That’s Capital: Funding, Resources and Influence

The Link to My Prezi:

One of the biggest issues facing the Digital Humanities field today is how to gather the resources needed to execute the ideas of the scholars and designers working in the field. This is not limited to financial resources, though those are important. Digital Humanists also need to gather time, people and social capital.

Two of our readings this week- the second chapter of “Our Cultural Commonwealth” and “Innkeepers in a Roach Motel” by Dorothea Salo- deal with these issues. “Our Cultural Commonwealth” does so in a more general way- talking about issues that affect many types of Digital Humanities projects. “Inn Keepers in a Roach Motel” deals more specifically with institutional repositories.

Six Challenges:

“Our Cultural Commonwealth” points out six challenges facing the Digital Humanities. These range from problems with the data itself, to systematic problems within university systems.

  1. Ephemeral Data: basically this is referring to the fact that digital data is easily altered in a way that is untraceable. Also, data can quickly and totally disappear from the internet. An example of this that most of us have probably encountered is on YouTube. Videos can appear and disappear on the site quickly and there are numerous edited copies of the biggest videos- which makes establishing authority difficult. The report also points out that the places that we treat like repositories- YouTube and Facebook (I would also add Twitter to this list) are not designed to act as repositories and therefore are not reliable in the way scholars expect their sources to be.
  2. The nature of Humanities Data: Basically, what they are referring to is that anything might be considered Humanities Data, from the traditional text resources to fashion sketches to graffiti. Digitizing and studying these resources can be difficult, especially since things like dance or other live performance are hard to capture in a digital space, as we’ve discussed already. The report also discusses that sometimes a larger data set is more useful in digital projects than smaller ones, so the Shoah Foundation at USC, for example is more useful than a few individual narratives and large datasets are harder and more costly to build and maintain. They also mention that data can be useful for many types of scholars. For example, the Roman De La Rose project might be useful for historians, art historians and literature scholars and linguists. It’s difficult to predict and provide what all of these disparate groups of scholars might need to conduct research.
  3. Copyright: Basically, this is the same thing that we’ve been talking about all semester. Because of copyright law much of the material produced in this century are not available for scholars to use in their digitization projects, or is costly or difficult to obtain the rights to. Also, this threatens the preservation of born-digital works because by transferring these works from one medium to another, libraries and archives are breaking copyright law.
  4. Conservative Scholarship Culture: There are a lot of facets of these attitudes that are problematic for Digital Humanists, but the largest problem stems from the common perception of the humanities scholar as a lone academic- spending long hours in isolation pouring over books. While researchers in other disciplines have embraced teamwork as a method of conducting research, Humanities scholars have been slow to do so. However, it is exactly this type of cross-discipline teamwork that is necessary for to create Digital Humanities projects.
  5. Culture, Value and Communication: this is probably the longest and most complex part of the problem and it basically stems from problems around scholarly communication. The report describes the traditional relationship between publishers, scholars and libraries, who form the core of scholarly communications, in terms of three economies. The first is a prestige economy, which serves the scholar. The second is the market economy, which is primary for the publisher. The third is the subsidy economy, which is primary for libraries. All of these economies are important for the other two players in the system for which they are not primary, and when they work together they work very well. However, digital modes of publishing threaten this balance, especially when we view scholarly communication as a marketable good. The authors of the report argue that instead we should see scholarly communication as a public good, which should be extended to the public at low or no cost through open access. However, true open access requires new business models for the publishing leg of this triangle. This will be costly and difficult for publishers and libraries to create and maintain (more on this later). However the authors of the report argue that this will end up being less costly in the long run, if universities replace publishers as the providers of scholarly content. They point to things like Project Muse and open access software as evidence that this can work. However, as Dorothea Salo points out, there is a large opposition to a lot of this and many people don’t see open access as an absolute value. These types of changes will also require that everyone come to see scholarly communication as a public good and not a market commodity, which is a large and radical shift that will be difficult for pretty much everyone to make.
  6. Funding: Basically, there just isn’t enough funding. In the US, the government isn’t investing in Digital Humanities research on the same levels as in Europe. There is also not as much money spent on Humanities research in general, especially when compared to the amount of money spent on science and medicine. Private funding is not making up for the deficit in federal funding. The authors of the report propose that digital humanities projects should not just request funding from, but also partner with private companies to create the necessary cyber infrastructure.

