Category Archives: Sustainability

**New SCA/ Ithaka S+R report and videos: Sustaining Our Digital Future**

Our lives are transformed as a result of technological innovation, with digital content being delivered across continents to millions of users via thousands of devices in hundreds of languages. But how long can we guarantee access to and use of this ‘gold rush’ of content? What lessons could be learnt from comparing and contrasting these distinct endeavours that are united in their desire to serve the public good whilst trying to adopt new strategies to ensure their organisational relevance in the digital age?

Commissioned by the Strategic Content Alliance and undertaken by Ithaka S+R, the Sustaining Our Digital Future: Institutional Strategies for Digital Content’ report, issued today, tells of how three distinct organisations – Imperial War Museums (IWM), the National Library of Wales (NLW) and University College London (UCL) have risen to this challenge. This essential research is accompanied by a suite of tools, advice and videos (see below) that will enable and guide you to take a fresh look at whether a project is delivering the desired impact in the communities you aim to serve and to consider new ways to enhance the value of your content for your users.

As our great universities, libraries and museums receive public and private funding to create digital content, what strategies do they have to ensure its ongoing access and enhancement? Moving beyond the baseline concerns of preservation, how are digital content projects being managed, post-build, to ensure that they continue to be useful to the audiences they are intended to support and, in many cases, who have funded their creation?

Our universities are trying to tackle the impact of globalisation in the provision of higher education in an increasingly competitive market.  This ranges from overseas universities offering cheaper under graduate and post graduate study to the development of “Massive Open Online Courses” (MOOCs). We see steps being taken by universities, like UCL, to develop effective campus-wide iterative solutions rather than project-centric approaches. In the case of UCL, this is underpinned by their imperative to continue to offer the very best in digital content and services to academics, students, and researchers, but also to meet the challenge of addressing a worldwide audience to ensure their enduring relevance.

Our rich and diverse national libraries and museums, represented in this report by IWM and the NLW, continue to strive towards developing excellence in digital content and services, albeit at a time of fiscal constraint. The IWM has completely transformed its organisational set-up in recognition that digital requires different policies, practices and strategies.  This has manifested itself in new staff and skills being employed to ensure enduring relevance to its audiences across the globe.

The NLW continues to act as a critical component of a Digital Wales. Again, we see how a traditional roles, responsibilities and services are evolving to meet the challenges that the library and other agencies face in this brave new digital world that we inhabit. We see a range of tactics and techniques being deployed to foster innovative collaboration within the library and across Wales. The vision of a ‘library without walls’ can be applied in the case of the NLW, and is testimony to the leadership shown by the staff and management to tackle a transformational agenda to help support sustainable digital content.

A notable change in recent times has been the willingness of organisations like our ‘national’ bodies to put more impetus behind new ways of working such as partnership activities and other innovative approaches to developing sustainable digital content with a collective goal in sight. The work of the IWM and NLW to develop their First World War centenary programmes is a great example of the growing recognition that the UK public sector has much to gain from a more co-ordinated approach to developing digital content and services which are destined to have a lasting legacy.

The report’s findings are based on over 80 interviews with faculty, library directors, funders and senior administrators in the UK. It is packed with evidence and practical guidance about how funders, institutional administrators, and project leaders can work to build shared awareness and objectives for digital projects and to plan for their sustainability. The report makes evident the challenges felt by many, and the steps that can be taken to build the kind of vibrant, rich digital fabric needed by scholars and the public.

The significance of digital content in UK higher education will only increase as the Research Excellence Framework recognises the impact of these projects as part of the scholarly output of the academy, and as education itself continues the rapid transition to virtual learning and teaching.

The question now is whether we can all learn from one another and chart the new paths necessary to ensure our nation’s great collections remain at the forefront of inspiring knowledge, education and research.

The report has created a number of tools to support project leaders and library, university and museum administrators to support projects as they mature may be less obvious and are not always discussed once the project has been launched:

Sustainability Health Check Tool for Digital Content Projects

This Health Check Tool provides an opportunity for you to think about the kinds of resources — money, staff and otherwise — that are being dedicated to your institution’s digital content projects on an ongoing basis. This will enable you to take a fresh look at whether a project is delivering the desired impact in the communities you aim to serve and to consider new ways to enhance the value of your content for your users.

