Number 80 • March/April 2011
ISSN 1944-7639 (online version)
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The challenges and rewards of deep collaboration was the topic of CLIR’s 2011 Sponsors’ Symposium, “Collaborative Opportunities Amidst Economic Pressures,” held April 6. The symposium focused on a central question: What does it takes to engage in deep collaboration—to share resources and expertise with the goal of improving services and realizing benefits beyond the individual organization?
CLIR President Chuck Henry opened the symposium by stating that our traditional education structures are competitive and idiosyncratic. “Our system of higher education is anything but a system. It is expensive and redundant, and in times of financial distress, we can no longer get away with it.” We must adopt national-level solutions to shared problems, and to do so will require high levels of trust.
The symposium’s first session highlighted three initiatives in deep collaboration. In opening the panel, moderator and University of Virginia (UVa) Librarian Karin Wittenborg observed “there are few stunning success stories in collaboration.” Collaboration does not necessarily save money, but it will make things possible that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.
“If You Want to Go Far, Go Together”
The first panelist, Martha Sites, spoke on The Making of Hydra: Common Solutions for Common Problems. Sites is deputy university librarian at UVa. Hydra began as a collaboration between UVa, DuraSpace, and the universities of Hull and Stanford, to develop a software solution that supported a range of common basic functional needs. The project’s name comes from the idea of “one body, many heads.” It has open architecture, is a collaboratively built solution, and is based on a community model, where others can extend and enhance the code. Through the commitment to collaborate, Hydra has developed solutions for electronic theses and dissertations, archives, electronic everyday materials, a general-purpose repository, and a self-depository for open access, all with search and browse capabilities. While acknowledging that collaboration takes more time than working alone, Sites said that the partner relationship has worked well, and she invoked the African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Aligning Project Goals with Institutional Priorities
Lori Jahnke, S. Gordon Castigliano CLIR Fellow at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, spoke on the Medical Heritage Digital Collaborative (MHDC). MHDC is a partnership of ten organizations dedicated to connecting history of medicine collections across institutions and to exposing these collections through digitization. The highly specified nature of medical language presents a challenge for linking primary sources, secondary literature, and data sets. The group plans to improve discovery across disciplines by using concept mapping and other semantic technologies. The partnership includes both large and small institutions, which has presented some interesting benefits—the flexibility of the small institutions complements the depth of expertise and other resources supported by the larger institutions. Speaking about multi-institutional collaboration, Jahnke noted, “Change and innovation can be slow to take hold … but when project development and institutional priorities align, the prognosis for sustainability is good. However, collaborations are fragile things and surviving the early stages can rely on the patience and dedication of the individuals involved.”
Creating a Virtual Research Environment
Heike Neuroth, scientific coordinator of TextGrid and director of research and development at the Goettingen State University Library in Germany, spoke on TextGrid, a consortium of 10 research institutions in Germany that is developing a Virtual Research Environment (VRE) for researchers in the arts and humanities. TextGrid provides services and tools for the analysis of text data and supports the curation of research data by means of grid technology. Libraries and data centers, as well as universities and research institutions, are collaborating in the community-driven process. The TextGrid VRE consists of two main components: the TextGrid Lab, which serves as an entry point to the VRE, and the TextGrid Repository, which is a long-term humanities data archive.
Wittenborg opened the discussion by observing that collaboration and compromise go hand in hand, and compromise is difficult: “It is not a place for perfectionists.” She also noted that the sense of community was different in each of the three projects, and that a passion—not just a common need—drives each. She then asked, “What have you learned from moments where things stalled in a project?”
Sites responded that project staff must keep their minds open to the greater good, which can mean compromise. “The more people who are committed to the same objective, the better. And starting off with a small number of partners was a good thing.”
Jahnke said it was most important to agree on the shared vision, and what collaboration means. In the MHDC project, for example, some partners were more interested in digitization than access, but at the start it was not clear that each was talking about different things. “Technology is the easy part; the organizational and cultural aspects are hard,” said Jahnke.
Neuroth observed that “the biggest challenge was to learn about the future role of the library in research institutes.” Libraries are viewed as trusted and neutral institutions that serve all disciplines, but their challenge is to understand the research methods used by various disciplines. “We must change traditional thinking about the role of librarians in research culture,” she said.
Other questions followed from the audience:
When does something become a macrosolution, and what are the attributes of a successful macrosolution? How should a library decide when to join, or when to go alone? How do we build macrosolutions when individuals bring changing interests?
Sites responded that things are always changing, so looking for a fixed solution is not always practical. Often, there is more than one solution to a problem. There needs to be a coalescing on what best serves an institution. Sometimes an out-of-the-box solution is good, but larger institutions might want more flexibility. Sometimes involving huge numbers of partners can hamper a national solution. Be clear about the problems you want to solve, be open to various options for solving them, and look for like-minded partners to engage in finding solutions.
