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CLIR Issues 141

CLIR Issues

Number 141  May/June 2021
ISSN 1944-7639 (online version)


Re: Vision
CLIR Launches New Publication Series, Appoints Editorial Committee
Digital Library of the Middle East Implements Major Upgrades
Special Podcast Episode, “Crisis as Catalyst: Notes from DCDC” Highlights UK Cultural Initiatives
Welcome to Jennifer Ferretti
Join these DLF Working Group Events
NDSA Accepting Nominations for Excellence Awards
Recordings at Risk Cycle 9 to Open this Fall!

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Re: Vision

Editor’s note: In May, CLIR initiated a several-month, facilitated examination of its mission, vision, and values. CLIR is currently having conversations with a range of stakeholders to inform a five-year vision (2026 marks CLIR’s 70th anniversary). In this essay, CLIR president Charles Henry reflects on the process of “feasible imaginative rethinking.”

A revealing backstory about the 1960s Star Trek television series is instructive for CLIR and other nonprofits undertaking a review of vision statements. The anecdote focuses on salt and pepper shakers: in one scene, crew members of the Enterprise go to the ship’s cafeteria to have a meal. The food is manufactured from marvelous 3-D machines—a kind of edible maker space. On one of the trays in the scene were a couple of objects; a production manager asked what they were. A set designer explained they were salt and pepper shakers in the twenty-third century. The manager said they were too futuristic, in the sense that no one watching would recognize them. The shakers were supposedly redesigned to be comprehensible to a mid-twentieth-century audience.

This anecdote underscores the conceptual limits of any visioning effort. A Star Trek in which it would be difficult to understand the material and conceptual world of a distant future would not succeed in attracting an audience. Whatever vision is aspired to has to be grounded sufficiently in the cognitive structures of its present-day environment to be grasped and engaged with; the inclusion of salt and pepper shakers on board the Enterprise two centuries hence acknowledges this. Visioning is a careful weave of desired outcomes grounded in the prevailing context of custom, tradition, and expectations: a feasible imaginative rethinking.

At CLIR, we are creating a vision for five years hence, not two hundred. Yet, as we look toward 2026, it is still important to inform our constituencies of the contextual framework that is guiding our thinking. The specifics of what we want to achieve and why will emerge from this process.

There are two key phenomena embedded in our academic and social milieu that will determine the intellectual shaping of this imaginative exercise. The first is the means by which new ideas are translated into practical application. The second is an acknowledgment of the pervasive structures within which our constituency thrives. These two conditions are difficult to reconcile. CLIR’s vision, whatever the final articulation, will be a negotiation of contending mindsets and the narrative each promotes.

From Idea to Shared Practice

CLIR strives to pioneer best practices on behalf of our sponsors and members, as well as the larger cultural heritage community, including libraries, galleries, museums, and archives. Shared practice is a means to manage our evolution and shape our future. I hesitate to use the term innovate, but in the more accurate, complex definition of the process it is appropriate. Innovate in this sense does not imply disruptive innovation, a popular preoccupation that is something of a misnomer and increasingly contested. Innovation for CLIR means successfully introducing ideas into practical application that results in greater efficiency and effectiveness, as well as a stronger appreciation of and willingness to work in a functional community. Sharing resources, distributing stewardship, and adopting new workflows at scale are markers of these efforts. As Matt Ridley writes in How Innovation Works, genuine innovation is likened to a team sport. Dismissing the mythic preference to describe innovators as solitary geniuses and innovation as a phenomenon that springs from their solitary insights, a more accurate definition of innovation declares that it “always requires collaboration and sharing.” Most innovations that fueled the Industrial Revolution “advanced by collective research and development among many actors freely sharing their ideas.” Similar circumstances describe the more recent digital revolution.

Steven Johnson, in Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer, makes a similar claim. Johnson focuses on the near doubling of human life expectancy in the last century, emphasizing the complex social interventions and behavioral adjustments requisite for this extraordinary achievement. The typical celebration of individuals is misleading; Alexander Fleming’s vacation and his discovery upon return of the antibiotic properties of penicillin is emblematic of this storytelling. While scientists made important discoveries, Johnson persuasively argues that “it took the work of activists and public intellectuals and legal reformers to bring their benefits to everyday people.” It was “progress that required new social movements, new forms of persuasion and new forms of public institutions.” This kind of cultural transformation does not come with icons that are easy to perceive and describe (Johnson gives as examples a skyscraper, a moon landing, a smartphone rollout). According to Johnson, we need to correct our vision to perceive the often meandering but accumulative changes that profoundly define us.

