Libraries & Digital Scholarship: Partner, Provider, Pilgrim (as in one who wonder/wanders, on a deeply personal and always communal journey)?

In reading the 2019 RLUK report: Digital Scholarship and the Role of the Research Library (, it was fantastic to see how the report covers digital scholarship in libraries as moving forward libraries as provider, partner, and pioneer.

At UF, we have the still new Digital Partnerships & Strategies Department, which is doing exactly the work for provider-as-broker/connector and partner for building community and undertaking complex and impactful work together. We are also doing work that extends our role and connects to new groups. While this can be stated as pioneer—and the alliteration of provider, partner, pioneer is fabulous—for me, pioneer conjures notions of colonialism or individualism (the first to discover, develop, etc.). As we see over, and over, and over again, we do not function individually for our work, and great ideas are collaboratively developed and shaped, and ideas are made real by the power of the collective and the community. Indeed, the excellent RLUK report notes the importance of “collective action” for the work now and the work to come.

Given the call to collective action and my thoughts after recently reading The Old Ways, I think I would prefer to frame my work and the collective work with my Department as “partner, provider, and pilgrim (as in one who wonder/wanders, on a deeply personal and always communal journey).”

I was excited to read the RLUK report, and I am always excited by new phrases and framings that help communicate complex work. I am looking forward to seeing how others frame and describe their work in digital scholarship in terms of partnerships, opening into community and allowing for the spaciousness of trust as we work collectively.

Notes from the Report

5: of digital scholarship: ” It is not a term that is used widely amongst researchers, although the activities that fall under it are familiar to them;”

5: “The library as provider, partner, pioneer: This is a period of transition for libraries in their relationship with researchers and the research process. Many libraries are moving from being ‘service
providers’, to take more of an active role as ‘research partners’, and ‘pioneers’ of new processes and platforms. This is deliberate and libraries are looking for ways of furthering this transition through the creation of dedicated digital scholarship spaces, teams, and resources, as catalysts for increased collaboration;”

6: my note is to follow this for relation to UF’s grad internship program (paid at a living wage): “Sustainability: Research libraries can struggle to make digital scholarship services sustainable due to their dependence on project funding and the diffculty in attracting highly skilled, technically specialist staff within a competitive job market. In some libraries, postgraduate assistants provide valuable support, particularly around more technically complex activities;”

6: “collective action”

7: “digital scholarship has been described as ‘the increasingly diverse application of digital technology to scholarly activity, with a particular emphasis on openness, cross-disciplinary collaboration, and challenging traditional and established methodological norms’.1”

7: “creation and management of digital repositories, the acquisition of digital collections (both born digital and digitised), the curation of digital exhibitions, digital preservation, data management, the supporting of open access, digital publishing, metadata creation, the development of new discovery platforms, and enabling text and data mining. Although highly technical in
many areas, the development and delivery of these resources depend on a wider skill set relating to areas of project management, measures of impact, and copyright. RLUK’s own 2017 study into the provision of digital humanities tools within libraries demonstrated that the delivery of digital projects and the creation of digital resources and platforms are best achieved when the library is a valued and integral partner from the outset, thus drawing on additional skills of partnership management, negotiation, and advocacy for the library and its activities.”

11: “The role of the library in both the development and delivery of digital scholarship services, including in partnership with academics, is evident. In qualitative comments, it is apparent that the role of the library as ‘partner’ and ‘provider’ is topical, with libraries being both proactive and reactive in identifying and meeting researcher needs. The library’s role as a partner with third parties was also evident, 58% (15) of respondents reporting that digital scholarship initiatives originated from third parties and external organisations, these including other libraries (as partners), information services providers, and external researchers from other institutions. The fuidity in where digital scholarship initiatives originate from, and how the library relates to these, is refected in terms of structures. ”

14: “The library’s close-working relationship with other professional services such as IT can therefore be seen as integral to its support of digital scholarship services. A number of respondents commented on the beneft of having small teams of technical staff (e.g. developers) located within the library, who were able to support digitisation projects, developing software, metadata and database creation, and web development. They also commented on the importance of drawing on a wider pool of expertise from across the institution, both on the technical side but also curatorial (e.g. museum staff) in relation to digital exhibits.”

17: “41% (11) of respondents say they have now created or reorganised a department or unit specifcally to lead digital scholarship activities within the library; Where they do exist, the creation of single units or departments, although presenting a number of challenges, are seen as benefcial for the library and its development of digital scholarship services in partnership with academic and other units;”

18: “Profle raising: the creation of a single digital scholarship unit or department has been important in raising the profle of digital scholarship activities across the library and of recognising digital
scholarship as ‘a core strategic priority for the library’. It has increased the awareness of the needs and requirements of digital scholarship and several respondents cited that it has raised the profle of the library as a research partner and as a ‘facilitator of cultural change’;”

19: “Single point of contact: a number of respondents reported that the creation of the unit or department has been benefcial in enabling a single point of contact for both staff and researchers. This has raised both the profle and awareness of digital scholarship activities available within the library, whilst making the library appear to be a ‘stronger partner in collaboration’. Signifcantly, one respondent cited that the creation of the department had been useful in that researchers now ‘have a resource they can cost into their grant’. The creation of a single unit has increased and enhanced the library’s engagement with academics and has clarifed the routes of communication between them and the library;”

20: need to move from a project to a process-driven model, and “The importance of close partnership working with researchers, and across library teams, was cited by several respondents as being important to enable the library to become more proactive in its service development. The role of the ‘library as partner’, whether with academics or other units, was therefore regularly cited as being important, and that dedicated units or departments aided this process.”

26: “The collaborative potential for libraries to work with organisations outside of their own institutions was also highlighted”

26: again thinking on the grad internship program: “Beyond working with other libraries, respondents reported partnerships with third parties around specifc projects and programmes of work, including ProQuest, Google Arts and Culture, and Jisc RDSS. Respondents also reported working with external organisations through doctoral programmes, such as through Collaborative Doctoral Partnerships, through the Doctoral Training Partnerships, and with Independent Research Organisations (IROs).”

40: “The research library will increasingly assume the position of partner in digital scholarship activities, going beyond service provision, whilst also enhancing its role as a ‘neutral broker between

40: “Research libraries are looking to simplify and integrate digital scholarship services which are currently distributed across multiple teams and departments, both within the library and elsewhere. It is likely that we will witness a period of consolidation and restructuring of services in the coming years;”