Download

Framing the Case for Host Support: Action steps and questions for digital project leaders

This briefing guide offers questions to help project leaders consider future project needs and frame the value of their work when seeking support from their host institution.

Download

 

Institutional strategies for Universities: Short video

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Institutional strategies for Universities: Full length video

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Institutional strategies for Libraries and Museums video 

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Download Full report

Download Executive Summary

 

Insights from case study participants:

“We must recognise that the digital realm is one of the most important areas we will ever venture into,” said Diane Lees, Director General of the Imperial War Museums. “This report underpins all the things we thought we might know and now we do know.”

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“It’s a wakeup call for us all,” agreed Andrew Green, Chief Executive and Librarian at the National Library of Wales. “It’s essential reading for anyone in the business of access to digital content.”

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“We’re not just worried about things disappearing but about things never appearing! They are hosted all over the place, and not all the projects have a sustainable plan,” Prof David Price, Vice-Provost (Research) at UCL has commented.

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Views on the report:

Nick Poole, Chief Executive, Collections Trust

“This report is a good positive step forward. It consolidates things we suspected we knew already and it is good to have the evidence and to have it plainly expressed. The sector is in a very reflective place at the moment and so if we can get word about the core ideas in this report it will help move us away from the idea that sustainability is only about funders giving us more money next year.”

Roly Keating, Chief Executive, the British Library

“I thought it revealed valuable home truths for both the cultural sector and the he sector about the different ways in which digital media is – and crucially isn’t yet – fulfilling its potential.”

Ailsa Barry, Natural History Museum

“It’s all about how cultural institutions are beginning to recognise how digitisation and digital outputs need to be embedded across the whole range of outputs to meet audiences needs in the 21st century.”

Sir Deian Hopkins, President of the National Library of Wales

“The face of technological change and the expectation of technological change is so rapid that institutions now have to collaborate in order to ensure that they make the most effective use of the available technology and so that we can maximise the value of digitisation.

What is particularly interesting about this project is that it is UK-wide and has applications for all administrators. It cuts across the boundaries of libraries museums and archives. It also asks us to raise the question of whether there are priorities in future digitisation. I learnt tonight that we can’t do it all and there are serious questions about what do we do that brings the greatest value. That value can only be realised if the access is facilitated and that raises questions about both the tools available and how you cut across the different digital sets. The culture of usage is still one of the biggest issues.  How do we get people to use the material in the most intellectually rigorous and realistic way?

This is a tremendous report which brings us some of the new tools for monitoring these developments and form strategies for sustaining their collections in the future.”

Digital content sustainability: ‘More than bits and bytes’ – event report from Digital Content: Organisational Transformation and Sustainability, London, 5 November 2012

HMS BelfastAs fireworks lit up the sky across London on Monday night, a sparkling discussion about sustaining digital content took place aboard the HMS Belfast with an invited audience of movers and shakers in the higher education, library and cultural heritage sector.

The rocket that set it off was a new report, due to be published next month, from Ithaka S+R. Commissioned by the Strategic Content Alliance, it tackles the role of the host institution in sustaining digital content, building on several years’ work in the area. Having studied project leaders and funders and found that, to some extent, both seemed to rely on the infrastructure of the university, museum or library where a digital project lived to keep it alive once initial funding ran out, “we decided it was time to check in with the host institutions,” said the report’s author, Nancy Maron.

The report considers two very different types of institution – the highly decentralised world of the university and the more top-down model of the museum or national library. It uses two approaches: a landscape survey and “deep dives” that delve into the structures and strategies of the organisation through interviews with people from different areas. These “deep dives” took place at three case study organisations: University College London, the National Library of Wales, and Imperial War Museums, and provided a clear and candid picture of how sustainability looked from an organisational perspective.

Its findings are wide-ranging and include recommendations for both universities and cultural institutions. “We hope that people in universities will hear about the study and ask about the digital content in their institution – perhaps it will trigger an inventory,” said Nancy. “For museums, we’d like the report to prompt questions. While the mission aims of museums already tend to support the fundamentals of collection, is creating an online catalogue enough? Have you thought about the users and beyond the catalogue?”

