Digital Philanthropy

The most recent CLIR Issues newsletter has a story on “Mapping a New Partnership” where the Stanford University Libraries are partnering with private map collection holders to digitize the maps for wide access and digital preservation. They’re calling this process digital philanthropy:

“Digital philanthropy” is a term being used at the Stanford University Libraries (SUL) to describe an emerging partnership between the Libraries and collectors willing to donate access to their unique and interesting map collections so that they can be scanned for broader viewing.*

The note clarifies:

* The term “digital philanthropy” is evolving. Here it describes an arrangement between a group of donors and a specific institution, but it can also refer to creating endowments or other large-scale funding efforts to support humanities in a digital era. CLIR will be exploring this topic further in the coming year. —Ed.

The UF Libraries are the technical partner in the Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC) and many other digital collections supported through the UF Digital Collections (UFDC) and the SobekCM software.  Many of these collections, especially digital scholarship based collections, have been enriched by digital philanthropy as defined by the Stanford University Libraries. UFDC and dLOC have mainly done digital philanthropy with scholars where scholars digitize and contribute their materials directly or allow their materials to be digitized with all being made available for open, free, worldwide access and long-term digital preservation. Doing so enriches the world’s access to research materials and it supports scholars in their work by supporting their scholarly community. We’ve been referring to the digital philanthropy work simply as partnerships, collaboration, and digital scholarship work, but none of those are sufficiently descriptive or accurate. I plan to use digital philanthropy for this specific work because it’s more accurate and evocative than the terms I’ve been using.
A related initiative we’ve been developing is what I’ve been calling “digital acquisition”* (see this grant proposal for an example). This isn’t a terribly accurate name. I’ve been using “digital acquisition” to mean is the use of funds that can only be used to purchase resources (digital or otherwise) to be used with a partner to purchase digital resources that haven’t yet been digitized. This is a complicated process because the funds can only be used to purchase resources and can only be paid upon receipt of the materials. Partners bear the costs of digitizing the materials upfront. Then, upon completion of the digitization, loading of the resources online, and archiving, the partner receives the funding.
The great things about “digital acquisition” are that it makes access possible for rare and unique materials where copies cannot be bought, makes them available for the world, and ensures preservation. Because this process is undertaken specifically for rare materials where access and preservation are needed, we’ve ensured that full, free, open access and long-term digital preservation are included in the partnership agreements for “digital acquisition.”
The difficulties with “digital acquisition” are finding resources at the partner institution to support the upfront digitization costs, finding purchasing funds at another partner institution to pay the project costs upon completion, paperwork, coordination, and time, as this is not a fast process (at least not for State, grant, and other fund sources I have experience with).
While “digital acquisition” is not a fast or simple process, it’s very important for libraries to diversify the ways and methods they support for providing open access to and preservation of materials, and especially so for rare and unique materials. Digital philanthropy and “digital acquisition” are two useful ways for libraries to continue doing their traditional work and to expand that work to include collections that might otherwise have been outside of their ability to support.
* Digital acquisition is not sufficiently descriptive or evocative, so I hope to be replacing it with a better term soon.