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Digital Scholarship Profile: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

UNC Library Research Hub

Comprised of three distinct hubs outlined below
Total staff for all three hubs: 9 professionals, 3 paraprofessionals, 10 student consultants (see below for breakdown)

Hub @ Davis Library

Established in October 2013
Staff: 5 professionals, 2 paraprofessionals, 5 student consultants

Hub @ Health Sciences Library

Established in March 2015
Staff: 1 professional

Hub & Makerspace @ Kenan Science Library

Established in April 2016
Staff: 3 professionals, 1 paraprofessional, 5 student consultants

Hub @ Kenan Science Library

Digital scholarship work is not confined to one distinct center within the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill Libraries. Rather, the University Libraries have elected to adopt a distributed approach, which finds digital scholarship activities occurring in three distinct hubs, each with its own unique focus. The UNC Library Research Hub is comprised of the Hub @ Davis Library, the Hub @ Health Sciences Library, and the Hub & Makerspace @ Kenan Science Library.

The Association of Research Libraries spoke with UNC Libraries’ Joe M. Williams, interim associate university librarian for collections and services, and Timothy Shearer, associate university librarian for digital strategies and information technology, to learn more about their distributed hub model and how it has evolved since the libraries’ early contributions to digital scholarship. Shearer outlined some of those early contributions, citing, as an example, the libraries’ hosting of UNC’s institutional repository, ensuring the broad and open dissemination of UNC scholarship. Another example is the libraries’ considerable digitization of their own collections (including rare books and audio formats). The libraries have worked in close conjunction with faculty to determine which materials are candidates for digitizing. This collaborative and data-driven approach to content selection aligns digitization activities with known research, teaching, and learning needs.

Map showing the three hubs that make up the UNC Library Research Hub

Shearer outlined some of those early contributions, citing, as an example, a long-standing digitization initiative undertaken by the UNC Libraries, beginning in 1996: Documenting the American South (a.k.a. DocSouth). DocSouth is a repository of primary sources that support the study of Southern history, literature, and culture. Overseen by an editorial board made up of UNC faculty, DocSouth “includes sixteen thematic collections of books, diaries, posters, artifacts, letters, oral history interviews, and songs.” The board determines what should be digitized and when. Primarily at first a text-encoding initiative, DocSouth eventually grew to incorporate grant-driven collaborations with faculty that included building interactive and innovative digital humanities projects.

In 2005, a new platform was acquired which allowed for increased production of content and an explosion of digital collections projects followed. The year after, with generous funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the UNC Libraries began to research and develop a program of mass digitization of manuscript and other archival content. The results of this work, combined with the new platform, led to a sustainable approach to making these collections available online. To date more than a million images from over 1,200 archival collections are accessible with more being added each day. Recently, again with funding from the Mellon Foundation, the UNC Libraries have made significant progress in expanding this work to digitize audiovisual content.

Throughout this evolution, the UNC Libraries have worked with faculty, researchers, and end-users to match services to needs. When UNC decided to explore the creation of an institutional repository the libraries were the natural home for what is now the Carolina Digital Repository. In 2016, the university adopted an Open Access Policy and invested responsibility for it to the libraries. This history has seen growth and change as the UNC Libraries’ understanding of digital scholarship grew from digital collections, to what was then known as digital humanities, to encompass the full research life cycle. In embracing a collaborative and data-driven approach to content selection the UNC Libraries align digital library activities with known research, teaching, and learning needs.

Hub @ Davis Library

With the UNC Libraries’ well-established expertise in hosting, software development, and digitization, and the increasing ubiquity of accessible digital technologies, methods, and tools, a more programmatic and holistic approach to supporting digital scholarship has recently evolved. The new structure eventually became the overarching Library Research Hub, which was deliberately designed so that each hub has its own unique focus and identity.

The predominant theme of the Davis Library Research Hub is data, whether that be GIS, statistical data, numeric data, or data visualization. Davis “supports investigation, analysis, and visualization in many formats for researchers interested in working with data, mapping, texts, and technology.”

Hub @ Health Sciences Library

The Health Sciences Library Research Hub specializes in “supporting researchers in the clinical and biomedical sciences at every stage of the research process. You can get help finding funding, background literature, data, and collaborators, as well as get help with data management, systematic reviews, publishing, measuring research impact, and NIH public access compliance.”

The Kenan Science Library Research Hub and Makerspace, part of the BeAM@CAROLINA network of makerspaces at UNC, features “reservable co-working spaces, a design and modelling center and a makerspace equipped with 3D printing, 3D scanning, electronics, soldering and sewing machines.”