“Inn Keeper at a Roach Motel”: Institutional Repositories

Institutional repositories are one of the things that the authors of “Our Cultural Commonwealth” advocate as a solution for the challenges facing Digital Humanities, because they treat scholarly communication as a public good, not a marketable commodity. However, Dorothea Salo, who is a repository manager, argues that digital repositories the way they are typically run now are failing, and doing so at the expense of Open Access as a concept. She likens being a repository manager to being an inn keeper at a roach motel- nobody really wants to go into your establishment and nothing useful comes out of it. She identifies three key players- the faculty, libraries and the software companies that all contribute to the failure of the institutional repository. Oddly, she ignores the role of publishers in this equation, except as a force acting on the faculty.

Faculty: Basically, Salo argues that faculty have rejected institutional repositories as they currently exist because they don’t serve their needs in their current form. Part of it is that they don’t see Open Access as a primary value, and the repository managers haven’t been doing a good job of teaching them why it’s important. Self-Archiving is also difficult for faculty to do themselves and some have privacy and copyright concerns with how the system works now. However, the biggest problems they seem to have is that they see institutional repositories as a threat to their prestige and to the traditional modes of publishing that are favored in the tenure system. Professors seeking tenure are mostly still required to submit a “tenure box” that doesn’t leave a lot of room for born-digital materials. As we’ve discussed before, the younger professors who might be more open to and comfortable with this mode of publishing, also have the most to lose by embracing it under the current tenure system.

Libraries: First, Salo argues, that the librarians themselves are not universal supporters of the institutional repository. They don’t put their own research in there and even though the repository is often run out of the library, they see it as something separate and don’t push the resources it contains as a source for research materials. Part of this is because librarians themselves usually don’t understand what the repository is or why they should support it. This discounts that many librarians are also wary of the institutional repository because there are significant costs associated with running one that take away funding from other areas of the library. As “Our Cultural Commonwealth” points out, many believe that institutional repositories should and will replace traditional publishing methods as a way to obtain scholarly work, but this hasn’t happened yet and there are those in the library community that think that it never will- that participation won’t ever be high enough and the costs will always be too great to supplant traditional methods of acquiring materials. Salo, however, points to another cause. She argues that part of this is due to the four different ways that libraries manage repositories.

  1. 1.       The Maverick Manager: A person brought in from the outside to build or manage the repository. This is usually seen as someone coming in and trying to change things without a clear understanding of how things work at that institution. Because this person is new, they usually don’t have any connections among the faculty to ease this transition, and they have to go through other librarians, who are not always welcoming and even if they are, are already busy with their own duties. Libraries who use this model usually don’t give the manager enough resources to succeed, either in terms of people or budgets to buy and maintain the infrastructure needed, digitize analog content, and educate people about the repository. Basically, this person is usually set up to fail and leaves quickly.
  2. 2.       No Accountability: Under this model, the repository is set up and the responsibility for it is dispersed among the existing librarians, who already have substantial amounts of responsibility. Because the learning curve on the software and the issues surrounding the repository is so high, the repository does not become a priority. Also, usually under this model, faculty are responsible for voluntarily placing their own materials in the repository, which they generally will not do.
  3. 3.       Consortial Management: In this system, libraries join together with other academic libraries and form a repository that is managed by a technical staff employed by the consortium and a committee containing members from all of the member organizations. However, by outsourcing the system, technical support becomes more difficult and faculty outreach is almost non-existent.  Also, the committee members usually don’t have the power and influence at their home institutions to shape policy to promote the repository. Also, because the repository is funded by multiple campuses, if one decides to stall funding, the whole system can collapse.
  4. 4.       Cooperative: In this model, librarians work with the faculty who, in many cases may have initiated the repository in the first place. They mediate deposits, something that is missing from all of the other models and they develop all types of resources to improving and maintaining the repository. This model is expensive, but it has seen the most success.

