RLUK has published a report examining the nature and extent of digital scholarship activities taking place within research libraries, the infrastructural, skills and funding requirements of these activities, and the potential areas for future collective action between RLUK members.

Digital scholarship and the role of the research library is the result of a major digital scholarship survey recently undertaken of RLUK members and reveals the varied and multifaceted ways in which research libraries support digital scholarship activities within and beyond their institutions.

The report enables international benchmarking between RLUK member libraries and their counterparts in North America and Ireland through its alignment with research undertaken elsewhere.

RLUK will be discussing the report in a panel focused on digital scholarship at the DCDC19 Conference, taking place in Birmingham in November. There will also be a workshop led by RLUK’s Digital Scholarship, Special Collections Leadership and Collections Strategy networks on digital scholarship and the modern research library. More details on registering for DCDC19 can be found on the conference website.

The report addresses eight thematic strands in relation to digital scholarship activities occurring within RLUK member libraries. Its key findings are:

  • Familiar activities, less familiar term: Digital scholarship is a fluid term within RLUK member libraries and working definitions encompass a wide variety of activities. It is not a term that is used widely amongst researchers, although the activities that fall under it are familiar to them. Libraries are most confident and experienced regarding digital scholarship activities which relate to collections and their discoverability, including digitisation, metadata creation, and curation. Libraries are less confident with more technically advanced or sophisticated activities, such as encoding content, visualisation, or statistical analysis, and these often occur outside of the library;

  • Mixed economy: The research library exists within a ‘mixed economy’ of digital scholarship activity within its institution and is often only one of a number of places from which a researcher can receive support for digital scholarship activities. The library has an important role as a broker between researchers and other units and departments within its institution, providing a space for creativity and experimentation;

  • The library as provider, partner, pioneer: This is a period of transition for libraries in their relationship with researchers and the research process. Many libraries are moving from being ‘service providers’, to take more of an active role as ‘research partners’, and in some cases, ‘pioneers’ of new processes and platforms. This is deliberate and libraries are looking for ways of furthering this transition through the creation of dedicated digital scholarship spaces, teams, and resources, as catalysts for increased collaboration;

  • Sustainability: research libraries can struggle to make digital scholarship services sustainable due to their dependence on project funding and the difficulty in attracting highly skilled, technically specialist staff within a competitive job market. In some libraries, postgraduate assistants offer valuable support, particularly around more technically complex activities;

  • The digital shift: changes occurring within the collection are enabling new possibilities for digital scholarship activity. Although digitised content forms the majority of digital collections currently, research libraries perceive the greatest area of future growth to be in relation to born digital collections.

  • Centralised units: The process of the library becoming a research partner is aided by the creation of digital scholarship units and departments within the library, allowing the enhanced coordination of its partnership activities with academic researchers, the demarcation of digital scholarship budgets, and the raising of its internal profile within its home institution. These are, however, in the minority and most research libraries see their digital scholarship activities distributed throughout the library;


Download the report