Collections as the catalyst for collaboration – University of Florida Library

What is UF’s institutional context?

The University of Florida (UF) is over 160 years old. Ranked sixth best public university in the US, there are 55,000 students on the main campus, and research programmes in over 150 research centres. There is no US equivalent of the UK’s Research Excellence Framework, though there is a ‘heavy political interest’ in STEM curricula.

The library system at the UF is one of the largest. It ‘functions as a college-level unit’, organised in a series of departments. University Archives are within UF Library, plus special collections of all kinds (books, scrolls, museum objects, beadwork, an astronaut suit). The Florida Museum of Natural History is on campus. The Museum of Art is a close collaborator. UF Library includes the Digital Partnerships and Strategies department that looks after scholarly publishing and digital scholarship and the Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC).

UF Library is ‘tenure granting’. A permanent position can be awarded for high-quality performance under the following headings:

  1. Professional Responsibility and Working Relationships
  2. Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity
  3. Service to [UF Library], the University, the State, and the Profession [1]

Research is a normal expectation for library staff and an important criterion for promotion:[2] ‘having research time as an official allocation really matters to getting [library] people more involved in grants and the process of collaborative research’.[3]

UF library has an advanced ‘culture of grantsmanship’. In conjunction with the Library leadership, a ‘Grants Management Committee’ (GMC) ‘facilitates a positive and open culture that encourages and supports grantsmanship [the art of writing successful funding bids]’, defining the key components, identifying the main steps, and supporting the development of skills and expertise.

This includes ongoing funding from UF Library to support internal funding, with two deadlines per year for “Strategic Opportunity Grants” and an open deadline for “Emerging Technology Grants”. These programmes grow skills and capacity for larger granting, often serving as pilots that are used to develop larger proposals.[4] A Library Grants Manager provides a wide range of support and training materials.[5]

This photo (see screen shot below) is an example of Mapping & Timelines at Florida, which provides digital mapping tools that can facilitate student creation of visual projects.

This photo is an example of Mapping & Timelines at Florida, which provides digital mapping tools that can facilitate student creation of visual projects.

What is the ‘collaborative context’ for UF?

‘Collaborative work moves fast, with so many connections’, says Dr Laurie Taylor. The Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC) collaborates with institutions internationally. These are initially researcher connections, but partnerships are generated between the libraries as a result.[6] [7]

Decolonizing Haitian Studies through Digital Scholarship

Decolonizing Haitian Studies through Digital Scholarship. This web publication highlights the work of Migration, Mobility, and Sustainability: Caribbean Studies and Digital Humanities Institute
Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, this institute was designed to give participants experience incorporating tools and openly accessible collections for developing a community of practice around digital pedagogy and teaching and encourages further sharing and collaboration.

Research partnerships are formed between UF Library and other institutions. These are not necessarily contingent on funded projects, but library resources are leveraged wherever possible. Partners have described dLOC as a house, with space for other projects to live.

For example, dLOC partners at the University of Puerto Rico collaborate with the Vieques Historical Archives to digitise materials, and then leverage dLOC as the house to provide for preservation and access. The researchers at the University of Puerto Rico and collaborators at Vieques are performing research in finding, organising, creating metadata, and digitising materials. Further, much of this work is done with student collaborators. Then, in doing so, materials become available in dLOC for others to build upon, for use in teaching, research, data mining, and other work, and this is both by the new materials on their own and especially as the newly available materials are in context with other materials in and to be added to dLOC.

The collections are a catalyst for collaboration. ‘Once you’re [working on] digital partnerships, the question is: “how do we make research happen?” And whether that’s helping someone create a journal online or move a closed access journal to an open access online journal, whether that’s publishing a book with them, whether that’s making sure that people teaching know how digital scholarship figures in with it, and then different resources that are part of it … We do a lot with open educational resources. So, working with researchers to build those, and … if you’re creating it, that’s actually research’.

What skills and staffing are required for effective research?

Senior library staff are classified as Assistant, Associate, University Librarian, corresponding to Assistant, Associate and Full Professor. Being a PI or Co-PI on funded projects is a key element in tenure track and promotion to full professor.[8] It is typical for academic library staff in the US to have a PhD. Some libraries require an MLS also. For research support librarians, a secondary advanced degree or PhD is preferred.

