Digital scholarship has been gradually encompassing every research library out there.
The term, the digital scholarship does not confine itself to professional and disciplinary limits and has mostly remained fluid. Even so, it enfolds many of the activities that the digital libraries are conversant with.
It seems that the definition of digital scholarship and its role in the context of research libraries is highly debatable. Some accredit it as the application of computational methods in the research field, harnessing digital collections, and delivering digital results, while others deem that its definition embraces a vast array of subjects, cutting across, humanities, social sciences, arts, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
The definition varies from library to library, as it accurately describes the mission, goals, roles, and practices associated with a specific research library.
Role of Research Libraries
Many surveys tout how research libraries are playing a vital role in the advancement and provision of digital scholarship resources.
Those roles involve generating and handling digital repositories, data management, the curation of digital collections i.e. digitized and born-digital, compiling digital exhibitions, digital publishing, metadata generation, supporting data and text mining, provision of open access, and preservation of digital sources.
Most activities may be highly technical in nature, but the creation and provision of these resources attract an extensive set of talents from the field of copyright, project management, and impact measures.
The proliferation and divergence of digital scholarship activities present many instances for research libraries to collaborate in ingenious ways, both in and outside the scope of their institutions. However, they are concomitant with a number of challenges i.e. skills, cultural, and infrastructural, amid the changing landscape.
Besides, digital scholarship pursuits occur across a wide array of departments, centers, and other entities that overlap with the library. So the support staff is mandatory for the upkeep of digital scholarship activities.
Library Staff Support for Digital Scholarship
Librarians and archivists are particularly conscious about the exploration and preservation of digital collections, meanwhile, other support staff and professionals indulge in the technical matters surrounding content-encoding and system design.
Moreover, the quest to support digital scholarship on the premises requires the availability of high-speed internet connection such as that offered by Frontier Internet service and the involvement of IT professionals. In fact, libraries often have small technical support staff at hands such as developers, who are of incredible aid in software and web development, database and metadata production, and digitization projects.
In addition to the technical support, a broad array of skill sets is drawn from across the institutional organization, such as curatorial skills for assistance with digital exhibits.
The Organizational Structure
Pertaining to digital scholarship, the staff is usually scattered across a research library. However, libraries with specific digital scholarship pursuits such as for digitization, usually create a dedicated single unit or department within their libraries for that purpose.
The digital scholarship encompasses a broader institutional network, and the library is just a part of it. In most instances, libraries collaborate and partner with other departments and units, but in some i.e. digital humanities operate independently of that network, and their organization varies from well-established units to casual networks.
Shifting From Analogue to Digital
Acquisition, development, and preservation of born-digital material is a critical aspect of digital scholarship, but the creation of digital replacements for their analog collection via digitization is cardinal and not without challenges.
The approach to the acquisition of this collection is a mix of proactive, reactive, and collaborative and they vary as per the origin of the article. Such as the absorption of electronic thesis and institutional records is a collaborative venture, meanwhile, born-digital artifacts are usually obtained upon submission by individuals, and are mostly reactive.
Most libraries have a format-agnostic approach. Therefore, the development of the digital collection is akin to their customary collection of material. Hence, most institutions inculcate digital collection policies straight into their library’s overarching policies. Very few, though, have devised a dedicated digital collection policy.
One of the challenges associated with digital collection endeavors is inadequate infrastructural support as they have scarce stable storage, hence, impeding the induction of born-digital material. Along with the insufficient minimal facility for digital preservation, there is an increasing skill gap, which further inhibits the technical upkeep.
The Challenges with Digital Collection
There have been varying challenges associated with digital collections concerning its accession, organization, management, and preservation, regardless of from where they stem from, either their born-digital or digital substitution.
Most of all, the attainment of adequate and stable funding to support these activities is a cardinal issue. The concern is both associated with the scaling to meet the digital scholarship activities requirements and the source of funding. In most instances, the funding procured for these activities come via grants from researchers, who most likely prioritize their sole research project.
Therefore, the steady stream of funding is a once in a blue moon possibility for most research libraries as there is inadequate funding to cater to the broader strategic requirements relevant to digital collections.
The dominance of project-based pursuits in the library also contributes to erratic staffing levels as most would be hired for a specific term. This, in turn, makes the preservation of expert skills and knowledge much harder as not many are familiar with cutting-edge digital platforms such as Scalar. Consequently, this subverts the quality of services and tools related to digital scholarship.
The entire institution should immerse more in activities revolving digital collections of the library, and that should be prescribed in the institution’s digital scholarship strategy. As it would contribute to a more staunch attitude towards the hardware, skill set, system, and infrastructural needs.
Also, it would not only invite involvement from the senior faculty and researchers of the institution but would also draw researchers from different levels such as interns and post-graduates. These individuals may be involved for a fixed tenure, but they offer a valuable and versatile skill set in the most cost-efficient manner.
Research libraries should highlight the necessity for maintaining digital collection and engagement with scholarship activities from the perspective of the institution and emphasize on its contribution of value to the wider organizational goals.
What the Future Beholds?
Processes and activities of digital scholarship are ever-evolving, and they may amplify and diversify over time as per the scope of the institution and research library. Therefore, holding libraries to higher standards of management and deterrence of these challenges is preposterous. However, a library should engage with other departments and units across the institution and indulge in external collaboration where necessary.
Research libraries are searching for ways to overcome the skill gap and increasingly indulge with sophisticated digital scholarship pursuits, while simultaneously managing current digital activities.
Restructuring and reorganization of digital scholarship services and staffing hierarchy would simplify and consolidate the currently scattered digital teams, departments, and their services, within and outside the library. Hence, more evolution on the way.
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