Whereas academic libraries have traditionally focused on providing access to published books, journal articles, and similar widely disseminated materials, today libraries are increasingly taking responsibility —in cooperation with technology services and other partners on campus —for creating access to unique local collections. Digital initiatives can include institutional (or scholarly) repositories of student- and faculty-created scholarly or creative work, and digital collections of images or other media files created from local collections of artifacts.
An institutional repository (IR) is a type of digital collection designed to capture and preserve the intellectual output of an academic institution (Lynch, Clifford. "Institutional Repositories: Essential Infrastructure for Scholarship in the Digital Age." ARL Bimonthly Report, No. 226, February 2003. http://www.arl.org/resources/pubs/br/br226/). That material could include journal articles and books written by faculty, papers written by students, data sets compiled by faculty and students, college administrative documents, student publications (for example, a student newspaper), mixed media projects, material not published in the traditional academic manner, and more. These materials are collected and organized in digital form and are then made accessible to the campus and to the world through the Internet.
Other digital collections usually are comprised of digitized versions of materials unique to the institution—for instance, historical publications, special collections, or collections of artifacts. Again, the materials are collected, organized, and made accessible in digital form.
The Key Challenge
Successful digital initiatives require working collaborations among classroom faculty, curators, librarians, and technologists that are somewhat new to Grinnell College, in addition to investments in infrastructure like hardware, software, and facilities.
The most important purpose of digital initiatives—for Grinnell College, its Expanding Knowledge Initiative, and its Strategic Plan—is to allow students, faculty, and others to discover and work directly with scholarly materials and primary sources in ways that are not feasible when the materials are in a tangible format. Digital versions of fragile books from special collections allow students to work intensively with the material without endangering the original copy; an online database of archival photographs can be searched without mediation by the archives staff; and born-digital items—whether artworks or data sets—often must be preserved in their digital form if they are to remain intelligible and useful to future scholars. Increasing the opportunities for students, faculty, and others to discover and work with primary sources—whether those are textual, data, visual, or audio—strengthens direct inquiry-based learning and teaching and fosters imaginative uses of sources across disciplinary traditions.
In addition, digital initiatives that make student, faculty, and staff work available beyond the institution increase the reputation of the College and celebrate the achievements of the College community. The public profile of the College is also enhanced when our accessible digital connections include materials unique to Grinnell, such as historical items related to Grinnell’s involvement in the Social Gospel movement of the late 19 th and early 20 th centuries, works by and about Grinnell alumni prominent in the New Deal of the 1930s and 1940s, and materials on the Grinnell-in-China program, which dates back to 1916. By highlighting these unique digital collections and scholarly repositories for potential students, faculty, and other interested parties to explore, the College can demonstrate the diversity and robustness of its intellectual community and the richness of its history.
Finally and importantly, these initiatives can demonstrate to students in a real way how they are part of a larger scholarly community that produces new knowledge by building on the past work of others. Local digital initiatives also contribute to the national and international collection of scholarship and cultural heritage, on which the Grinnell community, in turn, depends for its learning and teaching.
Meeting the Challenge: What We Can Do
A. Designate an individual to serve as the point person within the Libraries for our work with digital initiatives.
B. Establish a campus Digital Initiatives Committee composed of staff in the Libraries, Information Technology, and Instructional Technology.
C. Develop a plan for identifying and collecting appropriate content for the Liberal Arts Scholarly Repository (LASR) and prepare to do so for an eventual Grinnell College institutional repository.
D. Develop a collection identification plan for unique local materials to be digitized. (See the recommendations in the section “Special Collections and College Archives.”)
E. Create a physical space on campus with the technologies needed for creating and handling digital items and security suitable for unique objects.
F. Develop a technology plan for sharing Grinnell's open-access collections.
G. With ITS, develop a networked storage plan for secure and enduring storage of selected digital masters and born-digital material.
Strengths to Build On
Grinnell College has been experimenting with institutional repositories and digital collections for several years. As part of these experiments, the Libraries have built two digital image collections, and we are currently collaborating with several other institutions to create the Liberal Arts Scholarly Repository (LASR).
Our two original image collections, Historic Iowa Postcards and Turkish Mission Photos, are based on Access databases which hold the metadata and links to the digital images. Both collections are presented to the public via the Pioneer Digital Image Database (PDID)-- http://pdid.grinnell.edu/, a local instance of MDID (The Madison Digital Image Database, an open-source platform. See http://mdid.org). PDID hosts a variety of College image collections. The creation of these two collections served as a testing process for developing quality standards, scanning procedures, metadata, and methods of storing digitized images for long-term preservation (http://www.lib.grinnell.edu/collections/DigitalCollections/digdocumentation.html). Having successfully completed these two projects, we are ready to identify and begin processing other collections in-house. Curricular need will drive the selection of materials to be digitized, and we will utilize student workers as much as possible.
The Libraries currently participate in a consortial institutional repository, the Liberal Arts Scholarly Repository (LASR). LASR is a collaborative effort undertaken with Bucknell College, Carleton College, the University of Richmond, St. Lawrence University, Trinity College, and Whitman College. This group is working on developing a DSpace (http://www.dspace.org/) repository with a Drupal (http://drupal.org/) portal to increase the visibility of liberal arts scholarship and creative work. The Libraries do not envision that LASR, with its stated goal of collecting the scholarly work of students and faculty, will meet all of the digital repository needs of the campus and, in the future, additional IR options may need to be explored.
Weaknesses and Constraints to Overcome
Digital initiatives are complex projects that require a wide range of skills and a great deal of time, thought, and planning. The establishment of new digital collections calls for well-articulated ties to the curriculum, community activities and collections, and state or regional activities and collections. Policy guidelines must be established for selection, securing authors' permissions, and withdrawal of contributions from the repository, among others. The IR must be promoted on campus to earn the support and interest of the faculty and students, which will ensure that the collections are well-used and that the IR is well-regarded as a place to contribute scholarly work. Technical prerequisites include a platform that we are committed to updating and maintaining, server space for long-term storage of digital materials, infrastructure for scanning, and established metadata standards. A physical workspace with the technologies needed to digitize materials and the security necessary for handling unique items must also be found.
No one department can carry out all of the activities necessary for a successful digital initiative on its own. Joint leadership from the Libraries and ITS will be necessary, but greater collaboration between these two bodies and other academic and administrative departments, such as Communication and Events and Admissions, will also be required. The involvement of faculty members, students, and staff outside of the library will be essential.
Within the Libraries specifically, we will be challenged to find adequate staff time to devote to planning and implementing digital projects. The Libraries may need to achieve efficiencies of staff in other areas in order to devote more staff time to these projects.
The College's current platform for presenting digital collections, PDID, is not currently capable of providing direct access to its open-access collections so long as it also hosts restricted-access collections that require a log-in (the open-access collections thus require a guest log-in). As a consequence, Grinnell's open-access collections are not crawled by Google. In addition, although we have tested Open Archives Initiative (OAI) [http://www.openarchives.org/] harvesting from PDID with ARTstor (http://www.artstor.org/), our open-access collections have not been registered with any standard tools that automatically collect and index information from the Internet, which limits public awareness of the resources held by Grinnell College. Among our priorities on this front is participation in the Iowa Heritage Digital Collections (http://www.iowaheritage.org/).
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