Sunday, January 27, 2013

Partners in Crime: The Role of Academic Libraries in Digital Scholarship

Note: this post is a work in progress. The initial text comes from slides of a talk that I gave at the first annual George Washington University Digital Humanities Symposium, on the Mt. Vernon Campus of the George Washington University, on January 26, 2013. I plan to expand upon the themes and issues raised here over time.

Research Libraries are in a moment of disruptive change

The scholarly communication, teaching & learning, and research ecosystems in which libraries and archives are embedded are going through radical transformations, throwing established relationships and dynamics into disarray.

These dislocations have left many librarians and libraries feeling adrift, and have lead senior resource allocators to the conclusion that libraries are no longer relevant in mid-21st century academic endeavors. Both of these positions are, ultimately, unfounded.

Goals vs. Strategies

One way to sidestep both of these traps, libraries, resource allocators, and library partners need to ask a simple question: what are the core roles that libraries have and - arguably - should continue to play?

The answer is straightforward: To connect people with the high-quality information resources that they need to produce new knowledge or to effect change in the world.

That role has not changed, but how libraries perform it is evolving and transforming rapidly.

Librarians, Resource Allocators, and Library Partners all need to keep in mind that goals are not strategies. Goals are what we intend to do; strategies are how we plan to get there. Unfortunately, many stakeholders mistake the strategies that we have been using for arguably hundreds of years as the goals in and of themselves.

The primary strategies of libraries up until the 21st Century had been to create vast local reserves of physical collections to ensure access to information in an era of information scarcity.

Libraries then built up layers of services around that local content, including description, reference, bibliographic instruction, etc.

But we live in an era of information over-abundance. We need to update our strategies to keep up with the changes, and we need to be willing to throw out much cherished and formerly adaptive strategies if they are no longer meeting our needs or getting us closer to our goals.

Collections: Prospecting for Digital Gold

Does this mean that physical collections serve no purpose in supporting 21st century scholarship, especially digital scholarship? Not at all. In fact, the as-yet-undigitized unique content held in libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural heritage organizations are vast, untapped reservoirs of information that could become digital gold for 21st century scholars if they were made available digitally for analysis, use, etc.

Academic Libraries must cultivate the understanding that their unique physical collections are the information ore that digital humanities need to mine.

But our local physical collections are only one source of rich content for digital inquiry.

Project Gutenberg

One of the earliest and most well-known sources of digital humanities / digital scholarship textual resources is Project Gutenberg.

With over 40,000 digitized texts available for download without Digital Rights Management impediments, it is one of the richest source of freely available full-text content.


HathiTrust - a project to preserve, make available, and provide enhanced research opportunities for the corpus of books being scanned from the Big 5 libraries of the Google Books Project - has the potential of providing enormous reservoirs of content for digital humanities to mine.

Millions of public domain ebooks. However, the OCR is not nearly as clean as those from Project Gutenberg.

Internet Archives' Open Library Project

Open Library ( was conceived as an alternative to the Google Books Project.

3.8 million digitized books freely available for use, many with Creative Commons licenses

The open access texts from this corpus are made available through IA's Community Texts Site. Contains more than 186,000 open access texts.

Internet Archive Providing Much More Than Just Text

Community Audio ( - nearly 1.1 million audio recordings available as open access resources

Community Video ( - more than 220,000 video recordings available as open access resources

Data Curation

Successful libraries need to build effective means for curating data with our local, regional, national, and international partners. No one library, consortium, or even industry can do it alone. We need to be part of the international data preservation conversations (see: )

Creation and Management of Robust Digital Collections

Academic libraries must continue robust digitization of materials that bring added value to the academic communities that they support, especially from their Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Book Collections.

Libraries must adopt increasingly sophisticated tools for managing and delivering digital content.

One particularly interesting platform to keep an eye on is the California Digital Library's University of California Curation Center Merritt platform which allows scholars in the UC system a robust suite of resources to manage, curate, and share digital resources.

