American Historical Association James Grossman on Research Access and Scholarly Equity

Here is Grossman at Perspectives on History:

Access to research materials—both print and digital—is crucial for any historian engaged in scholarship and teaching. For historians working outside of well-resourced colleges and universities, gaining access to these materials has become increasingly difficult, particularly with the increasing breadth and depth of commercial databases often accessible only to scholars affiliated with a well-resourced university.

This trend is an often-overlooked aspect of the changing landscape of historical research. More and more research material has been digitized by commercial database companies, who then control its dissemination. These firms rely on institution-to-institution contracts with large, well-funded university libraries. Historians working within these universities have full access, while those on the outside are excluded, placing them at a severe disadvantage in their ability to produce first-rate scholarship and excel as teachers. For a complex set of reasons, providers rarely offer individual subscriptions to scholarly databases. At the same time, contracts with vendors often make it difficult (or even impossible) for libraries to grant access to individuals outside these institutions. These structural barriers create difficult challenges for many historians.

And this:

The AHA encourages history departments to provide full library access to their own scholar alumni and to unaffiliated historians in their regions. History departments and academic units can play a positive role by supporting the scholarship of their alumni and by bringing more unaffiliated scholars into their orbit. Providing these historians a university affiliation—whether as a visiting scholar or by whatever means is feasible—will help close the gap between those with and without adequate research access. These actions will enable every historian to fully realize their potential as scholars and contributors to our discipline.

Read the entire piece here.

I can really relate to this post.  For the past two or three years, I have been trying to work with the Adam Matthew digitized CO5 files from the National Archives, UK.  This database offers access to thousands of documents on North America from 1606-1822.  I can’t afford to go to London to view these documents, so the database is my only option.  These documents are absolutely essential for my current book project.  At some point I am going to have to bite the bullet and go to London or find a research university who will let me use their collection on site or give me a password.

I realize that I have been blessed at Messiah College.  Early in my tenure, the college library purchased the Readex Early America Imprints I, Early American Imprints II (Shaw-Shoemaker), and Early American Newspapers.  This gives my students access to thousand and thousands of primary sources.  These databases have been amazing resources for my own work as well.  Messiah’s library staff has also managed to get trial access to the Adam Matthew CO5 files, but the trials are limited in time and scope and it is always hard to find time to do research during the academic year. The college cannot afford to purchase this database and Adam Matthew will not allow an individual subscription.

I also realize that I am privileged to have an academic job that gives me access to library resources.  I regularly use the databases, e-books, search engines, and interlibrary loan services that the Murray Library offers to the Messiah College community.  Grossman calls attention in the piece to adjunct and contingent faculty who lose access to these resources when they stop teaching or are not rehired.

I appreciate Grossman’s call for Research I History Departments to grant access to alumni.  Unfortunately, my Ph.D-granting institution doesn’t even own the databases I have noted in this post.

I’ll keep working on this one.  If anyone can help, please let me know: jfea(at)messiah(dot)edu.

The Omohundro Institute and George Washington Library Team-Up for Digital Collections Fellowship

 

The George Washington Presidential Library - DC

Here is Jim Ambuske of Mount Vernon at the blog of the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture:

The historian’s craft is a collaborative enterprise. For all of the long days and quiet nights we spend laboring in the archives or in front of computer screens, many of our best insights, discoveries, and claims rest on contributions from our colleagues.

This is especially true in the digital realm. Collaboration has long been a hallmark of the digital humanities and digital history, which leverages the expertise of humanists and technologists to produce new knowledge about the past or create the means to do so.

That is why the Washington Library at Mount Vernon is very excited to collaborate with the Omohundro Institute to offer the OI-Mount Vernon Fellowships for Digital Collections in the American Founding Era. The OI-Mount Vernon Fellowship builds on the OI’s leadership in digital history and its efforts to create digital collections that enrich our understanding of Vast Early America. By offering grants to foster new research into the American Revolution and Early Republic, our goal is to inspire partnerships between scholars and archival repositories that lead to the digitization of primary sources from the Founding Era. 

Read the rest here.

The Next "Librarian of Congress" Should Be a Librarian

This is the argument of Portland Community College librarian Meredeth Farkas in a piece at The New Republic.

Farkas chides outgoing Librarian of Congress James Billington for, among other things, not modernizing the Library and bringing it fully into the digital world.

