Friday, April 3, 2009

Ed Ayers on Digital Scholarship

One of the more enjoyable parts of the NITLE Summit was the final keynote by Ed Ayers, president of the University of Richmond. Ayers is a historian previously at U Va and is one of the people behind the much vaunted Valley of the Shadow project.

The main theses of his presentation was that collaborative digital scholarship that engages students can broaden the horizons of students at smaller institutions while at the same time providing a tighter sense of community and connectedness for students at larger institutions. The History Engine, which lets students/scholars contribute to a crowdsourced collection of historical episodes drawn from primary sources, was his prime example of this type of digital scholarship.

When Ayers came to Richmond, one of the things he asked for was a Digital Scholarship Lab, which has done The History Engine and a few other projects.

Ayers spoke of a missed opportunity by the academy to really embrace the revolution in networked technology. In his view, digital technology can be trans formative to humanities scholarship, not just teaching.

I was encouraged by the talk, especially to have someone at the highest level of liberal arts college leadership encouraging the types of digital projects that we're trying to foster here at Watzek. He said that when college presidents get together and eat rubber chicken these are the kinds of things they like to show off to each other. What an endorsement!

In my mind, The History Engine falls into a category of project in which you have undergraduate students doing research and contributing publicly to an evolving body of knowledge. Ayers thought that students learn better when they know that their work is public and making an original contribution to a body of knowledge.

I can think of a few projects like that around here, chief among which would be our situated research initiative in Environmental Studies. We've also had interest from our SoAn folks in building a digital library of senior project bibliographies. Many of the science labs on campus accumulate data over the years through student research projects, too.

Should academic libraries develop competencies in building these collaboratively created digital knowledgebases? Will this kind of project be an aspect of future library expertise and service? If the library has been the laboratory for humanists to date, are these a future version of that laboratory?

1 comment:

Cyril Oberlander said...

Should academic libraries develop competencies in building these collaboratively created digital knowledgebases?

Absolutely, whether we adopt or support community projects like these, or start them as resolution to our disparate digital collections, we should find ways to engage communities.

Univ. of Washington Libraries use of wikipedia as a platform for their digital library shows very promising results, but how can we scale those efforts across all of our collections and collective talents?

Landmarks like these certainly help guide us in the right direction.