A Summary of a Report Published by the Council on Library and Information Resources

New-Model Scholarship: How Will It Survive?

by Abby Smith
March 2003

The Internet has transformed the way in which scholarship is produced and disseminated, most notably in the sciences. Digital technologies for scholarly research, analysis, communication, and teaching have been adopted more slowly in the humanities and social sciences, but there has been much innovation in these fields as well. Libraries and special collecting institutions are concerned about how to acquire, preserve, and make accessible some of the digital content coming from historians, literary scholars, and other humanists, as well as the primary sources in digital format on which this scholarship is based.

Libraries face many challenges in ensuring long-term access to the “new-model scholarship” that is born digital. This includes the variety of Web sites and other desktop digital objects created on campuses that fall somewhere short of “published” but are worthy of access in the future. Humanists pose a special problem: they are adopting digital technologies to create complex, often idiosyncratic digital objects that are in many ways more challenging to preserve than scientific literature.

A new report from the Council on Library and Information Resources, entitled New Model Scholarship: How Will It Survive?, explores the following types of emerging scholarship:

  • experimental: designed to develop and model a methodology for generating recorded information about a historical event or an academic discipline that might otherwise go undocumented. The History of Recent Science and Technology program at the Dibner Institute has initiated several projects of this nature.
  • open-ended: generates digital objects that are intended to be added to over time. An example is George Mason University’s 9/11 Project.
  • interactive: gathers content through dynamic interactions among the participants. The creators intend that the interactions, as well as the content, are part of what is to be preserved. The Dibner Institute’s Physics of Scales project is an example.
  • software-intensive: stipulates that the tools for using the data are as important to preserve as is the content. The variety of software needed to render dynamic three-dimensional models in the University of Virginia’s Monuments and Dust project illustrates the importance of preserving such tools.
  • multimedia: creates information in a variety of genresÑtexts, time lines, images, audio, and videoÑand file formats. George Mason University’s Center for New Media and History has developed several such sites for research and teaching.
  • unpublished: designed to be used and disseminated through the Web, yet not destined to be published formally or submitted for peer review.

Libraries must determine what of this content has long-term value for teaching and research. They must define the parameters of objects that describe themselves as “open-ended” and “changing,” decide what must be done to make a complex digital object ready to place in a repository, and determine how to support digital preservation over time.

Librarians, who are used to thinking about selecting and preserving content, must now work closely with creators to identify attributes of the resources that warrant preserving. This often entails preserving software as well as content. Many of the new resources were designed as experiments, and their creators neither expect nor want them to be kept forever. Nonetheless, if longevity is to be considered, it is important that creators work with librarians and archivists early on.

Several models of stewardship are emerging for resources that are worth preserving. They can be roughly divided into two organizational types.

Enterprise-based models take some responsibility for keeping information resources created by an institution or a discipline that are used primarily by that community. The University of California, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Stanford University are developing such repositories. Other enterprise-based models are seen in academic disciplines such as astrophysics, social sciences, and genetics, as well as among commercial and nonprofit publishers. Few of these digital archives strive for long-term preservation as defined by librarians and archivists. Most of the emerging models for electronic publications serve other needs, such as lower-cost distribution of and access to scholarly journals. Government-sponsored preservation activities at the National Archives and the national libraries aim for long-term preservation, but they will not collect new-model scholarly resources.

Community-based models offer third-party preservation services to digital creators. None has developed so far to meet the needs of born-digital scholarship, but both JSTOR and the Internet Archive offer interesting models for future development.

Funders that support building digital resources, including federal funding agencies such as the National Science Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts, and Institute for Museum and Library Services, do not require the deposit of data into trustworthy digital archives. This is a serious oversight that must be addressed. Equally serious is the lack of planning and action by the universities and other research institutions that support the creation of digital scholarship and are its primary consumers. Librarians, archivists, and digital scholars are well positioned to raise awareness of this impending crisis of information loss and to articulate the new roles and responsibilities to be assumed by each member of the research community that has an interest in the future of scholarship.

MORE ABOUT THE REPORT

New-Model Scholarship: How Will It Survive?
Abby Smith, March 2003
ISBN 1-887334-99-8, 55 pages

The complete text for the report is available free on CLIR’s Web site at https://www.clir.org/pubs/abstract/pub114abst.html. The report is in both PDF and HTML formats. Print copies also can be ordered at this URL for $15 per copy plus shipping.