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Making the Rules: Where to Start?

As we have reported previously in Re:Thinking, CLIR is now in the final stages of developing a proposed new digitization competition, the product of more than a year’s worth of consultation with The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, other funders, and experienced practitioners from cultural heritage institutions. We hope to learn very soon whether we have succeeded in securing approval to move ahead with our plans. If successful, we expect to make an announcement by mid-December and to issue a request for proposals for the competition in early 2015.

Designing an effective competition for funding is a complex, inevitably imperfect endeavor. It is necessary to draw a scope for fundable activities that is as clear as possible yet expansive enough to allow for unanticipated improvements or enhancements to those activities. To be marketable to sufficient numbers of applicants, its mission must be grounded in broadly shared values of a large, yet specific, community of interest. It must address important priorities in that community while leaving room for applicants to articulate those priorities on their own terms. It must be appealing enough to a broad range of creative and talented people who will invest wisdom, time, and attention in planning for and stewarding grant funds toward the production of project deliverables, without encouraging so many top quality proposals that the chances of them being successful in the competition would be unreasonably low. It is necessary to do all of this while maintaining realistic expectations about what the funding base can genuinely help applicants, reviewers, and administrative staff achieve together.

To keep our conversations grounded as we translate what we have heard from others into an application and set of guidelines, it has been helpful for CLIR staff to articulate five core ideas about the proposed program. We refer to these as we make the myriad tiny decisions about the rules under which the program would operate. It is our hope that we can refine these statements into a program description that would give applicants both direction and inspiration:

  1. Scholarship: The program will be designed to maximize its impact on the creation and dissemination of new knowledge.
  2. Comprehensiveness: The program will support the digitization of entire (or at least quantifiably substantial proportions of) collections of significant scholarly value, and encourage making these easily discoverable alongside related materials online.
  3. Collaboration: The program will promote strategic partnerships rather than duplication of capacity and effort.
  4. Sustainability: The program will promote best practices for ensuring the long-term availability and discoverability of digital files.
  5. Openness: The program will ensure that digitized content will be made available to the public as easily and completely as possible.

It is unlikely that these statements will be surprising to our readers who have been following along in this series of posts, but at the same time we would welcome any feedback in comments below or privately to Do these ideas seem in keeping with contemporary interests and priorities in the cultural heritage communities? What would you add to our list?

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