16 Nov 2011

How May Digital Collections Serve Scholarly Needs?

"As part of the Collections Interoperability working group, we are investigating the question of scholars’ needs with digital collections: What kind of functionalities, features, and/or services do humanities scholars need in digital collections, in order for the collections to be useful in research?

The reason we ask is twofold: First, we’d like to know what types of digital collections should be prepared and incorporated into the Bamboo research platform. While there are a few all-encompassing general digital collections, such as the Hathi Trust Digital Library, there are many more digital collections with limited content or specialized focuses, and it is hard to determine how to select collections for incorporation into Bamboo.
Secondly, a larger question faces libraries and digital libraries about effective collection development strategies for digital collections: How can we build digital libraries that aren’t simply mass collections of materials or are based on libraries’ classifications, but that directly address scholars’ research needs?

To explore this question, we decided to launch a study that would create a needs assessment for scholars and digital collections. Over the summer, I worked with Indiana University librarian Angela Courtney to contact humanities librarians, digital humanities coordinators, and academic technologists at the twelve member institutions of the CIC academic consortium and participating Bamboo partner institutions. We ultimately convinced nine librarians and staffers to work with us on conducting a survey and interviews with their humanities faculty. The participating institutions are the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Indiana University, Northwestern University, University of Illinois at Chicago, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Michigan State University, University of Iowa, University of Chicago, University of Minnesota, Penn State University, and the University of Maryland.

After months of IRB wrangling, writing the test instruments, pre-testing, and consultations, we launched the study in late October. A survey has been distributed to randomly selected faculty members in all of the English and history departments at the aforementioned institutions, and will run through December. Interviews will be conducted in November and December with select faculty members from fine arts and performing arts departments on the campuses who are involved in digital scholarship. Follow-up interviews will also be conducted with survey respondents who indicated a willingness to be interviewed.

We anticipate that this study will enable us to gain new insights into the transformations occurring in humanities research with the advent of digitized materials. An update will be forthcoming as results are analyzed this winter, and we’re excited for what the data will tell us!"
By Harriett Green

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