A change in shared vision evolves over the longer term, with more subtle contributions of many individuals guided by relatable principles and mission. We seek to advance a virtual commons, a social construct of nuanced, extensible collaboration that can achieve an interdependence that strengthens the communities that directly and indirectly participate in the adoption of new professional practices, new methodologies of inquiry and discovery: engaged voices that promote new open and shared resources to serve the public good. This progression is inherently social and dependent on sustained, cohesive behavior. It does not come about through the lonely work of a scholar, or by the prerogative of a few institutions, or the latest flash of technology.

A Traditional Framework

CLIR also must succeed within the ecology of higher education and other knowledge institutions, an ecology delineated by strategies that tend to be self-promoting and idiosyncratic; governed by short-term, incremental budgeting; and risk averse. Knowledge is generated within this decisively conservative framework. Our academic knowledge environment is segmented and expensive. It is characterized by multiple repositories; thousands of libraries and remote storage facilities with significant duplication of materials; bundled institutional journal subscriptions purchased with hefty annual fees, with most of the bundled materials of little or no use to the schools that lease them; a proliferation of silos of data, most inaccessible beyond and even within an institution; and proprietary datasets of our cultural and scientific legacy that remain out of reach to the general public.

The reasons for these hinderances are complex, suffused with well-intentioned methods to control risk. For example, inherited normative methods of research and scholarly expression continue to be rewarded, inhibiting innovation and risk taking. Research results are outsourced to for-profit publishers. Colleges and universities work within a highly competitive environment that discourages collaboration across institutions and favors self-sufficiency and improving ranking. Finally, higher education has shown a reluctance to embrace the full potential of digital technology, instead adopting it as an electronic surrogate for existing services and programs with minimal disruption. Within this competitive arena is a proliferation of metrics largely derived from the analog itemization of the industrial era. What counts today, literally, is difficult to cultivate in the common ground of interdependence.

The Value of the Commons

As cost pressures mount for institutions of higher education, foremost in the minds of many administrators is the question, “What’s in this for my institution?” At CLIR we are sometimes asked, “What is the immediate return on my investment of scholarship?” Grants and other forms of support are one aspect of our commitment to our constituency. Disbursement of funds will continue to be professionally adjudicated, peer reviewed, and based on rigorous, agnostic guidelines. In an era where previously hidden material can become openly available digitally, the benefit of these grants accrues well beyond the holding institution. But many of the benefits of supporting CLIR come about through years, or even decades, of focused work; they are less tangible than iPhone rollouts or moon landings, and are often not easily measured, relying on the wisdom, patience, and perspicuity of the commons for practical benefit.

Navigating these variable working environments and their conceptual and cognitive imbrications is one of CLIR’s most salient challenges. Put another way, at the heart of our conundrum is the very different storytelling that each of these working environments privileges. Pondering our visioning process, itself a mapping of physical, social, and cultural boundaries with often vague or elusive guideposts, recalled songlines—the traditional wayfinding practice essential to the First Nations People of Australia. Celebrated by Bruce Chatwin in his book of the same title, a songline is a path, a means of navigation, passed down through generations, that is articulated through songs, dance, ritual, and other cultural expression. A lengthy trek is thus sung, guided by local, iterative demarcations of land and sky to a desired destination. Songlines provide a vital link to aboriginal ancestors and afford safe conduct through often inhospitable and arid lands.

There is much to learn from this ancient strategy. It is based on a deep respect of the past, binding generations; it transcends local language and habit, vocalizing a more encompassing geography within a shared cognitive map. It requires a community, a broad-based knowledge exchange that promises survival of adventure. While we cannot presume to attain the spiritual depth of a songline, we can appreciate its profound humanity, and hope, with directional rhythm and appealing harmony, to adopt a common path that can capably take us from here to there.

Related Reading

John Carreyrou, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup. Vintage Books, 2020.

Kate Crawford, Atlas of AI. Yale University Press, 2021

Reeves Wiedeman, Billion Dollar Loser: The Epic Rise and Spectacular Fall of Adam Neumann and WeWork. Little, Brown and Co. 2020.


