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CLIR Issues Number 69

CLIR Issues

Number 69 • May/June 2009
ISSN 1944-7639 (online version)


Plans Afoot for African Frye Institute

Report Links Tool Accessibility to Sustainability

CLIR to Fund Rare Book School Scholarships

DLF Transition Advisory Committee Named

Hollie White Named Zipf Fellow

Plans Afoot for African Frye Institute


by Chuck Henry

IN LATE MAY, a multinational planning committee met at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, Egypt, to explore the possibility of establishing a professional development program for librarians and information technology (IT) specialists in sub-Saharan Africa. The program would be modeled on the Frye Leadership Institute in the United States. CLIR is a partner in the new planning effort, which is organized by Stanford University and chaired by Stanford University Librarian and CLIR Senior Presidential Fellow Michael Keller.

Among those attending the meeting were 23 representatives from 14 African nations, as well as representatives from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The two-day meeting was funded by a grant from the Hewlett Foundation.

A variety of topics made for an unusually rich agenda and lively discussions. The meeting began with a presentation on the background and goals of the Frye Institute. Attendees then developed a rationale for the creation of a leadership program in Africa, discussing the major challenges facing universities in retaining and attracting the next generation of librarians and IT specialists. Areas of particular curricular interest for the proposed institute included personal leadership effectiveness, mentorship, change management, and understanding the impact and implications of technology. Toward the end of the meeting, a task force was appointed to continue the group’s work. Chaired by Kay Raseroka of the University of Botswana, the task force will meet electronically over the summer and present a more detailed description of the proposed institute and its goals by early September.

Throughout the conversations, participants cited the Frye Institute as a successful paradigm—a model offering many strengths that could be translated to an African institute, albeit with some differences. While program details remain subject to further deliberation, attendees generally concurred that an African version of a leadership program would be anchored by a team of two people—one librarian and one IT person—from each of the participating universities. In its application, each team would propose a research project that it would conduct the year following attendance at the African institute. These projects would be fully supported by the host university, and those of exceptional merit would be recognized by the institute and possibly awarded a prize. The teams would communicate from one university to another to avoid redundancy and to help create an interoperable research and teaching environment.

The general terms of the proposed African Frye Institute were imbued with practical goals and deliverable projects; had a distinctly transnational character; and insisted on librarians and information technology experts working in tandem. Many felt that the Bibliotheca Alexandrina would be the ideal location, at least for the inaugural years, for the institute, in light of its advanced technologies and contributions to the digital expression and promulgation of cultural heritages. Several attendees noted the desirability of inviting alumni of the U.S.-based Frye Leadership Institute to communicate and work with their African counterparts, with an eye to building an international community of leaders for the next generation of information specialists.

Report Links Tool Accessibility to Sustainability


by Kathlin Smith

TOOLS—SOFTWARE DEVELOPED for the creation, interpretation, and communication of digital humanities resources and collections—are a critical component of the cyberinfrastructure supporting digital humanities research. The 2006 American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) report, Our Cultural Commonwealth, identifies five factors that make such tools valuable to users: accessibility, sustainability, interoperability, the ability to support collaboration across disciplines, and the ability to support ongoing experimentation.

In 2008, CLIR commissioned Lilly Nguyen and Katie Shilton, of the Department of Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, to examine the first of these factors in a report evaluating more than 30 digital humanities tools for accessibility.1

Shilton examines the second factor—sustainability—in a new report from CLIR, Supporting Digital Tools for Humanists: Investigating Tool Infrastructure. She finds a positive correlation between the accessibility of a digital humanities tool and the quality of its supporting infrastructure. “A successful combination of accessibility, longevity, and support add to the value of a tool to researchers. . . . Sustainability is, in many ways, a time-oriented measure of tool accessibility,” she notes.

And sustainability can indeed be a major problem. The author notes, for example, that several tools have been abandoned in the year since the original Digital Tools for Humanists research. Some have been replaced by new commercial or academic tools; others have disappeared owing to loss of interest, time, or funding.

Of the 38 tools reviewed for the recent report, the five highest scores went to George Mason University’s Scribe, Web Scrapbook, and Zotero; Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities’ Virtual Lightbox; and the Institute for the Future of the Book’s SOPHIE.

Best Practices

The link between accessibility and sustainability suggests several best practices for digital humanities centers (DHCs) seeking to create and maintain tools for digital humanities:

Web site design: Tool authors deciding how a tool is mounted and displayed should inform researchers of its support and longevity. Centers should keep users abreast of updates, new funding, and new staff. They should also make it easy to contact developers. These steps can assure scholars who have worked with a tool for months or years that their work will not be in vain if a tool is abandoned.

