Herbert Van de Sompel - Bio

Brief bio

Herbert Van de Sompel graduated in Mathematics and Computer Science at Ghent University (Belgium), and in 2000 obtained a Ph.D. in Communication Science there. He is currently Research Fellow at Data Archiving and Networked Services (DANS) in The Netherlands and Visiting Professor at the Internet Technology & Data Science Lab of Ghent University. He has previously held positions as head of Library Automation at Ghent University, Visiting Professor in Computer Science at Cornell University, Director of e-Strategy and Programmes at the British Library, information scientist at the Research Library of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Chief Innovation Officer at DANS. Herbert has played a major role in creating the Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH), the Open Archives Initiative Object Reuse & Exchange specifications (OAI-ORE), the OpenURL Framework for Context-Sensitive Services (ANSI/NISO Z39.88-2004), the SFX linking server, the bX scholarly recommender service, info URI (RFC 4452), Open Annotation (W3C Community Group specification), ResourceSync (ANSI/NISO Z39.99-2014), Memento "time travel for the Web" (RFC 7089), Robust Links, and Signposting the Scholarly Web.

More about me ...

Born Herbert Van de Sompel on March 20th 1957 in Ghent, Belgium. Europe, that is. I spent the first 5 years of my life there. Then, I followed my parents to Arnsberg, Germany, where we stayed until I was 11. Quite a great time that was. Back in Ghent, I went to a local high school, until I was ready to go to Ghent University. There, I got a masters in Mathematics (1979) and later a masters in computer science (1981). Well, computers nor computer science were what they are today, really.

I took on the position of head of library automation at Ghent University (1981). My thesis for computer science had been the analysis of an interlibrary loan problem and programming a solution. That's why. The solution was programmed in a Pascal-like language on a Digital PDP-11/34. Funny thing is that machine and application were only put to sleep a couple of days before Y2K. For many years, the library automation department of Ghent University was me myself and I. But over the course of 17 years, I was able to build a world-class team and hence a world-class library automation environment. Working in the library, the information virus really caught me. I found myself thinking increasingly about access to digital information, equity of access, ...

In 1998, I felt I needed a break. Motivated by some strong supporters of my work and thinking, I applied for a grant from the Belgian Science Foundation that would allow me to take a leave for a year and do research to get a PhD. I received the grant and what followed was quite an unforgettable year, of which I spent 6 months at the Research Library of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. My stay there was supported by a travel grant from the Council On Library and Information Resources. During this sabbatical, I worked simultaneously on two topics. One was context-sensitive and dynamic linking of scholarly information resources. This work became the topic of my Ph.D. thesis, which I defended on June 9th 2000 at Ghent University. I was proud to count two reknown digital library gurus -- William Y. Arms and Clifford Lynch -- on my committee. This work also led to the commercialization of the SFX linking server that was created during my research, to the process of standardizing OpenURL with NISO, and to the adoption of open linking in the scholarly information industry. The other work was related to preprints. I feel strongly about the role that preprints can play in the transformation of scholarly communication. That is why I started the Open Archives Initiative with Paul Ginsparg and Rick Luce in 1999. The Initiative reformulated its mission statement in 2000 to focus on interoperability for scholarly information. Its Metadata Harvesting specification became an important tool for achieving a level of interoperability across scholarly repositories and was also adopted beyond the scholarly domain.

In 2000/2001, I was Visiting Assistant Professor in the Computer Science Department of Cornell University. I was part of the Digital Library Research Group, and had the exciting opportuntiy to work closely with Carl Lagoze, William Y. Arms and Sandy Payette. Then I moved to London, UK, where I became the first Director of e-Strategy and Programmes at The British Library. That didn't work out <understatement>too well</understatement>, and in March 2002 I crossed the Atlantic again, to take up a position as information scientist at the Research Library of the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

For about 17 years, I was the team leader of the Prototyping Team, researching various aspects of scholarly communication in the digital era. Over the years, we worked on a wide variety of projects, many of which have had significant impact in the scholarly communication, cultural heritage, and web communities. To get an overview, it is best to have a look at Papers, Presentations, and Specifications.

Starting in 2010, I was Visiting Professor at DANS, a scholarly data archiving organization in The Hague, Netherlands, that resorts under the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). Colleague visitors include Christine Borgman, Andrew Treloar, and Kathy Borner. In January 2019, I exchanged my ambulant connection with DANS for an actual position as Chief Innovation Officer, and, once again, moved across the Atlantic. I am enormously grateful to Peter Doorn, then Director of DANS, for having offered me this opportunity. As I was back in Europe, I also reconnected with my alma mater, Ghent University, and became Visiting Professor at the Internet Technology & Data Science Lab, the home of Ruben Verborgh, professor of Decentralized Web technology.

Early 2021, I found myself rather surprised to be moving to Vienna, Austria, because my wife had been offered a position there, which she had dreamt about for many years. It meant I had to give up my job at DANS. But I kept my affiliation and remain involved in some of their activities. I also kept my connection with Ghent University.


A more or less recent CV is available for download.