Number 67 • January/February 2009
ISSN 1944-7639 (online version)
EthicShare Examines Models for Online Communities
by Kate McCready and Kathlin Smith
WITH THE GROWTH of interdisciplinary and collaborative scholarship has come a rapid rise in the popularity of online social spaces. Can these spaces enable collaborative research? To explore this question, CLIR sponsored an invitational seminar titled “Building Online Communities for Interdisciplinary Scholars,” on November 20, 2008. The seminar was convened by staff from EthicShare, a project hosted at the University of Minnesota (UMN) and funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that is exploring the use of an online social environment for the highly interdisciplinary community of practical ethics. Invited participants included scholars involved in the research and building of online communities, representatives from funding agencies, and experts in the field of scholarly communications.
The purpose of the seminar was to identify the opportunities and challenges in building online communities for scholars and to discuss whether extensible models exist that could meet the research and collaboration needs of interdisciplinary communities. The meeting focused on four broad areas: discovery and exploration; aggregation of resources; sustainability; and engagement and collaboration.
Discovery and Exploration
Today, we depend on search engines to discover scholarly resources. Increasingly, however, the discovery system is the network, noted John Butler of UMN Libraries, in his presentation on the role of and access to information in a virtual community. Discovery goes beyond finding and enters the realm of supporting research processes—for example, the discovery of new relationships through semantic associations.
There are disciplinary and individual differences in the discovery environment and varying expectations about whether that environment should be comprehensive or filtered. These differences influence how systems and tools are developed. Ideally, a virtual community would study its base-user population and then develop a site that had content and features reflecting a combination of three models: a venue for creating new scholarly output; an aggregation of relevant, diverse types of materials; and a services architecture.
Aggregation of Resources/Building Collections of Interest
Aggregation of materials is all about the tool development, said Dan Cohen, associate professor of history, director of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, and co-director of Zotero, a program that enables users to collect, manage, and cite research sources.
Zotero was developed with attention to scholarly workflow and behaviors and to the types of content scholars use. Cohen and his colleagues determined that Zotero needed to work both online and offline within the browser, be discipline-agnostic, and be flexible enough to meet particular users’ needs. They were mindful that the whole Web is now the research platform. They also knew that Zotero had to be easier to use than other applications, and it had to accommodate heterogeneous materials. As a result, Zotero’s open-source code is highly expandable and relies on translators to identify objects in the Web browser that can be pulled into Zotero.
Zotero now has more than one million users. Its success raises questions about what it takes to gain adoption and how to create a sustainable environment for innovation that invites and leverages contributions from both individuals and groups. It also highlights questions relating to ownership, duplication, and synchronization within scholars’ groups—questions that have yet to be resolved.
Sustainability and Policy
Sustainability is a third aspect of developing virtual environments. Brian Lavoie, senior research scientist at OCLC Programs and Research, focused primarily on economic sustainability while acknowledging where technical and social sustainability intersect. Each type of sustainability requires a deliberate allocation of resources, as well as mechanisms for sustaining allocations.
If an online community site is to become economically self-sustaining, its benefits must be articulated and it must demonstrate value for which people are willing to pay. A site’s value is enhanced by a productive use of resources. Virtual environment developers must share the responsibility for investing in the creation and maintenance of online communities. Sites must have a high degree of trust from the community; this requires transparent governance and organizational structure. Maintaining a critical mass of users is integral to a site’s sustainability: more users allow for more user benefits. Many sites resist charging for their content and services because they classify themselves as a public good, but where there is value, people are often willing to pay for it.
Engagement and Collaboration
Gathering information about scholars and their processes and methodologies is critical to improving tools and services in the digital environment, said Kate McCready, director of the EthicShare pilot project. That process starts with assessment, continues with creating a framework, then beginning development, and finally, returning to engaging the users to provide evaluation.
During assessment, researchers gather data about scholars to create a picture of a discipline. What behaviors do these scholars share? What are the trends in their field? What types of materials or data do they use? Which ones do they find most important? What works well in their research practices?
Creating a framework helps researchers understand the behaviors that have been identified during the assessment. The framework for scholarly behaviors developed at UMN begins with “primitives,” or behaviors shared by all scholars. The primitives identified at UMN were discover, gather, create, and share.
