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Digital Scholarship: Wherefore Art Thou Libraries?

September 4, 2018

Scholarly output today is not just text anymore. This statement may now seem axiomatic. If it is, however, libraries cannot afford to simply acknowledge it; they must embrace it. But not every library has access to all the latest tools for enabling digitally-oriented research, much less the capacity for such things as developing mobile apps designed to aid meta-analysis or to disseminate big data visualizations. What every library does have is the ability to consider the range of its activities, to ask what makes the most sense. Is it OA publishing? Is it makerspaces? What’s the scope of the disciplines to be served? Whose involvement is required?

A first step can be to begin a conversation around emergent forms of scholarly communication. Next discuss what service nodes should your library provide: teaching & learning, technology & tools, and/or spaces & expertise.  Then decide what resources need to be redistributed so that your library can meet the digital scholarship needs of the community you serve. And keep asking throughout: What do we want to do and why are we doing it? You may be community building by bringing disparate pockets of scholars together in new and interesting ways, or simply facilitating collaboration that exists to do more. Ongoing honest needs assessment is necessary.

Some libraries provide consultation services. Others host workshops and events. While still others build cyberinfrastructure for digital curation and preservation. There is no one correct path for every library when it comes to supporting digital scholarship. Examining what you have and what you do is critical. While simply ceding space, without committing some library involvement is a mistake.

It is essential to explain what you have and what you do. Be sure to keep a public list of activities or project involvement. Be clear about the relationship between mission and priorities. Be certain to foster stakeholder champions. Interest cannot be conjured. It needs to be intentionally fostered. Always be ready to answer the question: Why the library?

Here are a few nascent responses. If the mission of the library is to support research and promote scholarship, then today that must include e-research and digital scholarship. If the library is for everyone, then a culture of technical expertise is required given the pervasiveness of technology in our society, and not just electronic computing but even virtual reality. If we are to prepare our users for an increasingly globalized knowledge base, economy and ecosystem, then we must immerse ourselves and invest in shaping competencies and instilling best practices.

The entrée for a lot of libraries is still digital humanities. Some may still be mystified because the match seems star-crossed, and yet libraries cannot afford to ignore the signs. One short report that may help is “Building Capacity for Digital Humanities: A Framework for Institutional Planning” (https://library.educause.edu/resources/2017/5/building-capacity-for-digital-humanities-a-framework-for-institutional-planning).

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