‘Skills development depends on the person and the area of their work, most of the time, but skill mapping should be established as a priority’. Staff are trained to grow research profiles and supported in skills development: ‘people [may not be] comfortable with … budgeting processes or the workload [i.e., the bureaucracy side of it, hiring/supervising/mentoring someone, or helping them find placement once the soft funding ends]’. This can be ‘intimidating if you haven’t done it before’.

The Library’s internal Strategic Opportunities Program offers a twice-yearly competition for new grant writers ‘to learn the basics as well as the technicalities, and from there to create and run a pilot to then get to the larger grants’. [9] ‘This … provide[s] a supportive environment for those who wish to gain experience conceptualizing, writing, and administering grant projects. Successful grant projects are competitively selected and are funded and administered by the GMC. It is intended ‘to replicate, as much as possible, the process of writing and submitting grant proposals to outside funding agencies’.

A Digital Humanities Library training programme[10] supports those who ‘don’t identify the necessary skills for a librarian role as digitally related and those who need more digital skills’ practice…everybody gets to be a novice and build together on that’. A graduate internship programme focused on transformative collaboration is ongoing.[11] Laurie sees the Library as ‘the frame for benchmarking her interests and putting together standards for digitisation’.

What is the future of research at UF?

The definition of research is altering: ‘within UF Libraries, what counts as research is defined, however broadly, and it is more focused on outcome impact than form/number of outputs, but it varies across the board’. UF’s income grant target is $1 billion against the present income level of $ 900 million.

Library roles are changing: ‘while book purchasing and subscriptions are still a daily activity, a part is also played by curating collections, sharing them with national catalogues, and other responsibilities that are not only possible, but also demanded by the evolving environment’.

COVID has changed attitudes toward collaboration and digital library provision. Controlled digital lending is now ubiquitous throughout the US. Libraries were already going digital but UF’s teaching faculty is the one that was affected the most (learning the tools, setting up for hybrid teaching) and required most help.

As institutions set up their digitisation units, there will be a need for professional figures who are specialized to a deeper level (scholarly communications librarian, copyright librarian, partnerships librarian). Academic and research librarians need to develop further their skills in: database consultation, research facilitation, advanced technical skills, and knowledge (data management and analysis, computing).

Dr Laurie Taylor, Senior Director for Library Technology and Digital Strategies, University of Florida

[1] See and for university policy.

[2] ‘Research, scholarship and creative activities are considered essential functions of faculty at the University of Florida, and nominees must achieve distinction in this criterion’.

[3] See also: Huet, Hélène; Alteri, Suzan; Taylor, Laurie N., Manifesto: A Life on the Hyphen: Balancing Identities as Librarians, Scholars, and Digital Practitioners, Digital Humanities Quarterly, Volume 13 Number 2, 2019.

[4] Strategic Opportunity Grant Program and Emerging Technologies Mini Grant program: 

[5] How to Create Fundable Grant Proposals_ ASERL Grantwriting Series on Vimeo. See also books by the Grants Manager: Collaborative Grant-seeking: a Practical Guide for Librarians and a new book is forthcoming 2021/2022.

[6]See for the AHRC grant. The project Diversifying the Archives of Childhood ‘enhances representation in digital collections of children’s literature through a series of remediating research strands across nationally significant archives… [enriching] public access to and knowledge of diversity and racism in children’s literature and develops digital widening participation strategies for curators, librarians, teachers, publishers, and scholars…’

[7] Projects and collaborative work can include creating records for and promoting work of other researchers for findability, as with ‘The French colony of Saint-Domingue … was one of the most brutal … of the Caribbean slave colonies … Alongside the shocking abuses of the system of slavery … sat the most vibrant theatrical tradition of the region … [The] database seeks to make known the rich and varied culture of public theatre that existed in the colony … and to promote further research in this area’. Other examples include a collaboration on the ongoing preservation and access of the Caribbean Literary Heritage website, which has a shared scholarly mission with the Digital Library of the Caribbean: and

[8] UF Libraries, Tenure and Promotion criteria, which inclusively define research:

[9] The Library’s grant proposal repository allows the sharing of examples for people to learn grant writing:

[10] See also:

[11] UF Libraries, Graduate Internship Program provides funding for graduate students, and requires collaboration with a faculty member outside of the libraries: