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Library Digital Scholarship Support Profile: Virginia Tech

University Libraries


Organizational model: Distributed

Staff: While all 155 library employees support digital scholarship to some degree, key teams supporting digital scholarship include the following:

  • Collections and Technical Services
  • Data Services
  • Digital Imaging and Preservation Services
  • Digital Library Development
  • Learning Environments
  • Publishing
  • Research Collaboration and Engagement Team
  • Scholarly Communication
  • Special Collections
  • Teaching, Learning, and Engagement


Experts across the library, in partnership with centers and groups across the university, provide digital scholarship support to the Virginia Tech community. University Libraries at Virginia Tech focuses on partnerships and delivery of programs and services that support innovation, creative exploration, and the intentional sharing of research and scholarship. The University Libraries explored different strategies that enable the organization to do this effectively, and adopted a distributed model that allows it to leverage and celebrate the unique talents of library staff and their connections with faculty at Virginia Tech and local and campus communities. University Libraries is the central hub or point of coherence and each of the 155 employees supports digital scholarship. Earlier strategies included a single “research center as a platform for collaboration” model (Center for Digital Research and Scholarship) and a centralized “division” of units (Research & Informatics Division) delivering digital scholarship services.

A primary goal for the University Libraries in supporting digital scholarship is providing personalized service (1) at each stage of the research life cycle and (2) in the implementation of new curricular innovations.

Staffing and Services

To assist with the research design and ideation process, the University Libraries’ Research Collaboration and Engagement team coordinates evidence-based synthesis support services, including support for collaboration and project management (using tools such as the Open Science Framework) and systematic review support focusing on computational approaches in literature review processes. As staff consult with researchers, they encourage adoption of open communication and publishing practices to support team-based and interdisciplinary research collaborations. The associate director of Research Collaboration and Engagement leads the team with 2 FTE direct reports. Library liaison and collections teams’ negotiations with vendors and publishers to increase access to resources for text- and data-mining also support this phase of the research process.

In support of finding and using open digital scholarship, the collections team invests in community-funded open-publishing initiatives that align with the library’s collecting priorities. Virginia Tech’s investments help open collections that can be used by anyone. These collections include databases, books, repositories, and projects such as Knowledge Unlatched, Independent Voices, Open Library of Humanities, the AAU/ARL Open Monograph Initiative, and arXiv.org. The library’s collections investment of 3.4% to support open materials (more than 2.5%) signals that the organization contributes to a collective change in the scholarly communication landscape that prioritizes access to digital scholarship. The director of Collections and Technical Services oversees these activities with support from a team of 35 FTE.

In support of the creation and publication of research and scholarship, Virginia Tech Publishing provides digital authoring, layout editing, and publishing services that enable scholars to collaborate as authors in virtual writing spaces, such as Overleaf and Authorea, and as editors to produce professional-quality scholarly publications, such as journals, conference proceedings, and books. The Virginia Tech Publishing team uses tools that seamlessly push and pull data, including pushing products into University Libraries repositories for permanent archiving and preservation. Along the way, staff members consult with authors, editors, and publishers on the changing publishing landscape, new publishing technologies, and the value of open access and of assigning Creative Commons licenses to works to facilitate responsible use and reuse of content. Authors and editors using the library’s suite of tools publish their digital scholarship in Virginia Tech’s Ubiquity Press platform. By using this externally hosted platform, staff members are able to spend more time consulting with scholars on the ideation and creative process. Virginia Tech Publishing’s team is led by the director of publishing strategy with support from a team of 3 FTE. The University Libraries intends to offer undergraduate and graduate students opportunities to work with the team in the delivery of publishing services and gain new skills and competencies in digital communication and publishing.

While the University Libraries’ publishing services currently use new expertise and new publishing tools, the organization has a 20-year history of publishing digital scholarship, including some of the earliest examples of digital humanities scholarship. Through a recent partnership with the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences (CLAHS), as well as Virginia Tech’s Center for the Humanities, the library’s support for digital humanities and humanistic social sciences has expanded to include dedicated spaces and services, known as Athenaeum, for collaboration, discussion, teaching, and project incubation. The library supports the college’s digital research needs and pedagogical explorations and aligns related teaching and student learning outcomes as much as possible with the library’s digital literacy programming. Undergraduate students provide support for use of software, educational technologies, and digital media in the classroom space, and postdoctoral faculty (with future funding from CLAHS) will instruct on digital humanities methods. The digital humanities coordinator manages Athenaeum with guidance from a faculty-library advisory board and coordinates the library’s support for digital humanities.