To help implement the recommendations, the final report will contain a health check tool to think through the questions and a campus implementation guide plus two more, US-based, case studies on digital humanities work.

Understanding audiences

For Diane Lees, CEO at the Imperial War Museums, the focus of the report on the importance of the audience is crucial. “Understanding who our users are is central – it’s easy to create myths about who they are and that risks becoming the institutional truth.”

The IWM has been researching its users and is now seeing audiences that will never visit an IWM physical site but will encounter and engage in depth with collections if they are online. “Soon 90% of our customers will not be visitors to our museums. It’s a huge change,” said Diane.

The IWM’s response to the challenge is to ensure that whatever content it produces digitally is of the same quality as its exhibitions or other outputs – and that means not necessarily digitising every single image it owns of a ship at sea. “It’s not about putting masses of information out there but how we use it and package it. Our rule is one output, multiple uses – if we digitise it then it must have more than one use. It’s a balance about targeting and using collections in a wise and strategic way.”

From the audience, Bill Thompson, the BBC Archive’s head of partnership development, argued that partial digitisation is simply not good enough. “If the material is not available in a digital form then the next generation of scholars won’t know to come to your curators. Decay of the physical world is happening not because the objects are going away but because our knowledge of them is going away.”

For IWM, this is an unrealistic expectation – museums need to be pragmatic about what they digitise. “We need to have strategies that enable us to preserve, access and manage the majority of assets and accept that there will be things in cupboards.”

“We must recognise that the digital realm is one of the most important areas we will ever venture into,” said Diane. “This report underpins all the things we thought we might know and now we do know.”

More than bits and bytes

“It’s a wake up call for us all,” agreed Andrew Green, chief executive and librarian at the National Library of Wales. “It’s essential reading for anyone in the business of access to digital content.”

With its distinctive organisation, long history of digital collection management and the effort it’s put into getting strategies right, the National Library of Wales emerges from the report as an organisation with a keen eye for sustainability. It clusters projects in programmes to ensure a coordinated approach and its internal processes help smooth the path, from free universal access for all as a default to clear policies on some of the underpinning elements such as IP and licensing.

Andrew highlighted the broad definition of sustainability contained in the report – “it’s a whole ecosystem of support to allow a project to remain vital to an audience” – and remarked that it encapsulates what’s important: “It’s more than preservation, more than bits and bytes, it’s about audience and relevance.”

He also raised the danger of a “culture of project-itis”, the “battle with the magnetism of the new” as academics look forward to getting on with the next new project and resist being dragged back to the past. A further issue, dealt with in the report, is that time spent lovingly sustaining their digital collections is time academics are not spending on producing more traditional scholarly outputs, such as papers, which count towards career development, particularly for early stage researchers.

“There is not enough recognition in the REF for creating digital content,” commented Deian Hopkin, president of the National Library of Wales, from the audience. David Price, vice-provost (research) at UCL, saw the solution as the “enhanced development of robust usage metrics. It’s hard for researchers to make the case that what they have done is impactful at the moment. We need to be able to show and demonstrate the impact.”

Tackling the unknown unknowns

The sheer scale of the job of sustaining digital content at a large university was emphasised by David, who ran through some of the digital assets at UCL, from 9,000 research articles a year to visual outputs from the art and architecture departments to dedicated projects such as Digital Egypt for Universities and The Montefiore Testimonials Digitisation Project

“We’re not just worried about things disappearing but about things never appearing! They are hosted all over the place, and not all the projects have a sustainable plan,” he commented.

However, thanks to its involvement in the project, UCL is putting in place various processes to improve the sustainability of its digital projects, many of them focused around the institution’s library. Project leaders will be encouraged to engage with their colleagues in the library from the very beginning, confident in the knowledge that their projects will be supported in the appropriate repository and the library task force will publicise their presence. It will ensure that the library will be the focus for the preservation and curation.

“All this collections material was slipping under the radar. Now there are fewer unknown unknowns than we thought,” he concluded.

