Number 126 November/December 2018
ISSN 1944-7639 (online version)
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The staff of CLIR and DLF wish you a joyous holiday season and a happy 2019
Three Questions with Cecily Marcus
Editor’s note: We invited Cecily Marcus, curator of the Givens Collection of African American Literature at the University of Minnesota Libraries and former CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow, to discuss some of the challenges in curating African American collections and where she sees the new Postdoctoral Fellows in Data Curation for African American and African Studies making significant contributions. Marcus is the PI for Umbra Search African American History and also curates the university’s Performing Arts Archives, and the Upper Midwest Literary Archives.
How do curators grapple with what it means ethically to impose common standards on collections that reflect specific cultures, historical contexts, and worldviews?
When curators assess their collections for possible digitization, one of the great challenges (beyond copyright and overall appropriateness for open access online) is that with the advent of backlog-busting protocols like “More Product, Less Process,” many of our collections are organized and described at a gross level—collection, box, etc. Even with folder-level inventories, we still digitize individual items and, as a result, the tens or hundreds of pages that might be in a single folder all share the same description once they are digitized. This is not a great set-up for systematic or mass digitization, and even worse for large-scale aggregations like Umbra Search, where individual items may become unmoored from their folder-mates and overarching collections. They become “lost in aggregation”!
Further, folder/box/collection-level description forces us to use the most general descriptions that often fail to call out cultural specificity, race, and differences of all kinds. This, coupled with a predominantly white field of curators, archivists, and librarians, means that we continue to acquire collections and create resources that assert whiteness as the default norm and as an unspoken standard. We need progressive and inclusive standards that are committed to calling out cultural specificity as much as possible, but they also need to be designed collaboratively and iteratively with the communities that created the materials, and by librarians and archivists from diverse cultural, ethnic, and racial backgrounds. And we need to fund that work of creating better standards and of describing our collections at a more granular level.
Based on Umbra Search African American History’s experience, what were some other key challenges in planning for access to the project’s resources?
One of the principal challenges of digital projects/programs/initiatives like Umbra Search is envisioning long-term investment, growth, and sustainability. Once a digital platform is developed and available online, it’s already somewhat out of date and your initial understanding of what and why you are building changes throughout the development, beta, and out-in-the-world-to-be-used stages. But it’s often the case that the funding behind a project (usually grant funds) is only for the initial implementation phase. If digital resources are to be truly iterative and responsive to changing technologies and user needs and practices, funding models need to be iterative as well. In the process of developing Umbra Search, we have been able to identify the platform’s potential for discovery, access, and use. It’s also true that Umbra Search, as it is now, does not quite live up to its own potential. The common model of research and planning, followed by prototypes and pilots, leading then to implementation does not represent the lifecycle of digital resources, so how do we as a field grapple with our desire to create the new with our need to improve, evolve, and sustain what we have created?
Where do you see the CLIR Postdoctoral Fellows making the most significant contributions in data curation for African American and African Studies?
Given the investments that we have made in creating digital resources about African American history and culture, we have also created rich, culturally relevant datasets and I think we have only begun to imagine or understand how these datasets can be mined for research and scholarship, as well as for all sorts of reuse by students, artists, programmers, scholars, and others. The new CLIR postdocs can help guide that work, and they will be the ones to show us what a scholar-librarian can really do with digital materials that are better described and more fully discoverable.
The CLIR data curation fellows in African American and African Studies can help create the intellectual, strategic, and programmatic pathways and partnerships that help digital efforts succeed and grow over time. They will make connections not only between academic and library organizations but also between individual projects and digital humanities and digital scholarship generally. That kind of pollination across fields and disciplines, libraries, and academic departments, demonstrates buy-in and helps to spread the impact and potential of digital resources to broader audiences.
Collaborative Grants: Why Do We Care?
—by Joy Banks and Christa Williford
January will mark the launch of the fifth awards cycle of our Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives program.
Many of the earliest grants have reached or are approaching conclusion, so this is a good point from which to pause and reflect on what we’ve been learning from our constituents and to test the alignment of our program’s core values against applicants’ and recipients’ priorities. One of the trends we’ve been watching closely is the number of multi-organization grant proposals we receive. The Hidden Collections program long emphasized collaboration since first launched as a cataloging initiative in 2008. Of the 129 Cataloging Hidden Collections funded projects, 32 (25%) involved multiple partners. The transition to digitization has seen even stronger enthusiasm among reviewers for collaborative efforts: of the 48 projects funded in the first three years of Digitizing Hidden Collections, 23 (48%) are collaborations. We frequently recommend that applicants find potential partners, as it is one of the best strategies for building a competitive proposal. While the overall funding rate for applications submitted in 2015–2017 was 11.8%, 19.6% of multi-institution proposals we’ve received have been funded.
We’re cautiously optimistic that CLIR will see large numbers of collaborative proposals in 2019, since we’re conscious that the coming cycle is the first time that applicants have received significant advance notice about the continuation of the program. While previously the program sought renewal on an annual basis, the parent grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that now supports the program extends for an unprecedented three application cycles, providing funding through 2020. This development has enabled CLIR staff to do more advance outreach to applicants.