Software: The software used to manage digital repositories is not conducive to doing what the faculty want the repository to do. It does not allow for versioning or for various levels of privacy, which would make it a useful tool for sharing research. It is also extremely hard to customize and very buggy. It takes a skilled Java programmer to customize the software, and even then technical support for the software is hard to obtain and harder to dole out to the faculty users. Since it assumes that faculty will be uploading the materials themselves, licensing someone else, like a secretary or a library staff member to upload the material is complicated and usually involves some sort of paper process that is onerous for the faculty. Even if the faculty does do their own uploading, the process is not straightforward and any mistakes have to be corrected by completely removing the item in question and re-uploading it. The interfaces provided are also not user friendly and even minor modifications, like putting a new skin on the system to match the school’s existing web design, for example, is difficult and time-consuming and frequently leads to incompatibilities with newer versions of the software. This is made even more difficult by the fact that most librarians are not trained IT managers and they have to rely on a separate IT staff that may not be responsive to the requests of the librarian.

Moving Forward:

Salo gives 11 suggestions for what should happen with institutional repositories going forwards. I will quickly go over them here.

  1. Home Support- The repository should work to gain support from within the library and mandate that all research produced by librarians go into the repsository
  2. Launch with a constituency- new repositories should not be formed without at least one significant constituency that is actively seeking a repository. This might be a faculty member or a desire to archive student theses and dissertations.
  3. Look beyond peer reviewed literature- seek to include scholarly grey material and early drafts of work.
  4. Collect actively- instead of waiting for materials to be put into the repository, repository managers should actively seek and collect materials from the faculty
  5. Seek forgiveness rather than permission- faculty who wish their work to be included in the repository should sign a blanket license, giving the repository manager permission to include all of their research in the repository instead of having to give permission for each individual work
  6. Digitize analog content- exactly what it sounds like, digitize faculty’s older works and their newer works that appear in print form, since so many do not simply produce born-digital material.
  7. Work with discipline repositories- get licenses to harvest the works put into disciplinary repositories and give those repositories license to harvest revelant materials from the institutional repository.
  8. Involvement with Cyber Infrastructure and Faculty Data Management- Repository managers should not leave the entire infrastructure up to the IT professionals, and should be more directly involved in how the systems are set up and run. They should also provide support for all of the ways that faculty manage their scholarly data.
  9. Contribute to software development- the designers of this software should seek out feedback from those who run the repositories and repository managers should involve themselves more directly in the software development process.
  10. Faculty prestige- the repository should keep statistics on what materials are viewed and how often, in order to give the faculty a metric for measuring their prestige, which is a large part of tenure considerations.
  11. Integrate with other Campus IT systems- the repository should be compatible with classroom software like Blackboard and should also be easily integrated into the faculty’s personal websites. Not only to advertise the repository, but so the repository can pull materials from these sources.


Overall, both of these articles give a good view of some of the challenges facing the Digital Humanities and institutional repositories. They also provide good solutions to some of the problems. Both argue that the people running these projects need more capital- whether that is in the form of actual money or social capital.

Discussion Questions:

Did the authors of “Our Cultural Commonwealth” miss anything? Has anything changed in the 5 years since this report was written?

Do you agree with Salo about the flaws in institutional repositories? Can you think of any other ways to fix the system? Is it worth fixing?

A Note About my Prezi:

I chose to design my Prezi in a series of closely spaced shapes to show how closely related these articles were. I chose a circle wheel design for the section dealing with “Our Cultural Commonwealth” because each of the challenges discussed seemed equally important. I chose to design the section about “Inn Keeper in a Roach Motel” as two hotels, connected by a road because I felt that the Salo article laid out the current “inhabitants” of the motel and then gave a set of guide posts (represented here by the road signs) for moving forward into the nice, clean hotel.

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