Digital Sustainability Through Consolidation at the University of Iowa

· Posted by Joshua Wachuta in Online History

The Digital Scholarship & Publishing Studio at the University of Iowa coordinates an impressive and growing range of digital projects. In addition to hosting collections ranging from Historic Iowa Children’s Diaries in the Iowa Digital Library to records of Social Justice campaigns undergoing crowd-sourced transcription at DIY History, the studio also works to support students and faculty with their own digital humanities scholarship from project inception to ultimate publication or archiving. The studio’s websites generally have up-to-date interfaces, links, and aesthetics, and its blog posts monthly or bimonthly updates on its ongoing activity. Is all this work sustainable?

In a presentation last December, University of Iowa Library staff John Culshaw, Paul Soderdahl, and Tom Keegan described how the Digital Scholarship & Publishing Studio was formed in 2015 through the organizational merger of previously distinct digital projects on campus, building them into a sustainable program under the administration of the university library. Consolidation brought together a sufficient staff and budget to provide ongoing dedicated support to digital humanities work. According to the presenters, the studio:

gains long-term sustainability by cultivating inter-dependencies with other library operations and becomes woven into the fabric of the institution. Not having to obsess about re-upping for new funding annually, the Studio can focus on whatever strategic priorities are in the institution’s long-terms interests.

Iowa’s Digital Scholarship & Publishing Studio exhibits several of the important sustainability factors identified in the 2013 report Searching For Sustainability by Ithaka S+R and the Association of Research Libraries. Some of these factors include “dedicated leadership,” “managing costs,” “aligning with the host institution’s missions,” “identifying diverse sources of funding,” and “relying on an established technical platform.” The consolidation of projects within a single unit of the University Library provides dedicated leadership to oversee the institution’s digital projects, while also helping to manage costs by reducing administrative duplication. As part of the library, the studio uses established technical platforms such as CONTENTdm and Omeka to host its online resources. Finally, the studio also helps student and faculty scholars identify diverse sources of funding for new initiatives, maintaining an online list of partner organizations and external funding opportunities that researchers at the studio can seek to support their projects. Only time will tell if the University of Iowa’s new digital studio maintains its sustainability in the years ahead, but the program’s current organization and strategy look primed for a promising future.


One Response to "Digital Sustainability Through Consolidation at the University of Iowa":

  1. Nice post, Josh. I find that “diversifying sources of funding” is a key factor to helping online collections and exhibitions in sustaining their projects. I discussed how UNC’s “Documenting the South” was funded by a grant from the Institute of Library Sciences in 2005. Yet, it appears the website has not found any other sources of funding since then.

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