To maximize the chance that the site will be used, the community must be involved during the development process, and that involvement must continue after the product has been built. Questions that need to be addressed include the following: Does the product meet users’ needs? How can we improve the design? Do the processes, flow, and labels make sense? Does the site operate in a standard, understandable way? Does the tool solve a problem, help with collaboration, or assist with organizing materials? How can we get feedback on a prototype?
The behaviors of users of social Web sites can help inform the design of these environments. John Riedl, professor of computer science and engineering at UMN, has been studying the psychological and economic principles at work within online communities that encourage either participation or deviant behaviors. Creating online communities is important, but designing them is hard. Research into how design affects user behavior can be helpful.
What collective effort model works? Individual users will amplify or accentuate their behavior on the basis of their perception of the value of the resource and the affinity they feel with others in the user community. Participants need to see that their effort is important, but that they are not contributing more than others are; they must feel their effort is proportional to that of others. Researchers have found that amplifying identity with the larger community increases participation (logins) more than amplifying bonds with individuals. They also found that when users were asked to contribute through intelligent task routing (matching tasks with user expertise) they did 300–400% more editing than they otherwise would.
Steven Jackson of the University of Michigan School of Information addressed collaborative tensions and the virtual organization. Virtual organizations were first formed in the sciences, and while there may be important differences between the sciences and the humanities/social sciences, there are some general similarities with respect to managing groups and the challenges of collaboration.
Virtual organizations face challenges relating to formation, adoption, and longevity. Despite new technologies, most collaborations are geographically close. The challenges of working in a multi-institutional collaboration are sometimes too great; distributing costs and investments become complicated. The distributed nature of the work environment causes tension, as does the nature of interdisciplinary work (moderating disciplinary norms and disciplinary reward systems). Governing a virtual organization is filled with tension. For example, who gets the property and credit? Who is responsible for the security and privacy? Who handles all the responsibilities of sustainability?
Issues and Challenges
The following themes emerged in the discussion that followed the presentations:
Marketing and Adoption: Amassing a user population is essential to the success of a virtual organization. User participation is predicated on building a site that is trustworthy and complete and that contributes to scholarship of the field. We must avoid a pilot-test mentality: the site, logos, and partners must be developed as if the community will be there forever. How can scholars get other scholars to participate? Is it effective to show metrics for participation, e.g., X number online now, recently viewed materials, or recommendations?
Scholarly Mandates: Influence of Tenure and Promotion: The activity and participation within the site must qualify for professional credit. Interdisciplinary fields often have scholars who are tenured in departments (e.g., religion or philosophy) that don’t have their working field (e.g. bioethics) in the departmental name. These fields are young and need to define how they operate. The rules of the disciplines in which the scholars earned their degrees may not dictate how the new interdisciplinary field’s rules work; however, there will be a structure that defines what qualifies as scholarly. The design of these virtual environments may shape the discipline.
Interdisciplinarity: Materials need to be made accessible across disciplines. Scholars are often uncomfortable researching materials in secondary fields because they want to be sure they are retrieving the most trusted, relevant materials possible. The collection housed in the environment must meet the interdisciplinary research needs of the scholars.
Economic Sustainability: Many models were proposed for creating a sustainable economic plan for virtual environments: support from professional societies, individual subscriptions, and research institutions hosting a discipline (similar to how academic libraries support special collections). Developing models through pilot projects is important. These development efforts build on one another and serve to improve the platform. We need to clearly identify the digital environment with the host, even as we attract partners and advocates. But the problems surrounding “who will pay for virtual communities?” are still intimidating. Other questions remain, too; for example, Who will be responsible for anticipating the needs of the community? How do we combat the expectation that we can get everything free?
Scholars need to shape how a virtual environment works for them. As designers and developers, we need to find effective methods for gathering their ideas and opinions and then translating those into services and features that are easy to use and facilitate scholarship.
CLIR will mount a full report of the meeting on its Web site later this spring.
Report Examines Archival Management Software
by Barrie Howard
HIDDEN COLLECTIONS ARE becoming recognized as a major problem for archives and special collections. Reducing archival backlogs and exposing such collections will likely require archives to revamp their workflows.
