Digital Scholarship @ The Libraries

Inspiring innovative digital scholarship at the OSU Libraries and beyond

Category: Digital initiatives

Digital Futures

Last fall I had the opportunity to visit both Harvard and Boston University. While at Harvard I attended a showcase of digital projects titled Digital Futures: The NOW edition. Sponsored by Harvard’s Digital Futures Consortium the program consisted of three presentations: “Curated by the Crowd: Collections, Data and Platforms for Participation in Museums and Other Institutions,”HarvardX, and Interactive Map of the Jamaican Slave Revolt of 1760-61. I was intrigued by the quality and diversity of the projects. More importantly, I was taken by what they tell us about the future of libraries and collections.

Curated by the Crowd centered on the creation and maintenance of Curarium, a collection of collections designed to serve as a model for crowdsourcing annotation, curation, and augmentation of works within and beyond their respective collections. The Curarium first project is the Villa I Tatti’s Homeless Paintings of the Italian Renaissance. This collection consists of a unique archive of photographs of “homeless” paintings assembled by art historian Bernard Berenson. The transfer of the collection and its metadata into the Curarium will allow audiences to identify, classify, describe, and analyze the objects in the collection, as well as reconstruct the stories of objects that have either disappeared or been destroyed.

The faculty-led, HarvardX initiative aims to develop and distribute online learning objects and tools, conduct research on pedagogical and technological innovations and learning outcomes, and adapt these innovations to enhance the on-campus experience of Harvard students. HarvardX integrates the development of instructional approaches and digital tools across Harvard’s campus by providing faculty with pedagogical and research support.

As an historian, I found Vincent Brown’s project uniquely appealing. A professor of African and African-American History at Harvard, Brown has made study of the Transatlantic Slave Trade accessible in a new way. He created an interactive map that brings to life the spatial history of the greatest slave insurrection in eighteenth century England. Slave Revolt in Jamaica, 1760-1761: A Cartographic Narrative is an “alliance between historians and mapmakers” that offers a carefully curated archive of documentary evidence and presents arguments about strategies, tactics, and landscape. More importantly, the cartographic evidence uncovered by the project shows that, contrary to previous interpretations, the rebellion was a well-planned affair that posed a genuine strategic threat and not a spontaneous rebellion.

Thematically speaking these projects have little in common. They cover history, art, online learning, educational technology, and myriad other disciplines. For librarians and curators this diversity of disciplines and approaches resting under the digital umbrella is precisely where the rubber meets the road. The future, these projects clearly show, is characterized by wider distribution, uncommon openness, and nerve-wrecking disintermediation. The question is: are we ready for it? The future is now.

Just keep swimming

When my two boys were small, well, smaller than they are now, they were both in love with Finding Nemo.  For years, every time we visited a pet store, aquarium, or body of water – we had to go out of our way to try and find Dory or Nemo.  The kids loved the characters, but they also loved quoting from the movie.

Me: “Dinners ready”
Son2: I didn’t know you could speak whale.
laugher…followed by different whale dialects

Or a personal favorite – Fish are friends, not food.  Lots of fun.

So what does Finding Nemo have to do with digital initiatives?  To this day, one of my favorite parts of the movie is the song Dory sings when Marlin, the clown fish, feels ready to give up.  She tells him to just keep swimming.  I like that, because in a lot of ways, I think that it reflects the place where libraries and librarians are as we’ve transitioned into a digital world.  I was thinking about it recently – at some point over the past decade, we transitioned to a point where most cultural heritage and research data is born digital.  And while that transition brings with it lots of benefits…the expansion of interdisciplinary research, a democratization of information, a lowering of barriers to information access…it has come with a number of challenges unique to digital data as well.  Libraries, for example, haven’t traditionally dealt with things like format obsolescence, because information written on stone thousands of years ago, or vellum hundreds of years ago, or paper in the last decade are just as accessible today as they were when they were produced (save for issues around things like condition and  fragility).  Grab yourself a 5 ½ in floppy disc from 25 years ago, a ZIP disc from 10, or an HD DVD from a few years ago and you are likely going to have trouble finding a device that can read the data, let alone an application that can open it.  I sometimes get asked what keeps me up at night – it’s the thought that this might be the first generation that is just a hard drive crash away from losing large swaths of cultural heritage information simply because research data isn’t replicated and copied the same way anymore.  And the sad reality is that most libraries simply aren’t in a position to provide long-term data security as well.

It can be daunting – but like Dory – the library community keeps on swimming.  This week, I’ve been up in Cleveland attending Hydra Camp.  It’s one of the dozens of research projects that libraries and librarians are leading to look at the long-term viability of our preservation systems.  It’s exciting work, but one of dozens of projects like DSpace, Omeka, Zotero, LOCKS, the Digital Preservation Network, etc. that librarians are participating in, shaping, and leading to protect our digital future.  It is exciting – the kind of work that reminds me why I’ve stayed in academia and at research libraries – it’s a view of libraries and librarians actively taking back their role as caretakers of the cultural records and flexing their muscles as researchers in their own right.  As we talk about the digital initiatives program at The Ohio State Library, much of the discussion rightly falls around the nuts and bolts of providing an environment that supports the Libraries’ ability to support discovery, preservation, etc.; and by and large, this is how people will judge the success of the program.  However, I think equally important will be The OSU Libraries’ ability to become an active partner not just in the larger library research community; but in how we support and encourage innovative research and development within The OSU Libraries.