What happens when a collaborative partner does not get something done?
Sites responded that this can happen in unexpected ways. For example, in the Hydra project, UVa lost several key technology staff and could not replace them because of a hiring freeze. Other partners picked up the slack because the partners were committed to getting the project done. Conversely, when another partner was unable to deliver on something, UVa found a way to assign staff to the work. “The key is to acknowledge when something is holding up the project and find a solution that works for everyone,” said Sites.
Sites said they have never fired a partner, but there have been discussions about level of commitment. Wittenborg added that it is important to set expectations that are agreed upon and explicit, and there must be willingness to call out non-performers.
Will collaboration result in cost-efficiency?
The panelists agreed that costs would probably not be saved in the short term. However, collaboration will produce better resources, ways for people to do work more efficiently, or standards that will facilitate future use of research objects across disciplines. One audience member observed that we need new language to talk about these types of benefits. Another member said he is trying to make more focused efforts to save staff time so that it can be freed up for other work. For example, he is promoting strategic software development.
Does the “community” involved in these projects include publishers or software developers?
Jahnke replied that the MHDC is not at that point yet; they want to have a scholarly community embedded around the content itself. Sites responded that Hydra has a vendor partner that is committed to open-source solutions, and would welcome other partners that share the same set of principles. They have also paid the vendor partner to help with development.
What portion of time do the projects focus on people and policy, rather than coding?
Sites said that regular steering committee calls and meetings focus mostly on people and policy, but outside of these conversations not much time is spent on these issues. You can’t force partnerships and collaborations—there must be common interest and commitment. Wittenborg concluded that they can be labor-intensive at every level, and that UVa is still grappling with what to stop doing so that it can free resources for collaboration.
Several audience members supported the idea of creating a macroprojects commons, so that institutions would know what was being done elsewhere.
Impediments to Collaboration
In the day’s final session, the audience gathered into small groups to respond to a challenge question posed by Chuck Henry: We have been talking about the need for collaboration for years, and yet, as revealed by a recent ITHAKA S+R survey, only 13% of respondents were involved in collaboration of the sort that was discussed today—even though 85% said it was important. What is it in policies, organizations, traditions, or practices that is impeding collaboration?
Group members’ responses ranged from cultural and organizational constraints, to staffing and resource limitations, to strategic impediments. CLIR will share the detailed responses in coming weeks by way of a blog that aims to initiate a broader discussion of these constraints and strategies for tackling them.
by Carrie Kent
CLIR sponsored the first in a new series of workshops on participatory design in academic libraries April 6-7 at the Shain Library, Connecticut College. Taught by anthropologist Nancy Fried Foster of the University of Rochester, the workshop drew participants from the University of Southern California, University of Richmond, Holyoke College, University of Connecticut, Wesleyan University, Harvard University, and Connecticut College.
Several participants had attended one of Nancy’s earlier workshops on faculty and undergraduate research and wanted to work on related topics in the new framework of participatory design. The April workshop, Introduction to Participatory Design in Academic Libraries, included some of the techniques covered in the previous series, but the material was organized around research design and collection, rather than faculty research versus student research (many of the techniques for collecting information on faculty and students are the same). The workshop included two new sessions—”Interview Do’s and Don’ts” and “Why Use Video?”—that were added in direct response to previous workshop feedback.
As participants, we were all interested in new and creative ways to qualitatively analyze services and spaces in libraries, as well as the face of our organizations online. Quantitative analysis of such things as reference or circulation statistics is valuable in assessing what has been accomplished, but statistics alone can have limited meaning when designing services, space, and machine/human interaction. The human research techniques that Foster’s workshops teach fill this niche beautifully. They allow the librarian to illuminate hunches without resorting to “anecdotal” evidence and challenge what we thought we knew.
Our first day was spent getting an overview of the design processes, and then working on interviewing techniques with four recruited faculty members (all of whom told me how interesting it had been to participate in the process). Everyone got an opportunity to both interview and run a video camera, the latter presenting the most challenges!
The second day we worked with 20 recruited undergraduates on a participatory design project, based on free drawing and discussion. The students were each asked to design a new floor for the library, and although there were many predictable things on their visual wish lists (e.g., more group study space, quiet study space) we were all surprised and pleased with some of elements that appeared. Many wanted a reference desk and staff on this new floor—that was particularly pleasing to the research librarians from Connecticut College—but cozy and comfortable spots were also a high priority. Fluffy rugs, fireplaces, and big chairs figured into lots of drawings. Many libraries represented in the group were either on the brink of renovation projects or were working on student study spaces, so these were interesting new elements to consider.