She writes:

President Obama will soon appoint a new Librarian of Congress, a position that requires Congressional approval and could impact the everyday lives of most Americans. This position has the power to provide exemptions to a copyright regime that currently limits what consumers can do with their media, software, digital devices, and even vehicles. The next Librarian of Congress could ease copyright restrictions, provide improved access to federally-funded research, and embrace cooperative efforts toward making our nation’s history available online. On the other hand, the new Librarian could limit what Americans can do with the content and technologies they have lawfully purchased by choosing not to make exemptions to copyright law. It all hinges on the values and background of the person the President chooses to appoint….

In a 2014 speech, former Deputy and now Acting Librarian of Congress, David Mao stated that the Library of Congress is “the de-facto national library of the United States and so… it’s actually your library.” Over the past few decades, public access to the Library of Congress has increased and the Library has carved out a role in preserving, digitizing, and making accessible the cultural history of the United States. Projects like American Memory (begun in 1990) and THOMAS (begun in 1995) were early trailblazers in providing historical artifacts and legislative information on the Web.
In the two decades since the birth of those projects, however, digital initiatives at universities, cultural institutions, other national libraries, and Google have eclipsed the work of the Library of Congress in terms of both scale and design. Although programs like their newspaper digitization initiative, Chronicling America, have great value, only a very small proportion of their collection has been made available to the public online. The Library of Congress has also been notably unwilling to participate in major cooperative digital library initiatives, including the Digital Public Library of America, which has brought together the digital collections of public libraries, university archives, and diverse cultural heritage institutions, including the National Archives and the Smithsonian
A public intellectual would likely be an easy sell to Congress as Billington was beloved by members of Congress even as they criticized his Library. The next Librarian of Congress, however, needs to not only be well-credentialed, but someone who can run a very large and complex agency of over 3,000 employees. They will step into an organization that has beenwidely criticized for mismanagement. They will need to know when to lead, delegate, collaborate, or gracefully get out of the way. They will not only need to bring the Library of Congress into the 21st century, but they will have to administer a large institution that has been poorly run for decades.
Many in the library world are advocating for a fellow librarian to be appointed Librarian of Congress. A librarian could be expected to capably administer The Library of Congress, which serves many of the same functions as an academic library, albeit on a much grander scale. There are many distinguished and innovative librarians who have successfully run large, complex organizations and are well-versed in issues related to scholarly publishing, copyright, digitization, technology trends, and fundraising. However, the next Librarian of Congress could still embody and support the values librarians hold dear, whether she or he is a librarian, a scholar, a university administrator, or a software executive
Read the entire article here.

Digital Public Library of America Lands Large Grant

Press release from the DPLA website:

BOSTON — The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) announced today $594,000 in new funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to research potential sustainability models and to pursue the most promising option (or options). This two-year grant will allow DPLA to expand its staff to target opportunities for further development and revenue, without compromising its mission of open access to the riches of America’s libraries, archives, and museums.

“We deeply appreciate the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s generous support, which will help us build on DPLA’s tremendous momentum,” said DPLA Executive Director Dan Cohen. “Our ambitious coast-to-coast accumulation of openly available materials will take years to bring together and to put into educational contexts and public programs, and achieving a sustainable model will be critical to fulfilling that mission.”

The project, which will proceed in a series of phases, is designed to first comprehensively flesh out an emerging set of sustainability pathways for the young organization. In the following phases, DPLA will narrow down those options in concert with its partners and through additional technical and content work.

New positions in business development, content, and technology will help DPLA achieve this sustainable path. The opening for a Content Specialist is immediately available; other positions will be released in the near future at dp.la/info/about/jobs.

The Digital Public Library of America

It launched about an hour ago.

Jonathan Wilson tells us more.  Here is a taste of his post at The Junto:

At noon Eastern today, the Digital Public Library of America will launch a beta version of its “discovery portal,”  allowing visitors to search through materials at a wide array of participating institutions.

This is the product of more than two years of work, managed by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society but involving representatives from dozens of other scholarly organizations (and funded by the Sloan Foundation, the Arcadia Fund, the NEH, the Mellon Foundation, and the Soros Foundation).

The DPLA relies on other organizations for more than support; for the time being, at least, it supports their digitization projects more than the other way around. The DPLA is not a factory or storehouse for scanned books and images, but a guide to collections maintained elsewhere. And the disgraceful snarl of American copyright law still impedes efforts to make even classic works produced by long-dead authors available freely to the public. Furthermore, libraries and publishers have reason to be concerned about their survival prospects in this age of ephemeral text. So the future of the DPLA as a public alternative to private control of the cultural commons is uncertain.

When I get some time I will poke around at the DPLA and perhaps do a post or two about it.  I think this is going to be an incredible resource.