What technologies can help archives and special collections tackle their hidden collections and make them available to researchers? A new report from CLIR, Archival Management Software, addresses this question. The report explores archival management systems such as Archon, Archivists’ Toolkit, Cuadra STAR, Eloquent Archive, and CollectiveAccess. It also considers tools for creating and publishing encoded archival description (EAD) finding aids. The report, written by Lisa Spiro, director of Rice University’s Digital Media Center, is available in electronic format only at https://www.clir.org/pubs/reports/spiro2009.html.
Spiro leads readers through the main points to consider in evaluating archival management systems, including types of licenses, cost, support for collection, and flexibility versus standardization. The report draws upon interviews with users as well as on previous studies of archival software and information provided by the developers and vendors. It offers features matrices for selected archival management systems to allow quick comparisons of different software.
The report is intended to be a resource for the archival community to build upon; hence it is available as a wiki at http://archivalsoftware.pbwiki.com/FrontPage. Archivists, information technology staff, and developers are invited to add new information to the wiki.
David Gift Joins CLIR Board
DAVID GIFT, vice provost for libraries, computing, and technology, and adjunct assistant professor of radiology at Michigan State University (MSU), has been elected to the CLIR Board.
An alumnus of MSU with degrees in physics and computer science, Gift also is an Alfred P. Sloan Fellow of the MIT Sloan School of Management. He has served MSU most recently as assistant vice president for integrative management, and before that as assistant chairperson of radiology and as interim director of strategy and implementation for MSU’s Faculty Group Practice.
Mr. Gift has served as a founder and member of the board of directors of four university medical joint-venture corporations, and is currently a member and chair of the board of directors of Merit Network, the multi-university consortium for Michigan educational and research data networking services. He also serves as an extended board member of the community-source Kuali Financial Systems and Kuali Research Administration Systems projects, as a member of the Microsoft Higher Education Advisory Group, and as a member of the Capital Area Regional Health Information Organization Steering Committee in Lansing, Michigan. In addition, he is chair of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) Chief Information Officers Group and a member of the CIC Shared Digital Repository Steering Committee. (CIC is a consortium of Big Ten universities and the University of Chicago.
Blue Ribbon Task Force Issues Year 1 Report
THE BLUE RIBBON Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access has issued its first-year report, available at http://brtf.sdsc.edu/biblio/BRTF_Interim_Report.pdf. CLIR is a partner in the Task Force, which was created in 2007 to identify sustainable economic models to provide access to the ever-growing amount of digital information in the public interest.
The report calls the current situation urgent and identifies systemic barriers to sustainable digital access and preservation, including the following:
- inadequacy of funding models to address long-term access and preservation needs;
- confusion and/or lack of alignment among stakeholders, roles, and responsibilities with respect to digital access and preservation;
- inadequate institutional, enterprise, and/or community incentives to support the collaboration needed to reinforce sustainable economic models;
- complacency that current practices are good enough; and
- fear that digital access and preservation is too big to take on.
The Task Force is continuing its work and will issue a final report in late 2009. The document will propose practical recommendations for sustainable economic models to support access and preservation for digital data in the public interest.
In the November-December 2008 edition of CLIR Issues, page 5, the National Historic Publications and Records Commission was incorrectly identified as the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.
CLIR Postdocs Meet for Annual Midwinter Symposium
by Elliott Shore
IN JANUARY, CLIR Postdoctoral Fellows met for the program’s annual midwinter meeting at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The meeting gave fellows the opportunity to have intensive discussions with senior staff at UCLA on key library issues, and to share updates on their own work.
University Librarian Gary Strong and Associate University Librarians Sharon Farb and Kevin Mulroy engaged fellows in discussions on topics ranging from how to manage under constrained budgets to intellectual property rights and career trajectories in research libraries.
Postdoctoral fellows Gloria Chacon, Gabrielle Dean, Heather Waldroup, Susan Wiesner, Lori Miller, and Elizabeth Waraska presented work that they have been doing on behalf of their sponsoring libraries, such as completing digital projects, developing new collecting areas, discovering hidden collections, and teaching with technology.
Fellows also visited The Huntington Library Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, the Research Library at the Getty Research Institute, and the Libraries at Occidental College for discussion with the directors of those institutions.
