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ARL Fall Forum 2015 Explores Research Partnerships in Digital Scholarship for the Humanities and Social Sciences

Editor’s note: The 2015 ARL Fall Forum launched the Julia C. Blixrud Memorial Lecture along with the Julia C. Blixrud Scholarship, which supports the attendance of one master of library and information science (MLIS) student or recent graduate at the Fall Forum each year. Liz Hamilton, permissions manager and assistant to the director at Northwestern University Press, is the 2015 recipient of the Julia C. Blixrud Scholarship. As part of the scholarship, ARL asked Hamilton to write an overview of the forum, which follows below.

On October 8, I had the great privilege of attending the 2015 ARL Fall Forum as the inaugural Julia C. Blixrud Scholarship recipient. This scholarship and the corresponding Julia C. Blixrud Memorial Lecture at the forum are in honor of long-time ARL staff member Julia Blixrud. In putting together the infographic I submitted with my application (PDF), I saw Julia’s name again and again on the sources I was consulting, as a collaborator, in acknowledgements sections, and on the dedication page of Getting the Word Out (PDF). Though I never met her in person, her impact on and enthusiasm for the profession were very clear from her continual involvement in so many projects. I’m terrifically honored to be a part of her legacy, and am very grateful to both the staff of ARL and members of Julia’s family for launching the scholarship.

It would be impossible to capture everything that I learned from the forum, so I’ll do my best to cover some of the highlights. The Julia C. Blixrud Memorial Lecture, presented by Tara McPherson of University of Southern California, was an exhilarating trip through innovative digital scholarship projects. A few examples:

Eventually Tara’s slides will be posted,1 and I for one will spend several days exploring everything I didn’t quite write down. She stressed the importance of libraries and building human infrastructure in the continuing development of digital scholarship projects, and the need to value experimental practice. The lecture was a wonderful way to launch the forum.

From here, we moved into a panel called “Emerging Models in Humanities Publishing: Institutional Implications.”2 Here, representatives from Indiana University Bloomington, the University of Michigan, and Emory University discussed the results of two Mellon Foundation–funded studies to explore subvention funding systems for monographs. My background is in university press publishing in the humanities, so this was very much in my wheelhouse. I appreciated the frank discussion of the costs of monograph publishing, which are around $25,000, not including the faculty member’s salary while developing the book, and even more so seeing the high costs of digital projects—$138,000 in one example! While highly important for scholarship, publication projects aren’t cheap, and considering how to fund them in the future is vital. The reports on the separate studies are required reading in my near future: Emory’s report focuses on their university which has no press, and the joint Indiana/Michigan report considers the situation for universities with university presses.

“Digital Scholarship in the Social Sciences”3 kicked off the afternoon’s sessions. I’m less well versed in the social sciences, but the engaging speakers really piqued my interest in continuing to learn about their scholarship, especially in the digital realm. The speakers covered collaborative work in spatial data through S4 (Spatial Structures in the Social Sciences) at Brown University; data sharing as publishing in the field of archaeology at Open Context at University of California, Berkeley; and cross-cultural digital collaborations through Matrix at Michigan State University, specifically the Archive of Malian Photography and the Gorée Island Archaeological Digital Repository. I’ll look forward to seeing further developments in these and other social sciences projects.

Rounding out the afternoon were a talk on the Trans-Atlantic Platform4 and a talk by Geoffrey Boulton,5 both summarizing the themes of the forum and talking about building global partnerships among scholars. The Trans-Atlantic Platform, a collaboration among major research funders in Europe and the Americas, is a brilliant model that allows funding of projects larger than one organization could achieve solo. This talk showcased projects from the Digging into Data program as examples of what can be done through these kinds of research partnerships. In the last talk of the day, Geoffrey Boulton spoke about the big ideas discussed throughout the sessions, as well as the importance of partnerships among scholars. My main takeaways from his talk were the importance of people in the research process and the need to connect librarians to researchers and researchers to each other.

If you couldn’t attend the forum, I highly recommend reading through the Storify roundup of #arlforum15 tweets for more highlights. Thanks again for having me, ARL!

Notes with Links to Slides

1. Tara McPherson of University of Southern California spoke about “Designing Digital Scholarship—Research in a Networked World” (McPherson’s slides PDF).

2. Speaking about emerging models in humanities publishing (humanities publishing panel’s slides PDF) were Gary Dunham and Jason Jackson of Indiana University Bloomington, Meredith Kahn and Charles Watkinson of University of Michigan, and Lisa Macklin of Emory University.

3. Speaking about digital scholarship in the social sciences were Rachel S. Franklin of S4 at Brown University (Franklin’s slides PDF); Eric Kansa of Open Context at University of California, Berkeley (Kansa’s slides PDF); and Ethan Watrall of MATRIX at Michigan State University (Watrall’s slides PDF).

4. Speaking about the Trans-Atlantic Platform were Brett Bobley of the US National Endowment for the Humanities (Bobley’s slides PDF) and Brent Herbert-Copley of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Herbert-Copley’s slides PDF).

5. Geoffrey Boulton of University of Edinburgh spoke about global partnerships in digital scholarship (Boulton’s slides PDF).

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