The Digital Scholarship Centre is a collaborative space for the University community to use for events, training and knowledge-sharing relating to Digital Scholarship across academic disciplines. Digital Scholarship Centre’s location within the Centre for Research Collections strengthens the connections between the academic community’s Digital Scholarship activities and the University collections.
The idea to develop a Centre came from within Library and University Collections. There was a strong feeling that Digital Scholarship was a key emerging area that the library wanted to engage with and work together on with academics. In order to facilitate this, it was decided to create a space which could be used for a variety of digital scholarship activities. The idea was that once the space was there, as long as it was furbished in a way that was flexible (with sufficient access to power!), then it could be used for a variety of activities ranging from workshops and training sessions to consultations with specialists. It would also raise the profile of the Library with academics and encourage them to think of the Library when engaging with Digital Scholarship projects and help start the conversation.
A space had been identified on the 6th floor adjacent to the Centre for Research Collections. The Library wanted to emphasise that the collections held by the University of Edinburgh itself could be used for Digital Scholarship. So a case was made and funding secured from the Small Estates Programme to set up and refurbish the space.
In addition, funding was secured for a programme of work to change the Digital Library and to drive forward the vision of improving discoverability and access to digital collections for learning, teaching and research.
The focus of the Digital Library Programme is on developing the infrastructure to support digital scholarship activities. This includes new interfaces to provide authorised access to large scale digitised collections and purchased content. Over the next three years, the Digital Library is also working to to set up and develop a virtual digital scholarship space, with digital scholarship tools, a virtual research environment and easy access to ‘Collections as Data’. This will compliment the physical space and address particular challenges that have been identified.
So far the focus has been on developing OCR tools. The University of Edinburgh has recognised that the quality of OCR has a significant impact on the computational work that is carried out with digitised collections. The proving ground has been the printed volumes of the Scottish Court of Session (Scotland’s Civil Court) from 1710-1850 – see http://libraryblogs.is.ed.ac.uk/librarylabs/2019/07/03/introducing-whiiif/. The project has been successful, but the results are not yet in the wider public domain.
In addition, a report examining some of the issues of ‘Collections as Data’ has been completed. This highlighted that when research universities, such as Edinburgh, talk a lot about ‘Data’, then the meaning of the term continually shifts from research data to data sets. The challenge of getting users to understand what is different about ‘Collections as Data’ has helped the Digital Library grasp that clear definitions are required around this piece of work so that researchers can understand what ‘datasets’ the University Library is creating and making available for further research.
However, while the Library is clear that it needs to develop virtual space supporting easy access to digital datasets – whether they be from our purchased and licensed dataset or those created within the University Library from its digitised collections – it also needs easy to use tools that these researchers can engage with. All of these elements tie in with the core purpose of the Library; to help people gain knowledge.
The University Library has always been a place where people can ask for assistance, learn new things, and try out new methods of knowledge creation (as we do within the uCreate Makerspace which is also in the Library).
The aim is to create a virtual research environment and tools that are easy to use so that Digital Scholarship beginners can get started and see how they might apply these approaches to their areas of work. It is only once students and researchers understand how, for example, text and data mining work that they can understand what questions they can ask and how they can apply it. The tools and space we are developing are thus not for the expert users, though they will surely appreciate their usability.
With this in mind, the physical Digital Scholarship Centre has very much been focused on developing training to support researchers developing their skills in this area, recognising that for many it is a new way of approaching research using computational techniques. This has led to the training programme addressing five broad themes:
Awareness: Promotion of training, skills development and services currently on offer to the academic community and delivered by Information Services Group e.g. Digital Skills courses.
Relocation of Existing Programmes: Bringing other existing training programmes e.g. MakerSpace intern-delivered training, into the Digital Scholarship Centre space to strengthen the connections between digital technologies and collections research.
Specialist Training: Delivery of training based on researcher demand and the upskilling requirements of staff, including a 6-month programme of monthly Library Carpentry sessions for researchers (through the Centre for Data, Culture and Society), Library and University Collections staff and National Library of Scotland staff.
Engagement and Network Development: Opportunities to engage audiences with ideas and opportunities they would otherwise be unaware of, and strengthen these by developing networks. For example, the creation of a TEI community of practice at the University, and the hosting of data hacks and collection challenges by CDCS and Library and University Collections.
Knowledge-sharing: Opportunities to share best practice and achievements with internal and external audiences, including a programme of seminars hosted by CDCS.
Given the open ethos of digital scholarship, it is essential that the programme is outward looking with events open to members of the public where appropriate.
In addition to the very active researcher focused programmes in the Digital Scholarship Centre the uCreate Makerspace (another physical space in the Main Library) which is predominantly student focused has developed a programme of projects and activities focused on the digitised Collections within the University of Edinburgh – this opens up the digital collections to a new audience and one which is interested in digital ways of working and keen to gain new digital knowledge which students often see as key to gaining entry into the workspace. These will possibly provide some of our future generation of Digital Scholars.
Kirsty Lingstadt, Head of Digital Library, University of Edinburgh