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Report Examines How Digital Technology is Changing Study of American Literature

subject: Martha Brogan
Daphnee Rentfrow
American literature
online resources
digital American literature

CLIR Press Releases

For Immediate Release: September 26, 2005

Contact: David Seaman 202-939-4762
Kathlin Smith 202-939-4754

Report Examines How Digital Technology is Changing Study of American Literature

Washington, D.C.-Digital technologies are transforming how scholars of American literature do their research and how students learn. In a new report from the Digital Library Federation and the Council on Library and Information Resources, A Kaleidoscope of Digital American Literature, author Martha Brogan examines how digital scholarship is enriching the study of literature, and what challenges it has created for the field.

Most of the report—more than 100 pages—is devoted to an extensive review of digital resources and projects in American literature. They are organized into six categories: quality-controlled subject gateways, author studies, e-book collections and alternative publishing models, reference resources and full-text collections, collections built around a particular area of interest, and teaching applications. The proliferation of these sites attests to the value of electronic resources to a field that is firmly rooted in print-based sources.

But, the author notes, the pioneers in digital scholarship are looking beyond mere scope, convenience, or speed to find value in electronic resources. They are asking questions about how the new technology is affecting analysis, editing, and publication. In interviews with more than 40 scholars, librarians, and practitioners, Brogan sought to learn how well digital resources are serving scholars of American literature and what is most needed to advance digital scholarship. Interviewees identified a range of factors that have muted technology’s effect on the discipline. The factors include many scholars’ resistance to changing traditional approaches to and forms of scholarship; a need for stronger leadership from scholarly and professional organizations in American literature; the fragmentation of the field and lack of “communities of practice”; a paucity of mainstream digital tools to facilitate literary scholarship; insufficient peer-review processes for digital scholarship; concerns about the preservation of electronic resources; intellectual property rights restrictions; a need for sustainable business models; and a dearth of specialists who combine disciplinary expertise with a knowledge of new technologies. Brogan discusses each of these factors and gives examples of current efforts to overcome the barriers they pose.

A Kaleidoscope of Digital American Literature is copublished by the Digital Library Federation and Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). Daphnée Rentfrow, CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow in Scholarly and Information Resources for Humanists (2004-05), assisted Brogan in writing the report. It is available electronically at pubs/abstract/pub132abst.html, and at Print copies are available for ordering through CLIR’s and DLF’s Web site, for $30 per copy plus shipping and handling.

The Digital Library Federation, founded in 1995, is a partnership organization of academic libraries and related organizations that are pioneering the use of electronic-information technologies to extend their collections and services. Through its strategic partners, the DLF provides leadership for libraries by identifying standards and best practices for digital collections and network access; coordinating research and development in the libraries’ use of technology; and incubating projects and services that libraries need but cannot develop individually.

The Council on Library and Information Resources is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the management of information for research, teaching, and learning. CLIR works to expand access to information, however recorded and preserved, as a public good.

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