When I first arrived at The OSU Libraries and set out to meet with my new colleagues and talk about the Libraries’ big successes, some of my general ideas for a digital initiatives program, and to start fleshing out some of the identified needs – inevitably, the conversation would eventually shift towards specific projects, specific needs and specific solutions necessary to fill in some of the gaps that people saw in the Libraries. These conversations were really important, and they help to underscore something that I knew about The Ohio State Libraries before making the move – that the Libraries is filled with an innovative group of doers – people that see needs and look for solutions. It’s an approach that has allowed the Libraries to do a number of very innovative things. In fact, the week I arrived, the Libraries was just rolling out the King James Bible Virtual Exhibit (http://library.osu.edu/innovation-projects/omeka/exhibits/show/the-king-james-bible), a prototype exhibit for the Libraries as it looks for new ways to provide a flexible set of tools to empower collection managers and curators with the ability to easily create both permanent and temporary virtual exhibits. When you couple this type of innovative work against the new Libraries’ strategic plan (http://library.osu.edu/documents/strategic-plan/OSU-Libraries-Strategic-Plan-2011-2016.pdf) and the clear mandate to explore digitizing more content, making available more unique collections, providing better opportunities for researchers and instructors to discover and use the Libraries print and digital resources – the desire to jump to looking at the next thing, the next project is an understandable one.
At the same time, the strategic plan recognizes the need for the Libraries to take a much more holistic approach to how we consider our digital initiatives program and architecture…or in other words, consider how we develop solutions to support the myriad of existing and future digital projects and do so in a way in which they exist as part of a much larger whole. This idea represents a clear shift in how we think about the support and creation of a digital projects and collections, as today, many of our resources exist as parts of isolated information silos. Some of these silos are the results of infrastructure decisions where projects become entangled within specialized, proprietary collections software due to lack of better alternatives; and sometimes these silos can be more organizational, as projects tend to live mainly within a single department and are thus created to meet a specific departmental need. The strategic plan recognizes that these silos exist, and seeks to find ways to create a more integrated digital initiatives environment.
In the past, I’ve argued that Libraries actually love silos – we thrive on them and in some respects, we can never fully get away from them. Until we get to a point were Libraries no longer have to license content from a variety of content providers, the need to deal with silos will always be a necessity. The goal however, is to identify the silos that we have control over, and work to integrate them into a more cohesive library ecosystem. This is what the Digital Initiatives Program, and the SDIWG (Strategic Digital Initiatives Working Group) group are working to define. And in an institution with so many innovative doers, this process of stepping back, taking stock of the Libraries’ needs, and then moving forward at a deliberate pace can be crazy making…I understand that. At the same time, it’s also a necessity.
One of the challenges all cultural heritage institutions face as they mature in their digital initiatives programs is the need to refocus their organizational approach. How does an organization facilitate a move from an environment of doing very successful projects to an environment where digital projects are part of a more mature digital initiatives program? What’s more, how do you balance that need to continue to work, and innovate, while taking the necessary time to step back and take a hard look at the Libraries’ ability to provide a sustainable environment to ensure the longevity of existing projects, as well as support future ones? This is the place that OSU Libraries finds itself now, and the challenge that the SDIWG has before it – to step back and look at the Libraries’ digital initiatives program at the 30,000 ft. level and flesh out at a high level, the core business functions necessary to support the Libraries’ digital programs. By identifying the needs at a high level, the Libraries will be in a much better place to begin to identify gaps and begin making choices that allows us to eliminate the silos that currently exist within our own local projects.
What’s more, as the Libraries works to address gaps or seeks to pursue new services or directions and develops project teams or task forces to take up issues like support for digital exhibits, the Libraries’ digital reformatting efforts, promiscuous sharing of library metadata and collection information, as well as internal support for better curation/life cycle workflows…each of these project teams should be able to make better decisions and build upon the previous work/successes because of this work by the SDIWG to provide this high level analysis of the Libraries’ current environment, needs, and gaps. By stepping back and thinking strategically about the Libraries’ digital program development, we can better equip project teams and task forces asked to make recommendations, by placing those needs within the larger context of the OSUL’s digital infrastructure and emphasizing the interconnected nature of the Libraries’ digital environment. By broadening the lens that we use to make decisions, project teams/task forces will be able to have a clearer picture of how specific recommendations will ripple through the larger digital initiatives program.