Data Management

Academic Libraries can play a key role in facilitating the development of data management plans for research faculty applying for federal grants (see: )

Traditional scholarly communication methodologies are generating less than 10% of the world's scholarly information. Big data is where most of the scholarly information is now to be found. We need to embrace big data and our role in curating it.

If we do not, our scholars will not be competitive in the world marketplace.

Web Archiving

Academic libraries need to aggressively identify content for web archiving in support faculty and student research agendas.

We will continue to build this infrastructure in collaboration with our academic partners.

Web archiving is a key service that we can provide.

It can serve multiple clients:

  • Historians
  • Social scientists
  • STEM researchers
  • University officials
  • Public

But Isn't the Internet Archive Already Doing That?

The Internet Archive and its Wayback Machine are casting a wide net. We can provide targeted web-archiving that meets our researcher needs.

Linked Open Data

(Meta-)data has become ubiquitous throughout the Internet. Yet library metadata tends to be locked away in proprietary systems.

To fully realize the potential of our huge stores of data, we need to become key players in the linked data environment.

[INSERT IMAGE OF Bibliotheque Nationale de France website]

LODLAM: Linked Open Data in Libraries, Archives, and Museums

Other Linked Open Data Projects to Keep an Eye On

Virtual International Authority File (VIAF)

SNAC: Social Networks and Archival Context Project, University of Virginia

Linked Open (Bibliographic) Data: It's Not Just About Finding Things

Bibliographic data encodes centuries of specialized knowledge and information about the world and the information objects in it. In the traditional catalog - physical or electronic - these informational units are stored as monadic records.

As libraries, archives, and museums migrate their catalogs to linked open data formats, whole avenues of research will open up. The bibliographic data will itself become the object of digital scholarship.

e.g. linking all instances of a place name together and then being able to locate all works produced over the centuries in a given physical locale.

Web-Scale Information Literacy

Successful research libraries need to teach their users how to find, assess, and interpret information on the web-scale, not just local resources.

Libraries need to arm these users with the skills they will need to be competitive in a world marketplace of ideas ... not just in our local market.

Transformations in Teaching and Learning

Successful academic libraries must participate fully in the explorations of emerging pedagogies. Library participants in those conversations will bring those insights back to their campuses to ensure that they maintain their competitive intelligence.

E.g. Long, Phillip. Key trends in T&L: Aligning what we know about learning with today's learners. CNI Spring meeting, 4 April 2012.

Exploring and Teaching New Academic Methologies and Technologies

Libraries must be aggressive adopters of emerging educational technologies and key players in providing instruction in the use of those technologies to students, faculty, and staff at the communities they support.

Examples: data visualization, GIS mapping, big data, digital scholarship

Libraries as Reservoir of Experience Designing Learning Spaces

Learning Spaces Toolkit ( - an IMLS-funded project spearheaded by the North Carolina State University Libraries.

Technology as a Service

Successful academic libraries will build robust digital reformatting and editing capabilities to serve users increasingly-sophisticated needs.

But creating digital surrogates is not enough. Libraries must build value-added services on top of the digital content.

e.g. digital content manipulation, textual analysis, digital humanities/digital scholarship support

High End Desktop Computers and Software

  • High-end Microcomputers
  • High-end Software Not on Most Student's Laptops
  • High speed data connectivity to share the product of the work on these machines

Examples of Library-supported Digital Scholarship Initiatives

MITH: Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities ( - embedded in the University of Maryland Libraries

Duke University Libraries Digital Collections ( - embedded in the Duke University Libraries

IATH: Institute for Advanced Technologies in the Humanities ( - University of Virginia Library is a key partner


  • Grant Writing Research Services
  • Research Technology Training
  • Text Encoding
  • Data Visualization
  • Data Management
  • Access to Information Resources
  • Advanced Research Reference
  • Metadata Creation and Resource Discovery
  • Digital Transformation Services
  • Open Access Publishing Support
  • GIS


Successful academic libraries have and will continue to be a key partner in the development and growth of digital scholarship in academic institutions around the world.

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