CLIR Launches New Publication Series, Appoints Editorial Committee

CLIR has issued a call for proposals (CFP) for a new publication series on topics reflecting current concerns in the information and cultural heritage community. A four-person editorial committee has been appointed to review submissions.

editorial committeeModeled on CLIR’s “burgundy reports”—named for their cover color—the new series invites ideas from the community. Topics relating to traditional areas of CLIR publication—such as digital libraries, preservation, emerging technologies, and trends in information use—will be considered, along with proposals on topics relating to social and racial justice, labor, intersectionality, accessibility, sustainability, building and maintaining community, working with sensitive materials and marginalized groups, decolonizing the field(s), and the climate crisis.

Reports will be limited in length to 50 pages and will include executive summaries and visual elements to facilitate access and navigation. All reports will be released in electronic form only and will be freely available on CLIR’s website.

The newly named editorial committee consists of
—Amy Hildreth Chen, medical editor, literary scholar, and former CLIR postdoctoral fellow;
—Jasmine Clark, digital scholarship librarian at Temple University;
—Matthew Kirschenbaum, professor of English and digital studies at the University of Maryland, and director of the Graduate Certificate in Digital Studies and co-director of the BookLab makerspace; and
—Selena Ortega-Chiolero, museum specialist for the Chickaloon Village Traditional Council in Palmer, Alaska.

Proposals are due September 27, 2021, and decisions will be announced in December 2021. Successful proposals will receive a $2,500 stipend. Projects will begin no earlier than January 1, 2022, and complete drafts must be submitted to CLIR by December 10, 2022. More information, including the CFP, application form, and Q&A is available here.


Digital Library of the Middle East Implements Major Upgrades

children's book cover
Mice and the Cat (ascribed to Ubayd Zakani, b. late 14th. c) is one of the earliest known children’s books in Persian. Courtesy ShahreFarang

CLIR, in collaboration with Qatar National Library and Stanford University Libraries have made several major improvements to the Digital Library of the Middle East (DLME).

The public, open DLME platform, released in July 2020, aggregates digital records of published materials, documents, maps, artifacts, audiovisual recordings, and more from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Viewers can access nearly 134,000 digital records of materials spanning more than 12 millennia held in museums, libraries, and archives worldwide. The site is fully navigable in Arabic and English.

The improvements offer new capabilities for browsing, searching, and organizing content. Site curators are now able to organize content into categories and subcategories that users can interact with. The multilingual interface has also been improved. The Hijri and Gregorian calendars, which had previously been implemented as two separate facets, have been merged into a single facet with a toggle switch to select the desired calendar.

New content, added regularly, is now highlighted in the “Recently Added” section on the home page and can also be viewed on the explore page.

The project partners welcome user feedback, as well as recommendations for digital collections to be included in the DLME.


Special Podcast Episode, “Crisis as Catalyst: Notes from DCDC,” Highlights UK Cultural Initiatives

In a special episode, CLIR’s Material Memory podcast partners with the UK-based DCDC conference (opening June 28), to bring you three stories about “crisis as a catalyst for change.” Host Nicole Kang Ferraiolo first interviews Angela Whitecross, who was capturing oral history testimonies of the UK National Health Service when COVID-19 broke out and found herself documenting the history she herself was living. In the second segment, Teresa Cisneros discusses her efforts to embed a practice of anti-racism and anti-ableism at the Wellcome Collection and her hopes of turning the logic of colonial administration against itself. Finally, Ferraiolo speaks with Henry Roberts, the youth activist who is developing a climate action plan for the National Library of Scotland as Scotland gears up to host COP26, the UN’s climate summit. The episode closes with a brief conversation with Matt Greenhall, one of the conference organizers, who reflects on common threads throughout these stories and how cultural organizations can turn moments of crisis into catalysts for change.

DCDC21: Discovering Collections, Discovering Communities, hosted by The National Archives (UK)RLUK, and Jisc, will take place virtually June 28–July 2. Registration is open through 14:00 GMT on Friday, June 25.


Welcome to Jennifer Ferretti

On June 21, CLIR staff welcomed Jennifer Ferretti as DLF’s new senior program officer. Ferretti, whose appointment was announced in May, comes to CLIR from the Maryland Institute Jennifer Ferretti 1080xCollege of Art on Piscataway Land, in Baltimore, Maryland. There she managed the Decker Library’s Digital Initiatives Unit and oversaw the library’s digital preservation program. Ferretti is also an artist and the founder and principal of We Here, a community dedicated to supporting Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in library and information science professions.

