It is a truth universally acknowledged, that academic libraries in possession of undigitized special collections, must be in want of digitalization.
A 2008 On the Record Report from the Library of Congress states:
Processing has never kept up with the acquisition of unique and primary source materials. As a result, there are backlogs of unprocessed collections of these materials at libraries and repositories across the country that are not accessible through the libraries’ online discovery tools. This situation is especially critical for materials in non-textual formats (e.g., sound recordings, photographs, films, and videos) (p.21)
A solution to this backlog has the potential to be mutually beneficial in the proposal I am about to layout. Cunningham (2010) explains that “the scale of a project is the primary force driving collaboration and the impetus for acquiring assistance from a range of contributors” (p.4). It’s imperative that librarians remain central to digitizing projects from the very beginning because we can bring the tools and organization parameters to the project so that it can be done right the first time with the proper amount of metadata to ensure preservation. The scholar adds the contextual layer of expertise in content metadata. (Cunningham, 2010). By embracing the concept of collaborative indexing, I believe a stronger partnership could be formed between digital humanities (DH) scholars and academic librarians.
“Library Archives 01” by Pete Ashton is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Below I will lay out an array of points discussing advantages, procedures, timeline, and assessment. The institution for which this project is designed for is a large academic library with a robust digital humanities program that offers graduate certificates, such as Colorado University in Boulder, Co. CU Boulder also has a large holding of special collections such as Medieval Manuscripts, Early Modern printed materials, etc. Some of this collection has been digitized, but the majority is still a work in process. By adopting this emerging trend the library could work with a scholar that has selected a portion of the special collection to focus on and through a collaborative process, the documents used in the scholars’ works would then be digitized and properly preserved in an online digital collection.
The framework of Library 2.0 involves transparency, experiences, and participation. This project would further that mission by inviting an academic department into the library fold. With the mass amount of content that needs to be digitalized, preserved, and made available the library staff is unable to keep up with status quo workflows. Involving a key department that relies on the specific documents in question would open transparency and create an opportunity for participation that could be mutually beneficial. “The user is engaged, challenged, and welcomed” (Stephens, 2007)
Goals and Objectives:
- Provide better, contextualized metadata to the digital content by incorporating subject scholars into the process
- Remove the barrier between librarians, faculty, and scholars by aligning their interests and creating a fulfilling mutually beneficial project to collaborate on
- Process digital objects more quickly and make available for future research
- Empower library staff and DH scholars to provide their best work by aligning their tasks with what they do best.
- This collaboration could pave the path forward for more user-generated content creation and online engagement between the student and librarian
- This may be the only cost-effective way to ever catch up on digitalization projects
- The metadata captured from a DH scholar has inherent value due to their subject expertise and is more likely to reach future user needs
- Strengthen the bond of trust between the faculty, scholar, and librarian as they work on a mutually beneficial project and learn to see the project from both perspectives. In the words of Casey and Stephens (2007) “Buy-in creates success”
- Scholars have the opportunity to better understanding metadata practices increasing their research skills for future projects (Leblanc, 2020 p.164)
Description of Community
Engage cataloging librarians, special collection librarians, and the DH liaison librarians to consider the benefits of this collaborative process.
Invites graduate-level scholars and faculty to engage in this project as a way to participate in the furthering of academic preservation of scholarly content.
Reasons for Collaboration:
Through this collaborative effort scholars, faculty and librarians would be able to better integrate the needs of each party into the collection of works provided by the library. This effort would be mutually beneficial, opening opportunities for new research and perspectives while paving the way forward for future academic inquiries.