– If you’re worried about the unknown unknowns in your institution’s digital collection, or you’re in a cultural institution thinking of looking beyond your collection catalogue, the Ithaka report is essential reading. It will be available here on the SCA blog on 11 December 2012.

Views from participants on the night

 

Nick Poole, Collections Trust

“This report is a good positive step forward. It consolidates things we suspected we knew already and it is good to have the evidence and to have it plainly expressed. The sector is in a very reflective place at the moment and so if we can get word about the core ideas in this report it will help move us away from the idea that sustainability is only about funders giving us more money next year.”

Roly Keating, the British Library

“I thought it revealed valuable home truths for both the cultural sector and the HE sector about the different ways in which digital media is – and crucially isn’t yet – fulfilling its potential.”

Ailsa Barry, Natural History Museum

“It’s all about how cultural institutions are beginning to recognise how digitisation and digital outputs need to be embedded across the whole range of outputs to meet audiences needs in the 21st century.”

Deian Hopkin, National Library of Wales

“The face of technological change and the expectation of technological change is so rapid that institutions now have to collaborate in order to ensure that they make the most effective use of the available technology and so that we can maximise the value of digitisation.

What is particularly interesting about this project is that it is UK-wide and has applications for all administrators. It cuts across the boundaries of libraries museums and archives. It also asks us to raise the question of whether there are priorities in future digitisation. I learnt tonight that we can’t do it all and there are serious questions about what do we do that brings the greatest value. That value can only be realised if the access is facilitated and that raises questions about both the tools available and how you cut across the different digital sets. The culture of usage is still one of the biggest issues. How do we get people to use the material in the most intellectually rigorous and realistic way?

This is a tremendous report which brings us some of the new tools for monitoring these developments and form strategies for sustaining their collections in the future.”

Video lecture series: IPR and sustainability

Ithaka S+R and the JISC-led Strategic Content Alliance have led the way in examining ways in which the academic and cultural heritage sectors are defining sustainability and helping to make sure that the digital resources will endure and provide value well beyond the term of the grant. In 2012, two years and one economic crisis later, this essential research is more important than ever and the role of IPR and licensing within developing strategies for sustaining digital content has never been far away from the discussion.

Organisations are making tough decisions about the digital content that they own or manage and whether it would be desirable and/or possible to consider ways in which this content can be commercialised under a range of business models or indeed, kept ‘open’. It is essential that such decisions are not taken in isolation but included within a wider digital strategy. Fundamental to developing such a strategy is whether the organisation owns or is able to ‘licence in’ third party content for the purpose that the organisation would wish, whether this is commercial or otherwise. In essence, ‘rights in’ should mirror ‘rights out’ and may differ according to the different content that the organisation owns or manages.

Designed to aid understanding and offer guidance, the following video lecture series has been developed Naomi Korn (IP consultant for JISC) to consider how universities can deal with these issues in order to make the most informed choices when developing their digital strategy for content. These videos (licensed under a CC-BY-NC-SA licence) allow for individuals or organisations to embed or repurpose them for their own specific audiences. Please follow the links below to view the videos most relevant to your sector:

IPR and sustainability for universities:

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IPR and sustainability for libraries

IPR and sustainability for museums

Video lecture series: Sustaining Digital Resources

Since 2007, Ithaka S+R and the Strategic Content Alliance have led the way in examining ways that the academic and cultural heritage sectors are defining sustainability and helping to make sure that the digital resources will endure and provide value well beyond the term of the grant. Designed to aid understanding and offer guidance, the following video lecture series has been developed with Nancy Maron (sustainability expert at Ithaka S+R) to consider how museums, universities and libraries can deal with these issues in a challenging economic environment.

Split into parts or available as full versions, the videos (under a CC-BY-NC-SA licence) allow for individuals or organisations to embed or repurpose the relevant sections for their own specific audiences. Please follow the links below to view the videos most relevant to your sector:

Video lecture series: Sustaining Digital Resources for Universities
Video lecture series: Sustaining Digital Resources for Museums
Video lecture series: Sustaining Digital Resources for Libraries