“One of the best and most unusual features of the CLIR fellowship is that, as a fellow, you get to talk with visionary library leaders on two levels,” said Gabrielle Dean, who is upgrading the special collections Web pages at Johns Hopkins’ Peabody Libraries. “You learn about what they are doing and how they got to the positions they currently occupy—the personal stories that are so helpful as you try to imagine your own possible future. At the January meeting, I was really struck by two of those stories. Kevin Mulroy told us about how his boyhood love of Americana led him to scholarship in Native American studies, which in turn led to some crucial realizations about how the invisibility or inaccessibility of certain kinds of primary sources hinders new research. From there, it was a short leap to librarianship. Susan Allen, associate director of the Getty Research Institute and chief librarian of the Research Library, spoke about some of the surprising accidents that guide a career—how, for example, the misadventures of a rare-book thief at an institution where she worked early on led to her passion for protecting special collections.”
The three-day symposium was enriched by the participation of Ryan Kashanipour and Rebecca Johnson, recipients of the Mellon Fellowships for Dissertation Research in Original Sources, who shared their recent experiences in research libraries and what they had learned about alternative career possibilities. Three former fellows—Marta Brunner, Patricia Hswe, and Kelly Miller—also joined the meeting. All three now work as librarians at their former host institutions—UCLA, the University of Illinois, and University of Virginia (UVa.), respectively.
“I work closely with academic faculty to develop programs for special collections library exhibits, support visiting fellows, and encourage the use of primary materials in teaching and research,” said Kelly Miller. “So, the opportunity to visit the Huntington, UCLA, and the Getty—all within a span of three days—was incredibly welcome. I was able to learn quickly about varying models for exhibits that the three institutions employ, and I was also able to talk with librarians who manage exhibits and fellows programs at those institutions. I returned to UVa. with new ideas, impressions, and contacts that I hope to nurture in coming years.”
CLIR President Chuck Henry joined the group for its final day at the Getty, and concluded the meeting by briefing participants on CLIR’s current work.
2009 Frye Institute Participants Named
THE FOLLOWING INDIVIDUALS have been selected for participation in the 2009 Frye Leadership Institute. The Institute will be held May 31-June 11, at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.
Frankie Baker, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College
Brooke Banks, California State University, Chico
Fred Barnhart, Loyola University Chicago
Shandon Bates, Western Carolina University
Marisa Benson, Emory University
Ellen Yu Borkowski, University of Maryland
Chris Bourg, Stanford University
Susanna Boylston, Davidson College
Sandra Bracegirdle, The John Rylands University Library
Jody Britten, Butler University
Darlene Brooks, Rhodes College
Brian Bunnett, University of New Mexico
Cesar Caballero, California State University, San Bernardino
Raechelle Clemmons, California State University, East Bay
Karen Cobbs, University of Central Florida
Stephanie Davis-Kahl, Illinois Wesleyan University
Aimee deChambeau, Stony Brook University
Veronica Diaz, Maricopa Community Colleges
Thomas Dugas, Carnegie Mellon University
Lorraine Frost, California State University, San Bernardino
Kelly Gonzalez, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center Library
Stacey Greenwell, University of Kentucky
Su Hanfling, University of Sydney
Gregory Heald, University of Northern Colorado
Cathy Hubbs, American University
JoAnn Jacoby, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Margie Jantti, University of Wollongong
Scott Krajewski, Augsburg College
Annette Marksberry, Xavier University
Robert McDonald, Indiana University
Amanda Moore, Hendrix College
Carlos Morales, Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania
Jim Muehlenberg, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Piet Niederhausen, Georgetown University
Audrey Novak, Yale University Library
Mike Osterman, Whitman College
Chris Palazzolo, Emory University
Salvador Rosario, Princeton University
Brian Rosenblum, University of Kansas
Michael Russell, Georgia State University
Marsha Schnirring, Occidental College
Win Shih, University at Albany, State University of New York
Sondra Smith, St. Lawrence University
Zheng Wang, University of California, Los Angeles
David Weinberg-Kinsey, Cardinal Stritch University
Jolee West, Wesleyan University
Holly Willis, University of Southern California, Institute for Multimedia Literacy