Beyond the curriculum of the workshop, the informal interaction between Foster and the participants, and among the participants themselves, was invaluable. It gave us time to not only discuss what we were learning, but also the differences and likenesses in our organizations, and projects we had in mind using the techniques Foster was teaching us. Most of us are eager to attend the Intermediate Workshop on Participatory Design in Academic Libraries, the next in the series. In the meantime, we look forward to sharing information and techniques with participants from previous workshops on the group’s active listserv.
Carrie Kent is Director of Research Support and Instruction at Connecticut College.
|Read blog by workshop participant Cheryl LaGuardia, of Harvard University’s Widener Library:
by Rachel Frick
As part of the Digital Library Federation (DLF) program’s efforts to connect communities, it has joined the National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NDSA), an initiative of the Library of Congress, National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program.
The NDSA, launched in July 2010, is a partnership of institutions and organizations dedicated to preserving and providing access to selected databases, Web pages, video, audio, and other digital content with enduring value. The NDSA’s activity is carried out mainly by five working groups that focus on content, standards and practices, infrastructure, innovation, and outreach. Member institutions commit to having participants in one or more working groups.
The DLF has committed to participating in the outreach and standards and practices working groups. These are two areas in which the strengths of the DLF community strongly complement the interests of the Alliance.
The DLF will help expand outreach by building relationships with stakeholder communities that are invested in digital libraries. By providing a direct channel to its more than 60 members, the DLF will help the NDSA immediately connect and engage with institutions that want to share digital preservation resources.
Because DLF has long been the home of standards and best practices for digital collections, it is well positioned to contribute to this aspect of NDSA’s work. The DLF, through its Forums, can programmatically support the NDSA’s goal to “facilitate understanding of the role and benefit of standards in digital preservation and how to use them effectively to ensure durable and usable collections.” The Forums also provide an opportunity for the NDSA to share its work and to get feedback and advice from practitioners in the field, including insight on key challenges and suggestions for possible areas of activity.
Possibly the biggest benefit of the DLF becoming a member of the NDSA accrues to those individuals who make up the DLF community. If an individual community member wants to contribute to the NDSA, but their home institution is not a member of the Alliance, they can choose to contribute under the auspices of the DLF, through the two working groups.
The Medical Heritage Library (MHL) has received a Digital Humanities Start-up Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The grant will support planning activities among ten institutions and a scholarly advisory committee to continue developing the MHL (www.medicalheritage.org).
The MHL will offer an open access digital environment where scholars can explore medical humanities content across institutions. This environment will facilitate alternative modes of scholarly communication, multimedia exhibition, increase research efficiency, and serve as a tool for pedagogy. (See related article on symposium.)
Lori Jahnke, S. Gordon Castigliano CLIR Fellow at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, will direct the NEH-funded planning project. CLIR is one of the project’s ten partner institutions, and CLIR President Chuck Henry will serve as a principal project participant.
In December 2009, the Open Knowledge Commons received a grant from The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation on behalf of the MHL to digitize approximately 30,000 public domain volumes at five institutions and to create a collaborative process for de-duplication. Both of these endeavors are now underway. In April 2010, the MHL began the process of user engagement by hosting a community interest meeting at the American Association for the History of Medicine (AAHM) Annual Meeting in Rochester, MN. The MHL is looking forward to continued community activity and urges interested parties to contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Facebook.
The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has awarded CLIR $117,567 for research on how to build capacity for data curation within disciplines. The project will be managed by CLIR’s Digital Library Federation (DLF).
Most graduate programs in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities are not well prepared to cultivate the data management skills of their students, or sometimes even to teach them why such skills are important to the survival of their fields of study. In every discipline, at least some professionals must come to grasp the complex demands related to the creation, access, reuse, and preservation of digital research data, which have been the purview of the library and information technology professions, and of schools of library, information, and computer science.
“Developing and maintaining skills in data curation must become central to the professional identities of specialists in each discipline if our educational institutions are to build robust, efficient, and appropriately integrated online environments for future research, teaching, and learning,” said CLIR President Chuck Henry. “We are grateful to the Sloan Foundation for the opportunity to deepen our understanding of the landscape that is developing around digital curation practice and education.”
The project will consist of three interrelated activities. The first will be an environmental scan of professional development needs, and of education and training opportunities for digital curation in the academy. The second will be an anthropological study of five sites where digital curation activities are under way. The third will be a report that analyzes the results of the two research efforts and includes a proposal, informed by the findings, for amending the curriculum for CLIR’s Postdoctoral Fellowship in Academic Libraries program.