Refocusing our Efforts; why have a digital initiatives program

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 (, 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 ( 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.

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Digital Preservation Policy Framework – part 2

Last week I focused the Purpose and Scope, and the Principles outlined in the Digital Preservation Policy Framework document. This week I will concentrate on the Categories of Commitment and Levels of Preservation portions of the document.

 Categories of commitment

  • Born digital materials.  Examples:  ETDs (Electronic Theses and Dissertations), institutional records
  • Digitized materials (no available or usable analog).  Examples:  Unique audio and video from Music/Dance & Special Collections.  This category also includes digitized materials that have annotations or other value-added features making them difficult or impossible to recreate.
  • Digitized materials (available analog). Examples:  TRI Actress scrapbooks, Suyemoto Papers, Rubin Collection of Lantern Slides, and the Lantern.
  • Commercially available digital resources.  Example: e-journals (Project Muse, JSTOR)
  • Other items and materials.

We can’t do everything.  These categories are meant to be seen as guidelines.  Developing solutions for “born digital” resources informs solutions for other categories.  But it does not imply that these assets are more valuable or important than any other categories and/or our traditional analog materials.  The categories of commitment add another dimension to discussions of stewardship.  For example, digitization of materials that are in danger of format obsolescence, or that depend on superseded equipment, may create an urgency for action, but only if the content of the materials is judged to be essential.

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Digital Preservation Policy Framework


One of the lessons learned by the Strategic Digital Initiative Working Group (SDIWG) last week is that it takes two posts to present a new policy document.  In this post, I will introduce the OSUL Digital Preservation Policy Framework which has been reviewed by the Executive committee and forwarded to the Strategic Digital Initiative Working Group (SDIWG) for incorporation into their work.  The framework was developed by a task force on Digital Preservation in conversation with many of you.  Members of the task force were Peter Dietz, Dan Noonan and me.

The framework document addresses a number of challenges including rapid growth and change in technology, sustainability, and need for expertise. The focus of this post will be the Purpose and Scope, and the Principles portions of the document.  For the presentation to Admin Plus, SDIWG members led discussions of case-studies illustrating issues facing the Libraries.  The discussion questions we used are included in the hope that they will stimulate further discussion in units across the Libraries.

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OSU Digital Initiatives Program Guiding Principles and You


This is the second part of a two post set commenting on the OSUL’s new Digital Initiatives Program Guiding Principles.  In the first post ( I discussed some of the background and reasoning behind the development of the Guiding Principles.  Today’s post provides the principles and tries to briefly unpack how these Principles will impact the decisions being made around digital initiatives at OSUL.


Earlier this week, I provided some information around the process that the SDIWG ( and the OSUL had taken around the development of a set of Guiding Principles for the Digital Initiatives Program.  The goal in developing the Principles is to provide a framework for evaluating how the OSUL expands and develops its digital initiatives program and infrastructure.  As noted previously, the OSUL has undertaken a number of digital initiatives projects throughout the years.  These projects have led to the digitization of countless digital objects, partnerships with faculty, and exceptional digital resources that are being used every day to support the teaching and research mission of the university.  At the same time, these projects were just that – project based.  By and large, the OSUL’s digital initiatives infrastructure is made up of a conglomeration of siloed solutions that meet the needs of very specific projects, but offer the library minimal opportunity to look more holistically at our collections.  In my presentation to AdminPlus[1], I included the following slide:

Applications in Use for digital library projects

This slide represents a small, incomplete list of the applications being utilized to host digital library collections/services and represents current individual silos of information within our infrastructure.  These silos complicate a number of critical processes, including the ability to simplify discovery of local collections, the creation of sustainable digital exhibits, flexibility in our reformatting efforts, and long-term preservation that goes beyond simple byte-level validation.  As the library looks to expand both the creation and reach of our digital assets, taking a closer look at how we can make some deliberate choices around our larger digital initiatives architecture should provide benefits throughout the OSUL.

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Developing the OSU Digital Initiatives Program Guiding Principles


The Strategic Digital Initiatives Working Group (SDIWG) is formally announcing the completion of the OSUL Digital Initiatives Guiding Principles.  These principles represent a fundamental shift for the OSUL Digital Initiatives Program, providing a vision for OSUL digital architecture and a framework for how to get there.  The document is made up of 11 principles, focusing on the key themes of: innovation, iteration, collaboration, and user-driven design.  This two part series of posts will provide the background behind the development of these Principles (9/3/2013) and will provide some context around how these Principles will impact the OSUL Digital Initiatives Program (9/5/2013).


One of the most challenging and interesting part of starting a new position and a new program is the opportunity to look at problems with fresh eyes, and work with new colleagues as you work to learn and understand the unique culture that makes up an organization.  In a lot of ways, that describes my first four months here at the OSUL.  While digital initiatives at OSUL isn’t necessarily a clean slate (lots of great work has already been done by a lot of people), the development of a new Digital Initiatives Program is a large-box, a box that sometimes doesn’t seem to have well defined boundaries.  And in a sense, that’s what I’d like to talk a little bit about today, the process that the Strategic Digital Initiatives Working Group[1]  (SDIWG) has been doing to help bring some shape to the program, and produce a set of guiding principles that not only help to provide a roadmap of sorts for the Digital Initiatives Program but also create a shared set of expectations for members of the OSUL as the Libraries’ undertakes a significant revision of its digital initiatives architecture.  As the Libraries looks at how we reshape our digital initiatives architecture, these Principles will be one of the foundational documents helping to guide that work.

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