Pointing an OA lens on cultural heritage objects
Last fall at the Penn State University Libraries, one of the ways that we observed Open Access (OA) Week was to dedicate half a day to a series of presentations and discussions about the topic. Organized by the Libraries Open Educational Resources (OER) Task Force, the event was conducted also for internal outreach purposes, particularly since the previous semester the Library Faculty Organization, our governance body, passed an OA Policy. The talks included a “Scholarly Communications 101” presentation; a progress report by the chair of our Open Access Monographs Team; tips on how to be an OA ambassador; priorities for implementing the OA Policy; and a “technical update/year in review” that addressed federal funding agency requirements since the responses to the OSTP mandate began pouring in. It was a compilation of informative talks, put together by colleagues who have become, over the years, increasingly adept at addressing OA and schol comm issues.
A question-and-answer period followed the presentations, and one question in particular has stayed with me. Our Associate Dean for Technology and Digital Strategies, Karen Estlund, asked about the NEH, digitization, and cultural heritage objects (CHOs), since the “technical update/year in review” had been, not surprisingly, STEM-centric and IR-centric and thus emphasized research publications and research data as the main outputs. Karen, on the other hand, was encouraging attention, as well, to digitized CHOs as examples of OA content and thus not to omit them as such. The humanist in me appreciated Karen raising this angle. The concept isn’t unheard of, but CHOs can be neglected, or overlooked, in much of the OA outreach that we do.
As service manager for ScholarSphere, Penn State’s open access repository service, I often find myself laser-focused on the type of research that conventionally populates an IR. It’s par for the course when one is an OA evangelist, so to speak. Yet, since my department, Publishing and Curation Services (PCS), has oversight of our CHO collections, both digitized and born-digital, I have been keen, of late, to point an OA lens more purposefully at these materials, too, and raise their profile in the portfolio of scholarly content that PCS works with others to produce, describe, host, publish, and make openly discoverable and available. As I do so, the following ambitions especially resonate with me: to diversify what we make open and to be transparent about the “how” of open – all toward expanding what we call, and mean by, “open.” The timing could not be more ideal in our Libraries for such evolving and shifting of intent. Since the start of 2016 a number of us have engaged in two “digital retreats,” led by Karen and designed to revisit and refine processes as well as to plan for future improvements to our infrastructure, our worfklows supporting digital collection development, and our services around digital scholarship and research data management – to name a few priorities.
I’m taking the opportunity of this blog post to report briefly on ways we’re already making progress and to call out and define more specifically how I hope we continue to make progress.
Being transparent about the “how” of open
This aspiration relates to the growing importance of sharing how research and scholarship in digital humanities are done, in the spirit of building off of or extending the shared methods, opening up paths for new collaborations, and acknowledging the labor of everyone on a project team, for example, as well as the types of labor involved. The pedagogical potential inherent in such openness is equally promising. What does it take to apply a similar brand of transparency to the work of open access, particularly the content we are trying to free up for broad discovery and use? How attentive are we to documenting, sharing, and updating our processes for publishing digital collections? From the kernel of the idea, to consulting with the collection curator or other stakeholders, to the mammoth stage that is production, to mounting the realized and reformatted collection online and advocating for its usage?
One of the concrete outcomes from our first digital retreat in February was a prototype digital collections workflow that we have started to implement, expecting to iterate upon it as we apply it. Another outcome was an “intake” form, for documenting information about a collection, such as its physical or digital condition, rights status, and readiness for harvesting by external bodies such as the DPLA. Completion of this form, which we have also begun implementing, kicks off the workflow. It’s yet to be decided where this information will live so that it is easily retrievable, but the record-keeping is happening in earnest, and I’m confident our team will arrive at a solution soon. Such project-based efforts can be a boon for emerging instruction areas such as digital library pedagogy. One hope is that, in time, we will also learn how to integrate processes – and share such processes – for representing our digital collections as open humanities data sets, released with a readiness for working with them, in a variety of ways. Given their growing emphases in any number of domains, whether the humanities, the sciences, or the social sciences, open data is becoming the new people’s content.
Diversifying what we make open
At the second of the two digital retreats, we received an update on the implementation of our strategic plan. One of the action items is to develop a digital collection policy that will take advantage of collections little known and underused – and thus effectively hidden. The deliverables of creating scope and guidelines for developing digital collections offer our Libraries a chance to determine where the gaps are in representations of the cultural heritage of the Commonwealth. It’s an enormous opportunity to diversify what we digitize and could inform, in turn, how our collecting mission in the context of physical materials evolves. With our Special Collections Library under the new leadership of Athena Jackson, I’m eager to see how this unfolds – and to take part as I can and as makes sense.
It’s all about the people’s content