New Report Showcases How Campuses Can ‘Bring Collections to Light’

 Bringing Collections to Light, a new CIC report, highlights a five-year project in which 42 member colleges and universities digitized large collections of materials in support of teaching, learning, and student/faculty research. Members of the CIC Consortium on Digital Resources for Teaching and Research demonstrated that small colleges have the capacity to digitize their important collections to broaden use on campus, within research communities, and throughout the world.

The report showcases diverse uses of digitized collections: faculty members and students access them for classes and research projects; institutional advancement and alumni relations offices use the collections to sustain alumni interest; and admissions departments use them to attract new students. In addition, students who were engaged in the process acquired valuable skills, and faculty members learned to re-think their teaching of primary sources in this digital age. Faculty members and librarians worked closely together on these projects and presented their findings at several regional and national conferences.

With support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and in partnership with ITHAKA (a nonprofit organization that helps the academic community use digital technologies to preserve the scholarly record and to advance research and teaching in sustainable ways), Consortium members used Shared Shelf (now called JSTOR Forum) software to create, catalog, and manage valuable collections and make them widely available. Susan Barnes Whyte, former CIC senior advisor and library director at Linfield College (OR), served as the director of the Consortium and co-authored the report.

In announcing the report, CIC President Richard Ekman reflected, “This project took time, trial and error, patience, flexibility, and imagination. In the end, participating institutions in the Consortium brought to light the enormous value of resources that had been relatively unknown beyond the small number of scholars and librarians who had assembled these materials.”

Barbara Hetrick, CIC senior advisor, former vice president, and coauthor of the report, added, “Faculty members have long amassed, saved, and used their personal collections of such items as photographs, art slides, maps, and recordings, depending upon their discipline, to aid in their teaching or scholarly research. Now, large quantities of important and valuable resources previously owned and used by one faculty member have been digitized and stored for engagement by faculty members throughout the higher educational community and beyond.”

The report describes the establishment of the Consortium and how participating institutions learned to preserve and catalog their collections. It provides many examples of the ways in which CIC librarians and faculty and staff members used JSTOR Forum to enhance teaching and student learning, student research, and faculty scholarship. It also explains how the tool can be used to improve such administrative functions as student recruitment, preservation of historical artifacts, and communication with alumni/ae—all uses that were unanticipated when the Consortium was initially designed. Importantly, the publication highlights the challenges that participating institutions faced and overcame, as well as how the Consortium’s work is being sustained through collaborations with other institutions, nonprofit entities, and the larger community. Finally, the report includes thumbnail sketches of the digitization work on collections at several CIC member institutions.

For example, with archives containing a treasure trove of speeches and accompanying photographs that highlight the university’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement from 1965–1968, Tuskegee University (AL) digitized some of its 600 reel-to-reel tapes and nearly a thousand cassette tapes. Few people had heard the university’s recordings of such prominent leaders as Stokely Carmichael, Shirley Chisholm, Malcolm X, Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King Jr., Jesse Jackson, John Lewis, and Andrew Young until the CIC project provided broad access to the speeches.

Wheaton College (MA) digitized a collection of shells that includes specimens dating back to the 19th century. Students photographed different sides of the shells, placed them into digital collages, and applied descriptive metadata to the digital collage images. The resulting images are obviously much easier to access than would be the actual shells, some of which are fragile and locked away in cabinets and drawers.

Gettysburg College (PA) archived more than 5,000 images, including antique maps, images from its fine arts collection, and botanical slides. Students used the rare maps to learn about the history of world trade and commerce. Guilford College (NC) developed six wide-ranging collections and reports, and the proliferation of readily accessible images enabled many faculty members and students in several academic departments to make direct use of the digital resources.

Two photos: 1. Close up photo of a seashell; 2. engraved map of Amsterdam
(Left) Wheaton College’s (MA) Shell Collection includes this fine example of a Clanculus puniceus, or strawberry top, that has been digitized to show both the top and underside. (Right) Part of the Gettysburg College (PA) Musselman Library Special Collections and College Archives, this 1740 panoramic engraving of Amsterdam by Matthaeus Seutter provides a view of the city from the river; the index in the upper corners identifies numbered sites within the city plan.

Several institutions built collections for the storage of student research. Caldwell University (NJ) added student research abstracts to JSTOR Forum so that students can reference them as publications on their résumés and make them available to the next generation of student researchers. Limestone College (SC) also developed a collection of student research papers and creative works for future students. Manhattanville College (NY) assigned students to use newly digitized public collections to research the college’s history and curate digital exhibitions around a different theme each year.

In addition, a St. Lawrence University (NY) art gallery director used her extensive digital collection of international political and cultural stickers to develop scholarly articles, conference papers, exhibitions, and illustrated essays. And an art history professor at Washington and Lee University (VA) used the collection she curated on the arts of modern Latin American to develop conference presentations at national and international conferences.

“CIC is grateful for the difficult work of faculty members, librarians, and archivists at participating institutions who created a lively and mutually constructive community of digital scholars,” Ekman said. “Ultimately, Consortium participants created valuable resources that students, faculty and staff members, and scholars throughout the world can use to advance teaching, learning, and scholarship.”

Read the full report.