Academic Libraries and Information Communities: New Models for Supporting Digital Scholarship

  1. 1. Christine Ruotolo

    University of Virginia

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Since the first forays into digital library activity in the early
1990s, academic libraries have been intimately involved
in the application of technology to the teaching and research
missions of the universities they support. Libraries offer
increasingly sophisticated technology training to faculty, and
provide critical systems infrastructure and programming
expertise to support digital scholarship. As more and more
faculty wish to produce born-digital scholarship, they expect
libraries to supply the basic technology support services that
their academic or campus computing units are often unable to
provide. And libraries have rushed bravely into the breach,
becoming ad hoc publishers, software developers, and
instructional designers. Partly as a result of this electronic
outreach activity, libraries are accumulating a critical mass of
digital materials not governed by any explicit selection policy.
This trend threatens to accelerate, as grant-funded humanities
computing projects of all shapes and sizes are turning to
libraries to aggregate, disseminate and preserve their materials
over the long term. Libraries supporting digital scholarship
must therefore manage both technological development and
collection development in a way that serves scholars' needs and
maximizes the effectiveness of limited resources.
The University of Virginia Library, like many of its peer
institutions, is currently developing a large institutional
repository for the digital content it acquires, along with tools
for ingesting and disseminating that content. But by its very
nature, our repository will have rather rigid requirements with
regard to standards and format. Even when the repository
development is complete, our faculty and their collaborators
will continue to produce scholarly ephemera - born-digital
writings, archival materials, teaching resources, and
experimental tools - that fall outside the repository's collections
parameters but which the Library will nonetheless be expected
to help sustain and organize in some way. At the same time,
the Library will need to encourage the use of its digital
resources beyond the core group of early adopters by making
it easy for users to find and exploit relevant materials in their
subject area.
In order to meet these challenges, the UVa Library has
developed an "information communities" model to complement
its digital repository initiatives. We hope this model will allow
us to identify common needs, establish priorities, and minimize
redundant digitization and tool-building efforts. Ideally, a robust
information community will foster scholarly communication
in all its diverse forms; it will encourage innovation and spark
new areas of cross-disciplinary and cross-institutional research.
At its core, the information community involves an equilateral
relationship between people, collections, and tools. The people
are scholars, students, researchers, information professionals,
and (for public institutions) the community at large. These
people serve many roles - they are producers and consumers
of digital content; they are authors, editors, commentators,
selectors, and publishers. The collections are conceived as
broadly as possible - primary and secondary scholarship, both
formal and informal, across all media types: text, images, maps,
datasets, audio and video. The tools can be divided into several
sub-categories: communication tools, like rosters, mailing lists,
wikis, and virtual conferencing tools; analytic and interpretive
tools, such as software for textual collation, or for the
manipulation of statistical data; authoring tools that support
standard markup schemes; and hybrid tools, such as
collaborative editing tools or peer review tools that combine
the communication and authoring functions. This triangular
relationship facilitates sharing - sharing scholarly materials and
sharing tools for accessing and analyzing those materials. The
community can foster the formal or informal scholarly exchange
of ideas, in the form of new publication as well as conferences,
seminars and online discussion.
The University of Virginia has several active information
community prototypes. Two are of particular interest. The
Tibetan and Himalayan Digital Library (THDL), founded by
David Germano in the Religious Studies department, developed
organically from the need to allow a small but globally
dispersed group of Tibetan experts to collaborate effectively,
in order to build a comprehensive online archive of Tibetan
materials. The site includes materials across all media types -
literary and religious texts, dictionaries, image sets, gazetteers,
maps, statistical datasets, timelines and time-based media. The
tools necessary to support this community are highly specialized
and include Tibetan, Nepali, and Chinese fonts, along with the
input tools necessary to generate materials in these languages,
geo-referencing and interactive mapping tools, collaborative
editing tools, and tools for the multilingual transcription of
audio and video materials.
The American Studies Information Community, a two-year
grant-funded pilot project, sought to capitalize on a substantial
but unintegrated body of American Studies-related digital
materials produced by the Library, its electronic centers, and
affiliated research units. Federated search and browse interfaces were developed to create easy access to these widely dispersed
materials. New core collections centering on a locally relevant
topic (the Lewis and Clark expedition) were digitized, and
faculty used these in class both as teaching resources and as
seed materials for digital student projects. The community also
published a collaboratively edited database of electronic
resources in the field, which will help users locate materials
for research and teaching but will also identify gaps in the field
that might indicate opportunities for future digital projects.
Based on our experiences at Virginia, we've identified some
key factors contributing to the success of an information
community or similar initiative. The community needs at least
one dedicated, charismatic faculty leader who can organize and
motivate colleagues across institutional boundaries; this person
should ideally be at a career point where he or she can take
chances on speculative projects that might fail. The community
should be bold and seek out innovative, ambitious ideas, despite
the current budget-conscious institutional inclination toward
caution. An information community is most effective when
centered around "keystone" collections of value to the scholarly
community, and should ideally assemble a body of primary
materials large enough to support meaningful analytical study.
A scholarly community needs a sense of purpose and a clear
set of organizational principles based upon its purpose. It needs
a stable institutional home, with sustainable funding. Finally,
it needs to consider all of its potential constituencies and try to
anticipate their particular needs.
The American Studies Information Community. University of
Virginia Library. Accessed 2005-04-04. <http://infoco>
The Tibetan and Himalayan Digital Library. University of
Virginia Library. Accessed 2005-04-04. <http://iris.l>

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Conference Info

In review


Hosted at University of Victoria

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

June 15, 2005 - June 18, 2005

139 works by 236 authors indexed

Affiliations need to be double checked.

Conference website:

Series: ACH/ICCH (25), ALLC/EADH (32), ACH/ALLC (17)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None