Friday, February 25, 2011

digital scholarship and interpretive digital collections

I'm working on a draft of a book chapter right now for a volume on interdisciplinarity and academic libraries. The basic idea of my chapter is that digital initiatives are an opportunity for academic libraries to enable interdisciplinary work. One of the points I'm trying to make is that some library digital initiative efforts take a relatively flat and uniform approach to collections that mirrors traditional library collections. Other efforts are more thematic and interpretive in approach and really cross into the realm of digital scholarship.

If you look at a typical academic library's institutional repository or collection of historical images what you see is something very similar to a traditional library catalog or library research database: lots of discreet objects carefully organized in a uniform way with limited ways of interacting with them.

But if you look at some thematic collections like the Homer Multitext project, Hidden Patterns of the Civil War, the St. Gall Monastery Project, the Oregon Explorer or even our own William Stafford Archives you'll see a more interpretative approach to interacting with digital objects, information, and data.

Many institutions that support digital scholarship do it through organizational units outside the library. A configuration where the library handles the collection, organization, and preservation of primary materials and another unit, a digital scholarship center perhaps, creates tools and interfaces for interpretation of those materials is common. University of Richmond follows this model with its library Digital Initiatives unit and its Center for Digital Scholarship.

Things will play out differently depending on the institution, but I think libraries should move into the digital scholarship arena by developing interpretative digital collections. I think this is where we will find compelling projects and opportunities to interact closely with faculty and students.

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