At the same time, collaborative proposals of any sort are challenging to devise and execute, and the benefits of collaborative approaches to digitizing rare and unique collections aren’t always clear. The logistical complexity and unpredictability of any digitization initiative involving special collections and archives makes some aspiring applicants wary of committing to the additional time required to align priorities across organizations and to maintain communications across distributed teams throughout a shared project. Others might argue that if each collecting organization focuses on digitizing and making its own materials discoverable as quickly as possible, the communities that need the materials will be served more efficiently, enabling other kinds of collaborative research, exhibit building, or teaching. Still others, especially smaller or under-resourced institutions, might be reluctant to undertake collaborative grant projects because of past negative experiences or for fear of losing their autonomy and unique voice in the project output. Unacknowledged differences in institutional project procedures and methodology can further complicate matters when considering fair divisions of labor, distribution of grant funding, realistic timelines, or policies about sharing information. While partners may bring different capacities to a grant initiative, successful collaboration requires that all participants have a voice in shaping and executing the project. Latoya Devezin has written more about this for CLIR in “Building Bridges: Creating Collaborative Partnerships Between Large and Small Institutions.”
Those who are accustomed to seeking grants from national programs will recognize our emphasis on collaboration as a broader trend in funding: increasingly, inter-institutional collaboration seems to be the way funders want their constituencies to do their work, but funders aren’t always successful at communicating why they’re interested in collaborative approaches.
For Digitizing Hidden Collections, we continue to emphasize the value of inter-institutional collaboration because we believe that when collecting institutions jointly align digitization priorities and approaches, they can provide broader access and more consistent service to their communities of users, maximizing the potential impact of sharing their collections while minimizing duplication of effort. We also believe that organizations in the higher education, cultural heritage, and other information sectors need to become more deeply connected if they are to become more sustainable and mitigate the risks of loss that future economic and ecological shifts will inevitably bring. When approached with care, resource and infrastructure sharing can also help level the playing field between different institution types as we work toward common preservation and access goals. As varied as memory organizations may be, they share commitments to preserving the historical, scientific, and cultural record in a way that reflects the full diversity of human experience; to serving and educating our communities; and to enabling the creation of new knowledge. While inter-institutional collaboration does not make sense for every digitization project, in many cases, thoughtfully planned collaborative approaches to the digitization of rare and unique materials can help forge lasting ties among collections practitioners that are grounded in trust and beneficial for all.
As we look to the future of CLIR’s Digitizing Hidden Grants program, we want to encourage readers to pause to consider what opportunities there might be to strengthen existing or to pursue new inter-institutional partnerships for creating broad access to digitized materials, and to explore the different approaches these partnerships could take. We encourage our constituents to think about forging international as well as domestic partnerships, keeping in mind that Canadian partners are eligible to participate in U.S.-led collaborative Digitizing Hidden Collections projects. CLIR continues to seek ways to help foster conversations about productive ways to collaborate among members of our applicant community who are interested in pursuing new partnerships; we welcome suggestions for ways we might better connect aspiring applicants at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CLIR Board Appoints New Officers
The CLIR Board of Directors elected a new slate of officers at its fall meeting. Christopher Celenza, dean of Georgetown College, Georgetown University, was elected chair. Buhle Mbambo-Thata, director of resource development for AfLIA-African Library and Information Associations and Institutions, will serve as vice chair. Guy Berthiaume, Librarian and Archivist of Canada, will serve as treasurer. Officers’ terms will go through November 2020.
Don’t Miss These Upcoming Application Deadlines:
Postdoctoral Fellowship Program: January 4, 2019 candidate deadline.The program offers recent Ph.D. graduates the chance to develop research tools, resources, and services while exploring new career opportunities. Fellows work on projects that forge and strengthen connections among library collections, educational technologies, and current research. For 2019–2021, fellowship opportunities include five fully funded Postdoctoral Fellowships in Data Curation for African American and African Studies.
Potential applicants, as well as current and past fellows, are invited to participate in three #CLIRPostdoc Twitter Q&A Sessions led by former CLIR/DLF Postdoctoral Fellow and current CLIR Program Officer Jodi Reeves Eyre (@thejodireeves), on December 20 and 27, 2018, and January 3, 2019, from 12pm–1pm ET.
For more information and a link to the online fellowship application, visit https://www.clir.org/fellowships/postdoc/applicants/.
Leading Change Institute (LCI): January 18, 2019. LCI is a week-long program designed for leaders in higher education, including CIOs, librarians, information technology professionals, and administrators who are interested in working collaboratively to promote and initiate change on critical issues affecting the academy. Information LCI’s curriculum is available at https://leadingchangeinstitute.org/speakers-and-curriculum/.
Recordings at Risk: February 8, 2019. This national regranting program supports the preservation of rare and unique audio and audiovisual content of high scholarly value through digital reformatting. Awards range from $10,000 to $50,000 and cover the costs of preservation reformatting for audio or audiovisual content by qualified external service providers.
Potential applicants may access the recording, transcript, and slides from an informational webinar held December 6, 2018. Additional applicant resources are available at https://www.clir.org/recordings-at-risk/applicant-resources/.
Forthcoming Publication Focuses on 3D/VR in the Academic Library
In February, CLIR will publish 3D/VR in the Academic Library: Emerging Practices and Trends, a volume of eight essays examining the use of 3D modeling, 3D capture technologies, and virtual reality in research and teaching. The volume, edited by CLIR Postdoctoral Fellows Jennifer Grayburn, Zack Lischer-Katz, Kristy Golubiewski-Davis, and Veronica Ikeshoji-Orlati, stems from a colloquium that took place in March 2018 at the University of Oklahoma. The report, which is funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, is a snapshot of the varied professional objectives and workflows that have developed around 3D and VR.
Save the Date for 2019 DLF Forum in Tampa!
Mark your calendars for the 2019 DLF Forum and allied events (including NDSA’s Digital Preservation 2019) October 13–17, in Tampa, Florida!