“Jennifer’s appointment could not be more timely,” said CLIR president Charles Henry. “As CLIR undertakes a review of its mission, vision, and values, Jennifer brings a fresh perspective and thoughtful insight to the organization. We will evolve not just by what we can envision but how we see the world and can thereby best contribute to its enhancement.”

“I’ve long admired the DLF’s commitment to the communities they serve and the centering of social justice in their work,” said Ferretti. “I very much look forward to working with CLIR and DLF teams and practitioner networks to help carry their values forward, informed by their rich history, while also looking toward the future of digital library technologies and practice.”


Join These DLF Working Group Events

DLF’s 11 Working Groups stay busy year-round. You are invited to join in these upcoming events:

Thursday, July 1, 2pm ET/11am PT
DLF Project Managers Group webinar: Managing Crowdsourcing Projects and Programs

Speaker: Caitlin Haynes, Smithsonian Transcription Center
Contact for call-in information

Wednesday, July 14, 16:00 (UK)/11am ET/8am PT
Research Libraries UK (RLUK) Digital Scholarship Network/DLF Data & Digital Scholarship Working Group joint meeting

This interactive session will explore the tangible ways through which skills can be shared across the transatlantic research library community in relation to digital scholarship.

Convened by Research Libraries UK (RLUK) and DLF’s Data & Digital Scholarship Working Group, the meeting will provide a brief overview of the results of the Expression of Interest survey released at the previous joint meeting, along with opportunities for further collaboration between DLF DDS and DSN around skills. Breakout discussions (with speaker leads) will focus on:

  • Artificial Intelligence and machine learning
  • Tools for digital scholarship
  • Planning and managing a digital scholarship centre
  • Assessment and Metrics

Newcomers are encouraged to join us as this meeting will also provide an opportunity for further networking between both groups and the chance to informally talk with your fellow professionals. To register for this event:


NDSA Accepting Nominations for Excellence Awards

Nominations are now being accepted for the National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NDSA) 2021 Excellence Awards!

The annual NDSA award program was first established in 2012 as the Innovation Awards to recognize and encourage exemplary achievement in the field of digital preservation stewardship. Beginning in 2021, the awards were renamed as the Excellence Awards to highlight and commend all forms of creative and meaningful contributions by individuals, projects, sustainability activities, organizations, future stewards, and educators to the field of digital preservation. These awards focus on recognizing excellence in the following areas:

  • Educator Award: Recognizing academics, trainers, and curricular endeavors promoting effective and inventive approaches to digital preservation education through academic programs, partnerships, professional development opportunities, and curriculum development.

  • Future Steward Award: Recognizing students and early-career professionals making an impact on advancing knowledge and practice of digital preservation stewardship.

  • Individual Award: Recognizing those individuals making a significant contribution to the digital preservation community through advances in theory or practice.

  • Organization Award: Recognizing those organizations providing support, guidance, advocacy, or leadership for the digital preservation community.

  • Project Award: Recognizing those activities whose goals or outcomes make a significant contribution or strategic or conceptual understanding necessary for successful digital preservation stewardship.

  • Sustainability Award: Recognizing those activities whose goals or outcomes make a significant contribution to operational trustworthiness, monitoring, maintenance, or intervention necessary for sustainable digital preservation stewardship.

As a diverse international membership organization with a shared commitment to digital preservation, the NDSA understands the importance of developing and supporting a broad range of successful digital preservation activities. Acknowledging that exemplary digital stewardship can take many forms, eligibility for these awards has been left purposely broad. Anyone or any project or institution acting in the context of the above categories can be nominated for an award. Nominees do not have to be NDSA member institutions or individuals or project staff affiliated with member institutions, but must evidence engagement with the theory and practice of long-term digital preservation stewardship. Nominators similarly do not need to be affiliated with NDSA member institutions. Self-nomination is accepted and encouraged, as are submissions reflecting the needs and accomplishments of historically marginalized and underrepresented communities.

Nominations will be accepted until Friday, July 30, 2021.

In past years, prizes have been presented during the NDSA’s annual Digital Preservation conference Given ongoing travel restrictions, this year’s event will again take place in virtual form, on Nov. 4, 2021. Attendance at the conference is encouraged but not required for awardees or nominators. More information on the awards, including a list of previous winners, is available at

Recordings at Risk Cycle 9 to Open this Fall!

This fall, CLIR will announce a new round of competition for its Recordings at Risk regranting program. Information on the cycle’s application timeline will be posted online once it is finalized. Subscribe to the CLIR Programs & Grants mailing list to be sure you receive the latest updates!


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