Digital scholarship takes advantage of the availability of digital collections and a changing landscape of tools, resources and methodologies to produce new forms of research and engagement. Digital scholarship projects and centers are common at research universities. They serve faculty and student needs by supporting digital skill development and sharing best practices in digital research methodologies and publishing. The Library of Congress has immense digital collections as well as knowledgeable and responsive staff who are currently supporting digital scholarship inquiries. However, a centralized digital scholarship service across all departments in the Library does not yet exist. While the Library of Congress doesn’t have the built in user base of dedicated students or faculty, the digital collections we offer are significant, unique and growing.
In March of 2017, senior Library of Congress managers formed a cross-departmental Digital Scholarship Working Group to respond to a set of foundational questions:
- What are the current demand and the current levels of response for digital scholarship?
- What are potential approaches to enhancing digital scholarship support across the Library? and,
- What would supporting digital scholarship look like in context of the Library’s collections, staff, users, and services?
The multidisciplinary group included practitioners from LC Labs, reference and cataloging librarians, managers, curators and technical staff. They collected use cases from across the Library and analyzed how collection format and availability, the ability of staff to support the requests, and existing technical workflows, tools and services affected how the requests were managed. The group also interviewed staff at other national libraries that have programs to support digital scholarship to learn more about their service models. After about a year of meeting, the working group shared their report with Library management. And now, after editing for clarity and removing personal information, we’re pleased to share a public version of the report (PDF 989KB).
The report makes three main recommendations on how to improve digital scholarship support at the Library of Congress:
- Invest in collection readiness for digital scholarship by making collections more available, developing features enabling computational use, and providing more information and documentation about digital collections.
- Build institutional capacity by creating a community of practice for digital scholarship that includes cultivating partnerships, training, professional development, and developing ethical and values frameworks for using and sharing digital collections.
- Expand user services by providing tools, services, and support for onsite and remote digital scholarship practitioners.
In the three years since the Working Group first met, there have been big changes at the Library of Congress and in our broader community. The Library’s new Strategic Plan, Vision, and Digital Strategy were all published. Momentum continues to build around understanding and putting into practice Collections as Data techniques and principles. Tools for analyzing and sharing digital collections are maturing. Models for institutional experimentation around digital collection access and use are being shared in the International GLAM Labs Network. Machine Learning and AI have emerged as hot topics in cultural heritage, inspiring broad conversations about new ways of working and cautions around understanding potential risks to users, practitioners, and institutions if the technologies are not applied carefully. Large organizations are re-imagining the online archival research experience from scratch. In addition, to our own explorations in new service models for digital research.
Support for digital scholarship in memory organizations, like the Library of Congress, can expand the type of users and kinds of questions that are invited into these institutions. Digital Scholarship can also generate new ways to experience and learn from primary source materials. We have already made progress on some recommendations in the report and we’re working toward others in collaboration with our colleagues across the Library. Expanding access to collections and enhancing services has always and continues to drive all staff at the Library. The process of building consensus and developing mutual understanding are the most complex yet essential aspects of enacting the digital transformation called for in the Digital Strategy.
The core recommendations and learning from this Working Group report continue to inform the work of the Digital Strategy and the LC Labs team. Maximizing the use of digital collections and supporting emerging styles of research enables more people to access the content we steward to create new knowledge, art and opportunities to connect with our collective cultural history. And even though it’s been quite awhile since the working group performed its analysis, we wanted to share this report in hopes that it’s helpful for others. Let us know what resonates with you.
Note: this blog post was updated on 5/29/20 with an updated link to the published report.