Bringing Collections to Light: Using Digital Media to Strengthen Teaching and Research

​From 2015 through 2019, the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) conducted a project that was intended to test the utility of Shared Shelf to the teaching and research needs of small colleges. Shared Shelf (now called JSTOR Forum) was created by Artstor initially to help scholars in research universities address the problem of large collections of slides and prints that were difficult to manage in nonelectronic forms and to make the idiosyncratic collections of materials of value to one scholar more likely to be used by others at scattered locations. With Shared Shelf, it became possible for a collection of material assembled by one faculty member—for example, butterfly specimens—to be stored electronically and made more easily available to others.

The challenge of the CIC project was to apply this technology to the kinds of collections that small colleges might have—such as art history slides, photos of athletic teams through an 80-year period, and jars of rare preserved mollusks. With support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, 42 CIC member colleges and universities were selected to participate in a project that would test Shared Shelf’s use with a variety of materials—ranging from seashells to Asian art, from theatre set designs to memorabilia of President Lincoln (including a lock of his hair). As a result of the project, Civil Rights era leaders’ speeches in the archives at Tuskegee University are now available for all to see and study; and interviews with mill workers and town leaders from the mid-20th century are available through Presbyterian College’s oral history collection of the employees of the small mill town of Clinton, South Carolina. The participating institutions have digital collections that are shareable with the world and are used by faculty and students for their classes and research projects.

Participating campuses benefited from the project in many ways. For instance, institutional advancement and alumni relations offices now use many of these collections to sustain alumni interest. Admissions departments use them to attract new students. The students who were engaged in the process acquired valuable skills. Faculty learned to re-think their teaching with use of primary sources in this digital age. Faculty and librarians worked closely together on these projects and presented their findings at many regional and national conferences.

CIC applauds the hard work and enthusiastic engagement of faculty members, librarians, and archivists at these institutions. CIC also is grateful for the tremendous support given to each institution by the implementation managers at JSTOR Forum. This project took time, trial and error, patience, flexibility, and imagination. It also enabled smaller institutions to create digital collections for enhanced teaching, learning, and research. Perhaps most importantly, each participating institution brought to light the enormous value of resources that had been relatively unknown beyond the sole or small number of scholars, archivists, and librarians who had assembled these materials.

​Council of Independent Colleges
Barbara Hetrick and Susan Barnes Whyte
April 2020

Academic Experience; Faculty