Professionalism: Tools should not be envisioned as “one-off” programming projects, but as products to support rigorous and long-term scholarship. Professional tool development requires dedicating ongoing institutional funding to tool support. If a DHC uses grants to support tool creation, it should consider a sustainability plan for user support, repair, and updates. Shilton notes that stewardship, though it requires resources, does not have to rely solely on large budgets. “A tool with great potential for the humanities community, shared and edited widely, can persist over time with the help of volunteers. The thriving Zotero community is just one example of this possibility.”

Next Steps

Shilton suggests three areas of research, development, and funding that could help digital humanities cyberinfrastructure move toward a more sustainable future.

  1. An evaluation of the utility and fit of digital humanities tools. Describing the array of tools currently available to digital humanists and assessing how well they fit the needs of humanities research would improve our knowledge of existing toolkits. Mapping the tool landscape could also help prioritize funding for curation, maintenance, and new development.

  2. Imagining an institutional infrastructure to support the digital one. Maintaining tool visibility, interoperability, and sustainability may not be a job for DHCs alone. Some type of curated infrastructure that supports sharing and reuse would help make existing tools more widely available and new tools more viable and sustainable.

  3. Engaging tool designers with issues of accessibility and sustainability will help strengthen the digital humanities cyberinfrastructure by training the people who drive it. Funders should finance train-the-trainers sessions for DHC affiliates interested in tool development.

The report is available here.


1 Lilly Nguyen and Katie Shilton. 2008. Tools for Humanists. Pp. 58-73 in Diane Zorich, A Survey of Digital Humanities Centers in the United States. Washington, DC: Council on Library and Information Resources.

CLIR to Fund Rare Book School Scholarships


THE COUNCIL ON Library and Information Resources will fund 10 scholarships for the Rare Book School (RBS) at the University of Virginia. Recipients of the awards will be designated the CLIR-RBS Director’s Scholarship Fund scholars.

The CLIR-RBS awards will be offered as part of a larger Director’s Scholarship Fund, which was recently established at RBS in honor of Terry Belanger, who will step down as director of RBS this summer. In addition to providing much-needed scholarships, the fund will provide interim support for the school in the period before Belanger’s successor launches a new fundraising effort.

In announcing the gift, CLIR President Charles Henry said, “We are delighted to support RBS, which has become the world’s principal institution in its field and an essential part of humanities research libraries. . . . We see these scholarships as an effective means to build a wider community of professionalism and expertise in service to research and teaching.”

The Rare Book School offers about 30 five-day courses each year on subjects ranging from medieval manuscripts to modern fine printing. Founded by Belanger at Columbia University in 1983, the school moved to the University of Virginia in 1992. A course at the school is widely accepted as the equivalent of a semester-long course in an advanced professional program.

CLIR will support this effort through the Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives Program, which it administers through funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The scholarships will be awarded to students whose interest in rare books and archives complements the mission and goals of the cataloging program.
More information about the Rare Book School and the new scholarship program can be found at

DLF Transition Advisory Committee Named


The following individuals have been appointed to
the Digital Library Federation (DLF) Transition Advisory Committee:

Fred Heath
Vice Provost, University Libraries
University of Texas at Austin

Geneva Henry
Executive Director
Center for Digital Scholarship
Rice University
and former DLF Distinguished Fellow

Paula Kaufman
University Librarian and Dean of the Libraries
Professor, Library and Information Science
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Rick Luce
Vice Provost and Director
University Libraries
Emory University

James Neal
Vice President for Information Services
University Librarian
Columbia University

Winston Tabb
Dean, University Libraries
Johns Hopkins University

In the coming months this committee will review and make recommendations about the future direction of DLF; address issues pertaining to sponsorship criteria, benefits, fees, and promulgation of mission; articulate the qualities and skills requisite for the next program officer; plan for the near term forums; more sharply define the relationship with CLIR; and explore other aspects of an evolving federation.

Hollie White Named Zipf Fellow


chuck henryHOLLIE WHITE, a doctoral student in information science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has been selected to receive the A. R. Zipf Fellowship in Information Management for 2009. She holds master’s degrees in library and information science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and in English from the University of Georgia.

White’s dissertation research focuses on the role that knowledge organization plays in large data and information environments. She has already completed one study examining the personal organizational practices of scientists and has collected data for a second study. White is a member of the Dryad Repository Development team, a group that is sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services and aims to preserve, discover, and share data underlying published materials in evolutionary biology.

Named in honor of A. R. Zipf, a pioneer in information management systems, the $10,000 fellowship is awarded annually to a student who is enrolled in graduate school in the early stages of study and shows exceptional promise for leadership and technical achievement in information management. For more information and a list of previous fellowship recipients, visit

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