information economics play important roles.

"The fact that the IPL has drawn from such a cross-section of our students speaks to the nature of today's librarianship itself," Holland observes. "Each student brings an important element to the IPL. Librarians today need to know how an entire library operates, and our students pick up this kind of management experience by working with the IPL."

Holland added that "the IPL is a rich resource for research in virtual information seeking and information service. It has generated hundreds of articles and scholarly works that further our knowledge in this dynamic, emerging field."

The IPL came about as part of a course project at the School of Information with then-instructor Joseph Janes, now of the University of Washington. Students gathered informally on a Saturday morning in January 1995 to discuss what they could create during the semester. The digital library idea took hold and soon students assigned tasks to each other. Janes had his doubts at the time, but by the end of the first year, a million users from more than 100 countries had visited.

By the third year, IPL volunteer librarians and staff knew they were on to something. The IPL had answered more than 5,000 reference questions from around the world, with such positive results that IPL librarians were frequently used as the "library of last resort" by other librarians with "stumper" questions.

The IPL now records more than seven million patron visits a year from virtually every country on the planet.



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