Recognizing that funding and time can be substantial barriers to broadening digital scholarship, the University Libraries at Virginia Tech offers a subvention fund that covers the costs of article processing charges (APCs) for authors publishing in scholarly peer-reviewed open access journals. The library also offers an open educational resources fund to help faculty create new open textbooks or learning resources. So far, both funds have supported 275 open access articles, totalling $336,609 in APCs and the creation of new open educational resources. The library’s open-education consulting services have led to adoption of open textbooks in courses across the university, encouraging reuse of open educational scholarship and significantly reducing costs for students. Because restrictions placed on access to data and information present limitations in inquiry and access to knowledge is a part of Virginia Tech’s land-grant mission, the library invests in cultivating a sense of community around themes of openness and offers public programs on topics like open access, open education, open data, and open workflows. It also partners with the Graduate School to offer OpenCon scholarships to students interested in learning more about open access. The director of Scholarly Communication manages the Open Access Subvention Fund with a team of 5 FTE. The copyright, open education and scholarly communication librarian manages the Faculty Open Education Grant program.

In support of the data collection and management step in the research process, the library’s Data Services team helps scholars develop data management efficiencies and practice sharing and publishing data. The curation team provides consulting services on creating data management plans, data publishing using VTechData (described below), and geospatial data and data recovery and transformation services in the library’s Data Consulting Lab. The virtual Informatics Lab includes a team of 5 disciplinary researcher/practitioners who provide data science and computation services focused on data curation, analytics, and visualization. The digital library development team also contributes digital library expertise to content-based research projects at the university. Through the library’s research and teaching partnerships in data science, new strategic growth areas are reinforcing overall support for digital scholarship including infrastructure to support “big data” management, data visualization, health data analytics, and data curation. The director of digital library development leads a team of 6 FTE, and the director of Data Services, leads a team of 8 FTE. Undergraduate and graduate students are engaged in data, informatics, and digital library services and research projects.

In support of archiving digital scholarship, the library offers a VTechWorks open repository that integrates with the university’s Elements-based faculty activity reporting system. Content in the repository is preserved through distributed preservation strategies including APTrust and MetaArchive. While the library preserves and archives repository content, facilitating use of this content for research, teaching, and learning purposes is of equal priority. The library develops repository collections that support Virginia Tech community research interests, both locally and globally. In support of archiving research data, the library offers a VTechData open data repository that will integrate with the university’s high-performance computing environment. Both curation services have a dedicated manager and undergraduate students who provide technical and deposit support.

Library consultants in research collaboration and engagement also provide support to researchers in communicating the impact of their digital scholarship, either at the end of a project or as part of a larger peer-review process. The library offers workshops on how to “Get Noticed!” and use open publishing tools, communication platforms, and researcher profiles ubiquitous in today’s networked research and scholarly environments. Efforts also include consultative services about the adoption of practices, such as using Altmetrics Explorer for Institutions, that enhance a comprehensive view of creative and scholarly activities’ impact.

In support of creating new digital scholarship with primary resources, Special Collections archivists help scholars find and use primary materials. Archivists also partner with faculty to provide students with experience digitizing manuscript and archival materials and building digital collections using Scalar and/or Omeka. Students gain digital curation skills as they create metadata and digital objects, organize content, describe collections, apply file-naming conventions, and consider how the public will experience the physical primary resources in a digital environment. Special Collections also provides access to digital versions of their materials in an Omeka instance. The library offers digitization services for Virginia Tech collections beyond the library, such as scanning specimens from the Virginia Tech Geosciences Museum or the Entomology Department’s rare bug collection. The library also partners with regional cultural heritage institutions to provide web-based access to their collections. These services further the library’s primary goal to increase access to content in support of Virginia Tech’s land-grant mission. The Special Collections team is led by a director with support from a team of 10 FTE. The associate director of Digital Imaging and Preservation Services leads the library’s imaging and preservation program with support from a team of 4 FTE. Undergraduate students working in both units participate in digitizing Special Collections materials, 3-D photogrammetry of scientific specimens, and digitizing collections of regional cultural heritage materials. A graduate assistant helps to plan development of a repository of higher education policy documents for vulnerable communities.

In support of the exploration, creation, and curation of digital scholarship, the library’s learning environments staff members offer a variety of studio spaces open to all members of the Virginia Tech community and the general public. Studios are equipped with cutting-edge 3-D printing, virtual reality, digital media, data visualization, and digital forensics technologies, and are designed to offer peer-to-peer mentoring opportunities to students as they support each other as active learners in the creative process. While students manage the spaces, sponsoring consultants with digital scholarship expertise meet with members of the Virginia Tech community to assist with inquiry and exploration that requires a more in-depth level of project support. The learning environments director oversees the studio program with support from a team of 24 FTE responsible for roving reference services, learning space management, equipment circulation, and provision of digital media resources. Teams of undergraduate students provide customer service support.

In support of implementing new curricular innovations and learning about the digital scholarship creation process, the teaching, learning, and engagement team collaborates with instructors to create new learning resources; make digital scholarship accessible, shareable, and discoverable; and incorporate elements of a digital literacy framework into their courses. For faculty interested in depositing and sharing materials, the library offers a learning object repository called Odyssey, where they make their digital literacy learning modules available. Librarians and digital scholarship experts in digital humanities methods, data computation, publishing, collaboration, open access, and open education deliver digital literacy–aligned instruction in classroom and studio spaces throughout the University Libraries. Teaching, learning, and engagement librarians manage the university’s ePortfolio program, which intersects with the studio and digital literacy programming. The Portfolium platform allows students to document and share evidence of their work experience, research projects, and community service activities and to showcase the competencies they developed while at Virginia Tech. The teaching, learning, and engagement director oversees educational technology and instructional programs with support from a team of 9 FTE.

