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Digital Scholarship Profile: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Scholarly Commons

Established in 2009

Staff: 2 FTE librarians, 1.75 FTE graduate assistants (MA/MLIS students in the School of Information Sciences), 1 FTE academic professional, 1 FTE visiting academic professional

Media Commons

Established in 2013

Staff: 2 FTE academic professionals

Grainger Engineering Library Innovation, Discovery, Design, and Data (IDEA) Lab

Established in 2016

Staff: 1 FTE librarian, 1 FTE academic professional, 1.5 FTE graduate assistants

Media Commons, University of Illinois Library

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library has supported digital scholarship (DS) through services and partnerships for decades. Beth Sandore Namachchivaya, associate university librarian (AUL) for research and associate dean of libraries, offered some insights into the role of the library in promoting digital scholarship at the university, including how the relatively young Scholarly Commons has become a collaborative nexus for the library, faculty, and students doing DS. Additional library staff, including Bill Mischo, head of the Grainger Engineering Library Information Center and coordinator of the IDEA Lab; Eric Kurt, coordinator of the Media Commons; Karen Hogenboom, head of the Scholarly Commons; and Harriett Green, English and digital humanities librarian, provided details about how support for DS is a collaborative effort across the libraries through a number of staff and the use of technology-equipped spaces.

The Urbana campus has had an organized presence around digital humanities projects and research since the mid-1990s. Professor Robert Alun Jones of the Departments of Sociology and Religious Studies created the Hypermedia Lab in the late 1980s as a site for humanities and social science faculty to work with hypertext. In 1989 Jones and faculty from the humanities, and other academic professionals from the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Krannert Art Museum, and the University Library, formed a loosely affiliated group of researchers who became known as the Advanced Information Technologies Group (AITG). The library and AITG helped develop a visual concordance, and by the late 1990s had developed expertise in boutique digitization projects and text-encoding projects using Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) XML. In 1995 the AITG became formally affiliated with the University Library. Around the same time the Library Research Center (LRC) was part of the School of Information Sciences, where it developed an expertise in print and web-based survey design before becoming part of the Center for Informatics Research in Science and Scholarship (CIRSS) in 2007. The center has since hosted a growing number of collaborative grant-funded projects, including several involving the library and scholarly communications: Publishing Without Walls, a digital scholarly publishing initiative; Digital Humanities Data Curation, a multi-institutional series of advanced workshops on data curation in the digital humanities; and Exploring the Benefits for Users of Linked Open Data for Digitized Special Collections, which focuses on how to build, represent, and make accessible research collections.

Scholarly Commons,
University of Illinois Library

In 2009 the University Library added the Scholarly Commons (SC) as a technology-enriched space for faculty, researchers, and graduate students to pursue research and receive expert consultation services in digital humanities, digitization, data, scholarly communications, copyright, undergraduate research, and usability. The SC is a unit within the library’s Office of Research, providing a consultation space, with the intention of operating as a hub to connect users with its extended alliance network and as a center for distributed efforts and collaborative solutions. Experts in the Scholarly Commons, including subject specialists, provide several services and a variety of training opportunities (the Savvy Researcher Workshops) and learning resources. The SC is a consultation and interaction space where experts offer support for explorations using digital tools and methods for teaching, learning, and research. This space provides a sandbox for learning and using hardware and software to do text-encoding, analog digitization, qualitative data analysis, geospatial data visualization and analysis, text mining, scanning and OCR, and web usability experimentation. A fantastic array of tools and technology is available, including: Artstor’s Offline Image Viewer (OIV), RStudio, oXygen XML editor, Python and R environments, IBM SPSS Statistics, ArcGIS and Atlas systems, and the Mendeley Desktop. The staff also review new tools, introduce resources, and discuss developments in scholarly communication on the SC’s blog, Commons Knowledge.

Startup support from the campus’s Division of Intercollegiate Athletics has enabled the Scholarly Commons to coordinate and sponsor campus-wide programming that hosts workshops and guest speakers whose focus is on digital scholarship and scholarly communications. In 2017, the Scholarly Commons intends to offer graduate fellowships for PhD students aimed at supporting digital scholarship and research centered on themes in digital humanities and interdisciplinary scholarship.

Media Commons, University of Illinois Library

The Scholarly Commons’s outreach is focused on any member of the campus community with a digital scholarship–related need. The University Library has also recently added new centers that expand resources available to all students, including the Undergraduate Library’s Media Commons (MC) and the Grainger Engineering Library IDEA Laboratory. Through these centers and their programs, the library has focused on developing internal collaborative relationships that seamlessly support digital scholarship needs across the expertise in the three centers, and to coordinate interactions with a campus-wide design center that is in the active planning stages.

Media Commons, University of Illinois Library

The Media Commons began as a partnership between the University Library and Technology Services (supported by a student library/IT fee) to help faculty and staff integrate digital media into their classrooms and to allow students to explore and create a variety of multimedia projects. Over the past three years the MC has expanded its loanable technology program, collaborative workspaces, media-editing workstations, and added an audio-recording booth and professional-level video studio. The Media Commons also offers support and training for students and other users that incorporate best practices for creating and editing video and sound.

