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Yesterday, in the Tufts Digital Collections and Archives blog ([ profile] tufts_dca), I talked about our newly-launched institutional repository, Tufts eScholarship. I'm very optimistic about the success of our IR, though there has been a lot of conversation in the IR world about what makes institutional repositories fail. The number one reason I'm optimistic about our IR: it's not what purists would call an institutional repository.

When I go to conferences and speak to my colleagues at other universities, I see that at many institutions the people who are doing institutional repository/faculty scholarship are entirely separate from the people who are digitizing images or archival collections, and those are entirely separate from the people who are taking care of digital records. There's certainly an argument in not biting off more than you can chew, and goodness only knows we are often overwhelmed around here (and I can't discount the incredibly generous technological support we've had from other departments at the university). But at the same time, keeping the various digitization efforts apart from one another means that every lesson needs to be learned multiple times, every set of software and hardware platforms only supports a subset of the institution's resources, every preservation effort only preserves a fraction of the digitized materials.

At Tufts, DCA began our digital library efforts with the lowest-hanging of low hanging fruit: digitized images which were already in our collections and whose rights were clear. By the time faculty and administrators started banging on our door begging for a place to put faculty scholarship -- and no doubt about it, they currently are -- we already had a well-established digital library program which could accommodate faculty scholarship. Moreover, we already had faculty scholarship in the digital library! About two thirds of the papers currently available in our eScholarship collections were already present as manuscript collections of the DCA. Calling them "eScholarship" is just another way of categorizing them and making them discoverable.

There are, of course, weaknesses of this approach. As you'll see if you browse the collections, our current user interface isn't specialized for browsing faculty papers. Moreover, our deposit workflow to get papers from faculty is inadequate to say the least. But what we do have is a large well-established digital collection: a mix of faculty scholarship; manuscript, publication, and archival collections of the university; and university records. The software development, archival, and other efforts to support each of these individual collections has equally supported all of the other digitized materials. When the university is not interested in archives, they are probably interested in faculty scholarship; when they are not interested in faculty scholarship; they are probably interested in digitized records. At no time are our efforts going into something which is not valued by faculty and administration.

The decisions leading to this wonderful conjunction of circumstances all predate my presence here at the university by many years. I'm talking about this not to toot Tufts' horn, but to push this vital idea of collaboration. Even now, I see so many institutions in the repository space that have entirely orthogonal approaches within their own organizations. The people digitizing images aren't talking to the people digitizing texts aren't talking to the people dealing with digital records aren't talking to the people doing institutional repository. Sure, maybe you would never use the same software platform or workflow approaches for all of these efforts. But maybe you will. Maybe instead of getting six different perfect software packages, you will find something that is good enough for all of you, and uses only one license, a smaller number of technical support staff, and something which will continue to be supported by your university even if hard economic times make some of the digital collections look less important.

Heck, I'm looking at this entirely selfishly, and you should too. In tough economic times, digital archives might go by the wayside. Open access institutional repositories are still untested. But management of the university's digital records is never going to be unnecessary. Work with other people instead of merely alongside them, intertwine your jobs, and you will not just save your institution money and resources, but you will increase the number of ways in which you are vital. Job security FTW.

Date: 2009-02-23 06:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
There was one librarian , MIchael Keller (, and I might have been a sloppy listener, but I got a lot more faculty/academic/administrative vibes (though more of the speakers may have had library experience than I realized).
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