The library also provides space for communicating learning outcomes through course exhibits. This involves partnerships with faculty to curate student work as a collection of scholarly artifacts and to share and showcase student research and creative achievements. Many exhibits display digital projects created by students, usually as part of a group assignment. These exhibits raise awareness among students of research projects stemming from courses in other disciplines and encourage exploration of ideas and information students may not otherwise encounter in their program of study. The exhibit program manager and learning environments librarian oversees course-based and special exhibits in the library.

Embedding digital scholarship support within geographically distributed Virginia Tech environments, including branches in architecture and veterinary medicine, and Virginia Tech’s growing presence in Roanoke and Northern Virginia, is an area of focus for the director of planning and branch operations and her team of 21 FTE. The library continues to imagine how it will make the studio experience and research programs and partnerships accessible to all members of Virginia Tech. Explorations in this area have resulted in a library “research and education commons” footprint in Virginia Tech’s new health sciences and technology building in Roanoke.

The service model described above is based on formal and informal networks of individuals working together to address digital scholarship problems.


Funding is made available through the library’s operating and collections budget. New positions are created either with strategic growth funding from the provost’s office or through position vacancies. Philanthropic donations fund expanded student experiential learning opportunities and external funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), Amazon, and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation supports library faculty–led research projects.

Service- and Partnership-Based

The University Libraries’ programs are both service- and partnership-based. They provide curation and education services, and offer expertise and talents to advance research, teaching, and learning through partnerships with Virginia Tech faculty, staff, and students, colleges/departments, and academic support units. Partners include the Center for Enhanced Teaching and Learning, Technology-enhanced Learning and Online Strategies, Faculty Affairs, Undergraduate Research, Undergraduate Affairs, Office of Research and Innovation, Division of Information Technology, Advanced Research Computing, and Center for Humanities.

Library services support all disciplines as demonstrated by liaison relationships with each of the colleges/departments/programs, as well as discipline-specific informatics research support in science, art and design, engineering, and digital humanities. The library prioritizes support for transdisciplinary activities at the university and teams of individuals with different expertise help address complex digital scholarship needs.

Featured Projects

The Women of Design Project


screenshot of architectural drawings by Sigrid Rupp from International Archive of Women in ArchitectureThe Women of Design Project, 2017–2019, was a mass digitization project funded by CLIR’s Hidden Collections grant program. The project supported the full digitization of 31 manuscript collections from international women architects and resulted in the creation of files and metadata for 126,000+ items, which are searchable through a collections page on the University Libraries’ website.

Open Textbooks


cropped cover of Fundamentals of Business textbookAnita Walz, assistant director of open education and scholarly communication librarian, leads this project that makes textbooks freely available online and licensed for redistribution. Some open textbooks are also licensed for editing and modification. Highlights are Fundamentals of Business (second edition) and Electromagnetics (volume 1).

Developing Library Cyberinfrastructure Strategy for Big Data Sharing and Reuse


screenshot of VT project, Developing Library Cyberinfrastructure Strategy for Big Data Sharing and ReuseBig data that is analyzed computationally sometimes creates as many questions as it answers. How do we process and store it? And how can we ensure that future researchers will still be able to access and reuse it? In partnership with researchers working with big data, University Libraries chief strategy officer Zhiwu Xie explored these questions to develop a broadly adaptable library cyberinfrastructure strategy for big data sharing and reuse. This project was supported by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.


Successes, Challenges, Opportunities

When asked to choose its greatest achievement, the University Libraries said, “That we have evolved into one team supporting digital scholarship!”

The library’s biggest challenge is prioritizing communication and teamwork required to be successful in a distributed and networked environment. Library staff added:

How we tell the story about the impact of our support for digital scholarship also remains a challenge, as is recruitment and retention of talent and supporting management and leadership development among our faculty and staff (for both managers and those seeking to gain experience). Another challenge is tension between support for strategic priorities of the university and remaining true to our organizational and professional identities. Infrastructure—how do we build a manageable and sustainable digital scholarship infrastructure that also supports creativity and innovation? An inherently difficult data collection challenge is understanding the breadth and depth of the partnerships and relationships in your organization that are driving your success!

In five to ten years, the University Libraries sees itself:

continuing to adapt to changes in the higher education landscape; engaging more deeply with local, Virginia Tech, and professional communities—and adapting digital scholarship services and projects appropriately; becoming a more inclusive and diverse organization, an even more collaborative digital scholarship team, and a sought-after digital scholarship partner at Virginia Tech.

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