Collaborative tagging has been slow to get off the ground in the library world. The idea has been floated for over a decade, but still, there is hesitancy. This model has similarities to the current trend towards folksonomies, of which there is an abundance of criticisms from the scholarly community (Willey, 2011). As Mathews (2017) points out in Cultivating Complexity, “if you are trying to innovate, then occasionally you have to cross the frontier intentionally and operate within chaos for a period to expand the boundary” (p.16). Folksonomies are clearly pushing a new boundary in cataloging and discovering methods, and in that process, there may be some chaotic results. Willey (2011) is careful to note that what we currently perceive as a flaw may actually be “virtues under certain circumstances” (Willey,2011). So, while this project is a distant relative of folksonomy, it is worthwhile to relate the two and learn from the potentiality projects like this can provide. Participatory indexing as proposed by Leblanc (2020) in her recent paper this past summer suggests there is a controlled organized path forward for librarians and scholars to take that would generate contextualized metadata pulled from expertise input within a framework overviewed by cataloging professionals. By setting clear goals, rigorous recruiting efforts, and a seamless interface, the crowdsourced indexing of digital objects could work to help libraries and researchers accomplish their needs.
Action Brief Statement
I plan to convince librarians and scholars that it is in both party’s best interest to engage in an effort to collaboratively index and apply metadata to digital objects to create preserved and discoverable digital content.
Call to action for library crowdsourcing efforts:
The mission would be a collaborative effort that continues to breakdown the silos of information so prolific in higher ed and work towards more discoverable and preservable digital content.
Driven by intrinsic academic goals to engage in the scholarly conversation and contribute to the promotion of a given topic. The focus of this strategy would be sustainability and efficiency.
Sustainability– focused on a plan that could be adaptable to any digitalization project at the institution and workable with multiple academic fields. Also sustainable in that the project produces outcomes that are useful and helpful. Metadata that is user-generated but well-developed with librarian oversight to avoid the chaotic nature of folksonomy.
Efficiency– Needs a streamlined workflow. When a scholar completes an initial training for the project she/he should know exactly what the goal is and how to contribute.
Goddard (2016) has sage words when considering the intense amount of work needed for the proper storage and digitalization projects that academic libraries face:
There is rarely additional money to support the new demands of digital scholarship, especially for tasks that are labour intensive and highly specialized. If libraries can engage scholars and students in the development and description of online collections, then they will greatly increase their capacity to offer rich aggregations of highly structured, vetted, machine-readable information (Goddard, 2016,p.3)
The funding on this project would be primarily upfront for software development and time on training and promotion. An analysis to determine ROI would be useful data to explore since the paid work done by a cataloger would now be offset by a scholar voluntarily contributing valuable metadata. Ideally, this would increase productivity for the cataloger now able to work on other projects during scheduled hours.
- Implementing the software needed for this collaboration model could be a time-intensive process. Fortunately, there are already systems that are somewhat set up for these types of processes. Fedora/ Hydra is well-vetted in a similar project presented by Goddard (2016). This application is well trusted for is digital object preservation and allows for role granularity so that different users have different authority within the system. Working with a software that can be further customized as needed would be beneficial as the project could get up and running in a beta version with a select set of scholars and changes could be addressed upon an initial review session.
- Prior to any work started with scholars it would be worthwhile to thoroughly analyze the current state of the digital collections to be both digitized as well as the usage metrics on the items already in the collection to set a benchmark for future assessments.
- Once the software was in place and the initial issues were worked out this project would become a rolling development. Due to the nature of this collaboration primarily with graduate students, it is expected that the collaboration will be a short-term learning experience for them, but a legacy contribution to the institutional collections. Therefore, a promotion rollout, initial training, and implementation process should be well-developed and rolled out at the beginning of every Fall semester. If well-coordinated, the entire process from recruitment to trained enrollment could be completed in under 4 weeks. A small culmination ceremony at the end of every Spring semester could be planned to celebrate the work completed and recognize the contributors for their help, along with providing data from assessments that took place over the course of the work.
- Properly assessing this project would require analyzing the number of documents made available during a set amount of time as well as following the usage metrics of the items added and the items already in the collection but with more contextualized metadata. Additional studies to determine cataloger feedback on time spent reviewing metadata and answering correspondences from the scholar would be worthwhile information along with feedback from the scholar on the ease of use and how she/he built the process into the regular course of research. These data points would need to be reviewed and possibly implemented into the training or addressed for further efficiency with the next batch of scholars.
A task force would be built to include a representative from the cataloging department, the special collections departments, and the digital humanities subject librarian. The DH librarian would be responsible for promotional activities and the collaborative incentive piece of the project. The three departments would jointly develop the training required once students had signed up to take part. Upon completion of training, the collaboration would fall more to the cataloger and her/his assigned cohort of scholars. The DH liaison would be responsible for checking in with both parties on a regular basis and helping to set metric analysis of the completed work.
Reasonably, it would be expected that this program would initially start out small with only a few eager students who may have library aspirations to sign up for the voluntary extra work. The alignment between the student’s scholarly interests and the special collections in question would also be a consideration in the recruitment process. The expected positive peer feedback, scholarly accolades, professional networking, and internship opportunities are likely to incentivize ongoing scholars’ engagement with the project as the years advance. These potential benefits gained through taking part in such a low-commitment extracurricular project are likely to lead to an increase in scholarly interest each year. Since this increased collaborative effort would demand more from library staff in the overseeing role, the organic growth would allow the project to maintain stability as it learned each year from the previous year’s progress.
Training would be developed by the task force and administered during a two-part session the week prior to the Fall semester. This virtual or classroom-based training would provide the need information about navigating the software as well as go over LCSH information and some metadata basics. The DH liaison would work with individual scholars on how best to implement this work into the natural course of project research. It would be reasonable to expect the feedback from such talented scholars to add to the technical applications over time.
Initially, I recommend a word of mouth promotion from the liaison librarian to the DH faculty as a way to handpick highly qualified scholars that might be eager for this type of collaboration. As the project progresses, the project could be promoted through the school DH social media sites, DH advisors, or direct emails to the DH graduate students.
The evaluation of this project will need to be multifaceted. As outlined in the action steps, the collection will need a thorough review before implementing this new process. Capturing benchmark data about the usage metrics and discoverability of items, along with good information on digitalization goals will provide a basis for where the project was at inception. Each year the task force should convene to discuss any feedback from the scholars as well as internal staff. The feedback plus the data on the newly added digital collections should be analyzed and turned into a written report. By reviewing the previous year’s report and the current year’s report, management should be able to determine the viability of this project and make recommended changes for the following year.
Casey, M., & Stephens, M. (2007, June 1). Living out loud. Library Journal, 132(10), 34. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A165193800/AONE?u=csusj&sid=AONE&xid=c5eec560
Cunningham, L. (2010). The librarian as digital humanist: The collaborative role of the research library in digital humanities projects. Faculty of Information Quarterly, 2(1), 1-11.
Goddard, L. (2016). Developing the read/write library. Scholarly and Research Communication, 7(2/3). https://doi.org/10.22230/src.2016v7n2/3a255
Leblanc, E. (2020, August). Participatory indexing in the eyes of its potential users: An example of a co-design of participatory services in an academic digital library. In International Conference on Theory and Practice of Digital Libraries (pp. 163-170). Springer, Cham.
Library of Congress, Washington, DC. (2008). On the record: Report of The Library of Congress working group on the future of bibliographic control. In Library of Congress. Library of Congress.https://sjsu-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/f/egdih2/TN_cdi_eric_primary_ED499668
Mathews, B. (2017). Cultivating complexity: How I stopped driving the innovation train and started planting seeds in the community garden.
Stephens, M. (2007) Web 2.0, Library 2.0, and the Hyperlinked Library, Serials Review, 33(4), 253-256, DOI: 10.1080/00987913.2007.10765134
Willey, E. (2011). A cautious partnership: The growing acceptance of folksonomy as a complement to indexing digital images and catalogs. Library Student Journal, 15.