Chuck Henry, along with DLF Program Director Rachel Frick and Bryn Mawr College Chief Information Officer and Director of Libraries Elliott Shore, will serve as the project’s principal investigators. Shore is also lead instructor for the Postdoctoral Fellowship program and CLIR presidential fellow.
CLIR has received a $49,500 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to conduct an in-depth survey of publications, projects, tools, and environments pertaining to semantic web, linked data, and RDF triples technologies. Simultaneously, Stanford University Libraries has received a parallel grant of $50,000 to conduct an invitational workshop intended to incorporate the results of the CLIR survey into a design for a scalable prototype system.
Linked data offers libraries, universities, and scholarly projects improved ability to cross-search and discover digital information. The survey will provide background for participants in a workshop to be held at Stanford University Libraries in summer 2011 that aims to develop specifications, requirements, and a basic technical design for a multinational, multi-institutional prototype demonstrating the viability and efficacy of a linked data environment for improving discovery and navigation. CLIR will publish the survey report following the workshop. The documents emerging from the workshop will also be published online.
“This is a significant grant for CLIR/DLF, as it builds upon our history of rigorous research and analysis of issues that are fundamentally important to our constituencies, as well as marking a new direction,” said CLIR President Chuck Henry. “Linked data has the potential to align and federate digital resources across thousands of institutions. It is thus an aspect of large-scale solutions that CLIR has placed at the core of its strategic mission.”
“We are at a point where the need is for leading libraries to get real about this technology,” commented Stanford University Librarian Mike Keller. “Using the CLIR study as a baseline for the state of the art, we intend to come out of the workshop with concrete, actionable plans for collaborative, distributed development of metadata conversion tools, as well as for access and visualization tools.”
Sixteen graduate students have been selected to receive awards this year under the Mellon Fellowships for Dissertation Research in Original Sources, which CLIR administers.
The fellowships are intended to help graduate students in the humanities and related social science fields pursue research wherever relevant sources are available; gain skill and creativity in using primary source materials in libraries, archives, museums, and related repositories; and provide suggestions to CLIR about how such source materials can be made more accessible and useful.
The fellowships carry stipends of up to $25,000 each to support dissertation research for periods of up to 12 months.
This year, CLIR created a fellowship dedicated to original source research in the Preservation Research and Testing Division of the Preservation Directorate at the Library of Congress. The award will be given each year as part of the Mellon Dissertation Fellowship Program. This year’s recipient, Amy Brady, of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, will use technologies available through the Preservation Research and Testing Division to uncover previously obscured marginalia on little-studied original sources, allowing her to elicit new insights into where and how the proletarian avant-garde contributed to the shaping of the Federal Theatre Project.
University of Southern California
Exposing Humanity: Slavery, Abolitionism, and Early Photography in America, 1839-1865
Amy Brady (CLIR/Library of Congress Mellon Fellowship)
University of Massachusetts Amherst
America’s Federal Theatre and the Proletarian Avant-Garde
University of California, Berkeley
Rethinking the Modern: Animals, Pastoral Nomads and Property Relations in Late Ottoman Syria
Florida State University
A “Good Report of England”: Composing Communities in Early Modern Print
Expulsions of Merchants and Moneylenders in Western Europe, 1200-1450
University of California, Berkeley
Museum Bodies: Creating Encounters with Art in the 18./19. Century German Public Museum
M. Scott Heerman
University of Maryland, College Park
“Nations of This Continent”: Slavery and the Making of the American Republic in the Mississippi Valley, 1750-1840
Victims of the Social Temperament: Prostitution, Migration and the Traffic in Women in the Russian Empire and Soviet Union, 1890-1928
Phoenician and Iberian Economic Interactions in the Orientalizing Period (8th-6th centuries BC)
New York University
Indigenous Sovereignties, Non-secular Modernities: The Market for Northwest Coast First Nations Art in British Columbia
University of Pennsylvania
To the Printshops in Prague! From the Printshops in Prague!: The Making and Mobility of Jewish Books within the Ashkenazi Landscape of Jewish Printing in the Second Half of the Seventeenth Century
Representing, Not Resembling: Visual Transformations of Cartesian Physics in France and the Netherlands, 1637-1690
Adulterous Wives and Murderous Husbands: Governance, Gendered Violence, and East Indian Indentureship in the British Atlantic, 1858-1917
University of California, Los Angeles
Re-Placing Byzantium: Laskarid Urban Environments and the Landscape of Loss (1204-1261)
Girls’ Night Out: Women, Movie-going, and Urbanism in Sao Paulo, Brazil, 1920-1960
Horse Power on the Western Front: The Mobilization, Deployment and Treatment of Horses in the German, French and British Armies, 1914-1934