Supported by the College of Engineering, the Technology Entrepreneur Center (TEC), the Grainger Library Endowment, and the University Library, the new Grainger IDEA Lab provides spaces and services for faculty and student collaboration and entrepreneurship activities, and serves as a demonstration and prototype site for exploring interface and informatics design, design-thinking processes more broadly, visualization, and data analytics. This space in particular is meant to foster collaborative or team-based work and scholarship using the high-definition visualization wall and mobile monitors to display one or several inputs at once. The IDEA Lab includes two informatics laboratories exploring advanced information discovery techniques with a total of 10 movable monitors; eight student collaborative workrooms with movable walls and whiteboards; two presentation areas with 84” monitors; a 33 million–pixel 13.5’ by 7.6’ visualization wall; two 3-D printers; and a 3-D scanner, among other resources. The IDEA Lab works closely with three early adopters: the Technology Entrepreneur Center (http://tec.illinois.edu/), the iVenture Accelerator student design startups group (http://iventure.illinois.edu/), and the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering senior capstone classes.

Scholarly Commons,
University of Illinois Library

In addition to providing a virtual sandbox and consultation space, the Scholarly Commons also acts as a virtual hub for cross-library and cross-campus collaboration and relationships with extra-institutional projects and partners. Librarians from the Scholarly Communications and Publishing unit and the Research Data Service collaborate closely with the Scholarly Commons, and other librarians contribute their skills in qualitative data analysis, Python programming, and other digital scholarship techniques. The SC is also part of an extensive network of allied units that collaborate on digital scholarship, including partners from across campus, such as Academic Computing, the Institute for Computing in Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (I-CHASS), the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning (CITL), the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities (IPRH), and beyond campus with the HathiTrust Research Center. As AUL for research, Namachchivaya promotes partnerships, and, as a member of the HathiTrust Research Center (HTRC) management board, helps channel faculty and students interested in text analysis and data to work with the HTRC training materials, a series of digital humanities workshops and guides. The HTRC is itself a collaborative venture, between the University of Illinois and Indiana University (IU), specifically IU’s School of Informatics and Computing and the IU Libraries, in conjunction with the University Library and the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois. The HTRC provides research tools and support for researchers conducting large-scale text analysis, including the Advanced Collaborative Support Program, and also has an active outreach and education initiative. The HTRC has received multiple grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Most recently, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) awarded the HTRC a three-year grant, led by Harriett Green, English and digital humanities librarian, to teach text-mining workshops to library and information science professionals. Green also is the primary digital humanities lead in the Scholarly Commons, where her work includes building the Digital Humanities Resource Guides.

Even at one of the nation’s leading research institutions, broadening the acceptance and use of digital tools and methods, especially in the humanities and interdisciplinary scholarship, remain challenges. Approaches toward this end mean evolving librarian outreach efforts, involving the libraries in project planning, and more librarians actively collaborating during the whole research life cycle. Green explained that outreach helps bring more humanists to the proverbial party, especially those confused by terms, who often respond favorably to seeing working examples of data or network visualizations and begin to explore how to incorporate these approaches into their own work. Namachchivaya stressed that in the current economic climate partners are essential, especially in technology-intensive projects and where DS-trained librarians can train the teacher or trainer. The library must continue to engage across disciplines, across and beyond the campus in many cases, where successful experiments are being deployed. There is a need to go where research is taking place, so Namachchivaya leverages relationships developed through the associate deans of research for colleges and research institutes, who meet regularly with the vice chancellor for research, to bring the library in on the beginning of project planning and scoping as a partner and collaborator rather than a reactive service provider.

Featured Projects

Women in Print



Women in PrintWomen in Print creates primary source, scholarly edition e-books of pre-Victorian women’s writings. This is a collaboration of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Rare Book & Manuscript Library and the University of Illinois Press, with additional contributors including the university’s School of Art + Design and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications. This project is producing a peer-reviewed series of e-books that focus on texts used in cultural history, women’s studies, and literature courses, readable by any app that supports the EPUB format or Kindle devices and apps supporting the Mobi format.

Emblematica Online



Emblematica OnlineEmblematica is a collaborative project to digitize two of the world’s largest collections of Renaissance emblem books at the University of Illinois and the Herzog August Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel, Germany. This partnership is creating a unique corpus of early modern imagery and texts—more than 10,000 examples of a Renaissance art form—meant to be made accessible in such depth and detail that new forms of research become possible. This work is also creating a database of the mottos and indexing the meaning of the imagery and the visual means—situations, persons, and objects—used to express it. The goal is wider access and knowledge discovery made possible by the intensive scanning and metadata creation processes of the collaboration.

Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections



Illinois Digital Newspaper CollectionsAnother University Library project, the Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections (IDNC) seeks to preserve historic newspapers through digital facsimile and make them available to researchers online. The immediate focus is to digitize materials from Illinois and the Midwest, though the project plans to offer access to other historic publications as well. This collection contains 71 newspaper titles, 111,228 issues comprising 1,263,350 pages and 6,887,660 articles from a variety of newspapers and trade journals, some of which were published after 1923. Digital collections include newspapers and trade journals in a variety of fields, such as American agriculture, the entertainment industry, and college news publications. The collection allows users to search, browse, tag, and offer corrections to the OCR text to improve discovery and access. Only a small fraction of the university’s newspaper library collection has been digitized and this project continues in part through the support of donors and granting agencies.



Scholarly Commons,
University of Illinois Library

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library continues to look to the future and how to best foster innovation in teaching and learning, as well as collaborative and even entrepreneurial work by students with faculty and staff. The libraries and their units working to support and promote digital scholarship must continually reassess the needs of scholars, often in nontraditional ways such as project planning or project management. This work will require broadening the efforts of staff working with digital tools and methods to raise awareness among the library community as a whole, but to also consider and reprise the possibilities of a variety of collections, resources, and tools and the methods that use these materials to create nonprint and hybrid scholarship.

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