Makerspace @ Kenan Science Library

Williams notes that, while it’s clear that each hub has its own distinct offerings, there are some commonalities that unite all three. Patrons (who may be faculty, graduate students, undergraduates, or staff) can expect to find skilled librarians, technology specialists, and campus partners available to respond to inquiries and to provide training and support in the use of digital methods and tools. The spaces are outfitted with an array of technologies and equipment and are designed for consultation, creation, and presentation. The hubs frequently host events that showcase faculty and student research activities. In fact, members of the community are encouraged to suggest events, with particular emphasis given to those that will, in the Research Hub’s words:

  • Engage scholars in new research methods
  • Engage scholars with important research issues, such as intellectual property and open access
  • Introduce researchers across disciplines
  • Showcase research, especially cross-disciplinary research
  • Leverage new technologies
Hub & Makerspace @ Kenan Science Library grand opening, March 2015: Demo of helicopter drone built from 3D-printed parts

The UNC Research Hub structure boasts another distinct advantage by means of close affiliations with Research Hub partners. By working collaboratively with these partners, faculty and students are afforded access to an even deeper pool of expertise. Hub partners include:

  • Howard W. Odum Institute for Research in Social Sciences
  • The Center for Faculty Excellence
  • The North Carolina Translational and Clinical Sciences Institute
  • The Carolina Health Informatics Program

The benefits of these collaborations are two-way; the partners can elect to co-sponsor events in hub presentation spaces and in so doing, have the ability to reach a broader audience. Partners also share expertise that supplements library services, providing deeper support to UNC researchers.

Regardless of location, each hub is designed to serve as a venue where researchers can come together and share their work. To this end, spaces are frequently used for presentations, for training, or for events. Williams and Shearer add that the flexible nature of the hubs are meant to encourage experimentation and exploration. A sample scenario could see a business librarian working together with a researcher to develop an idea, conduct market research, then potentially design and create a prototype, and finally determine how to take that prototype to market.

Emerging trends or issues that are identified in the hubs are shared at monthly staff meetings. Student staff, both graduate and undergraduate, are a critical linchpin in the operation of the hubs; as a result, a great deal of effort goes into the development of a robust training program. Weekly student staff meetings frequently include training on specific tools or concepts.

The UNC Library Research Hub is able to reach all freshmen on campus thanks to a collaboration with the English department led by the Undergraduate Library. Students in English 105 classes have a variety of technologies built into several multimodal assignments. Students might use Adobe Illustrator to create an infographic or use recording software to create a podcast or a public service announcement. With digital literacies taking on greater importance, the contributions of the UNC Libraries are more meaningful than ever. Williams and Shearer have seen a steady increase of instances where entire classes come in to work with special collections and then go on to use Omeka to develop exhibits.

A scan of Research Hub class offerings reveals an impressive lineup, ranging from sessions on bioinformatics to funding agency compliance, from data visualization and GIS to presentation support.

At the moment, the high points of activity in the hubs map, perhaps not surprisingly, to existing campus strengths. In addition to the work emanating from the English department thanks primarily to the English 105 course, Williams and Shearer observed that there is also significant activity taking place in the health sciences and the social sciences. The UNC Libraries recently hosted two data-visualization events, showcasing graduate student work and faculty research, and discovered that participants spanned the disciplines. The hope is to continue to foster this type of interdisciplinary collaboration.

When invited to identify some of the future efforts that will need to occur in order to take the Research Hub forward, Shearer and Williams spoke of the need to expand infrastructure, particularly around facilities, skill development, building a robust staff training program, and adapting position descriptions accordingly.

Featured Projects

New Roots/Nuevas Raíces: Voices from/Voces de Carolina del Norte!

The New Roots/Nueva Raíces digital archive, a collaboration between the Latino Migration Project, the Southern Oral History Program, and the UNC Libraries, was made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. This archive “contains the oral histories of Latin American migrants in North Carolina and the experiences of North Carolinians that have worked for the integration of new settlers into this southern state.” The user can visualize the journey, drill down by county, and listen to interviewees that have migrated to that region.

Dr. Oliver Smithies Research Archive

This digital research archive provides a fascinating look inside the laboratory notebooks created by Oliver Smithies throughout his career, beginning when he was an undergraduate in 1943 and continuing through 2010. The digitized pages are accompanied by Smithies’s oral history of the research represented (as well as a transcription of the audio recording), which serves to bring this research alive. Smithies, a geneticist and biochemist, was UNC’s first Nobel Prize winner.

Convergence of Climate-Health-Vulnerabilities

The Convergence of Climate-Health-Vulnerabilities website provides interactive visuals through which users can explore climate and related health information about counties across North Carolina, highlighting the importance of protecting vulnerable populations from climate extremes. The site was created by Carolinas Integrated Sciences & Assessments (CISA), a regional team of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with assistance from the Research Hub.


Hub @ Davis Library

Looking to the future, Williams believes that the overarching emphasis will be to build upon and expand research partnerships. Carol Hunter, interim university librarian and vice provost for University Libraries, reaffirmed this view: “I see the UNC Libraries and in particular the Research Hub as THE HUB for empowering digital research and scholarship at UNC in the next 5–10 years. As research becomes ever more connected and collaborative, we will provide Carolina faculty, staff, and students the space, tools, and information assistance they need to successfully conduct research and manage research results.”

Catherine Davidson | digschol@arl.org | July 28, 2017

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