Our members’ libraries each have unique, valuable resources. For the past 15 years, I’ve had the pleasure of discovering many of these rich collections firsthand as part of my work in digital collection management.
One of my favorite collections is the Denison University Herbarium, which contains images of more than 600 plant specimens. A poignant note in the collection description states that the original Herbarium collection was destroyed by fire in 1905 but was restored with donations from professors and naturalists soon after. The digital collection is curated by Andrew C. McCall, Assistant Professor of Biology, and preserves access to these plants for future study and makes them accessible beyond the four walls of the library. It is a great example of engaging faculty using digital collections, preserving physical collections with digitization and bringing hidden collections into view.
My passion is to grow the number and usage of unique digital collections like the Herbarium. Each collection has a “back story” and usually an engaged curator. As each new, unique collection comes online, a piece of our shared knowledge becomes visible to a new generation of learners and scholars. Bringing these collections online gives voice to information that otherwise would be muted in our web-based world of information.
Once you’ve made these collections visible, how can they be woven into the fabric of our universities and communities to support teaching and learning? Here are three ways you can engage and thrill faculty—or just about anyone—with digital collections.
1. Sell what you already have
Find connections from your existing digital collections to your institution’s course offerings. Then take them directly to faculty with some ready-made study guides or background. With all of the demands on faculty these days—research grants, classroom duties, publishing requirements—they may not be aware of the rich resources available to them from your digital collections. Do some of the up-front thinking, research and document planning for them. Make it easy for them to incorporate these resources into courses. While you may not have the breadth of collections of the Smithsonian, you can take a page from its book of lesson plans and “idea labs.” Once you have some ideas in place, schedule some time to discuss how they can blend the digital objects into curriculum and lectures. They’ll be thrilled with the added impact these digital objects will have with students and searchers.
2. Bring your services to the source
You are well-versed in digital content creation. You also have skills in metadata development, publishing and copyright. Let faculty and community leaders know you can work with them to build collections that support their research. In addition, you can also work with their students to set up some class exercises or research assignments. Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) has done this with their Center for Digital Scholarship. Library leaders created a digital scholarship fund to encourage innovative research and collaborative learning as well as to develop digital collections that advance teaching and learning. To date, this fund has been used by faculty and students to build more than 80 collections. And the goodwill and excitement the fund has created with the university community may be as valuable as the collections.
3. Make it about information literacy
It’s no understatement to say that the universe of information available today is overwhelming. And with the recent publicity surrounding “fake news,” it’s more important than ever to build students’ skills in information literacy. With a focus on the new Framework for Information Literacy from the Association of College & Research Libraries and your digital collections, you can engage faculty to help students build research skills and identify authoritative, original content.
There’s something about being unique
The first five or ten results in Google are going to connect to information that everyone has access to. Those answers may be fine for most everyday uses. But scholarship and knowledge work require the ability to find, assess and leverage unusual, specific and unique content—like your digital collections.
For many years, libraries have done a great job digitizing unique resources and making them accessible via the web to support learning, research and scholarship. Engaging with faculty creates new opportunities for digital collections and builds a new generation of experienced researchers.