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CLIR and Coherent Digital: An Idea Applied

CLIR and Coherent Digital: An Idea Applied
Building Capacity through a Not-for-Profit and Corporate Partnership

—by Charles Henry

CLIR and Coherent Digital LLC (CD) have developed a partnership to greatly expand opportunities for sustained and useful access to endangered resources, both through digitization and through capture of culturally valuable digital-only content. This partnership strives to enhance our capacity to learn about and interpret the world through the lens of social justice, and thus advance the universal human rights to participate in our cultural heritage, to access education, and to think freely.

Coherent Digital was developed as a corporation guided by ideas and principles espoused by CLIR, and represents a rare transposition of a project nurtured within a not-for-profit organization to a commercial for-profit business in service to scientists, policy makers, educators, knowledge organization professionals, students, and the general public across the world.

Ten years ago CLIR, with generous funding from the Mellon Foundation, launched the Committee on Coherence at Scale. The Committee investigated a working environment of higher education that at the time was defined by silos, paywalls, lost data, and inaccessible information that impedes a more coherent, accessible knowledge ecology, and competition continues to be a key obstacle. Institutions vie for faculty, students, money, and prestige. This mindset offers almost no incentive for true collaboration and interdependence. A correlate aspect of the problem is the incessant counting by schools and other cultural organizations, an arithmetic of prestige that can be so inhibiting. Books, journals, grants, class size, test scores, works of art, endowments, admission rates, and other instances of reductive tallying foster more intensive contesting.

Conservatism also pervades, as do the idiosyncrasies of disciplines that structure higher education, reinforcing conservatism and similarly impeding a more coherent model of knowledge access and reuse. Disciplines, and the professions that provide stewardship for their discoveries, have distinct customs, expectations, systems of advancement, lexicons, and methodologies that are quite difficult to export to other fields of study, ensuring compartmentalization within. The Committee determined that the inherited norms, customs, traditions, and organizational models that have structured research and teaching needed to be constructively challenged, redefined, and subsequently reassembled, affording new ways to expand capacity for future discovery that transcends our current costly and redundant archipelago of knowledge production.

Stephen Rhind-Tutt, a former Board member of CLIR and founder of Alexander Street Press, served on the Committee on Coherence at Scale. Eventually selling his press, Stephen embarked to apply the principles of coherence and the added value it promised, eventually realized as Coherent Digital. CD uses unique, cost-effective, extensible, and easily augmented cataloging schema to make coherent content that is uncataloged, undiscoverable, uncitable, prone to link rot, and likely to disappear, creating collections of critical research and learning materials. CD is a platform of deep context, providing tools and supporting materials in service to research and learning, working with leading authors, publishers, nonprofits, libraries, and archives to amplify their voices and help them remain sustainable.

Our initial joint project is Hidden Collections Africa, an initiative designed to identify, digitize, catalog, and make accessible rare, important, and endangered resources of African cultural heritage in response to climate change, political disruption, and legacies of colonialism’s biased neglect. Led by African-based professionals, the proposed program would directly support institutions and staff across the African continent to meet urgent preservation needs, close gaps in the historical record, and make records more accessible. Our inaugural focus will assay core aspirations of our partnership, and we can think of no more fitting opportunity than this dynamic, vital effort that can only succeed at scale.

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