Collaboration to support digital scholarship: Research Libraries UK and the GDDNetwork

By Matt Greenhall, Deputy Executive Director, Research Libraries UK

Overview of RLUK

RLUK is a consortium of 37 of the UK and Ireland’s most significant research libraries. Our purpose is to shape the research library agenda and contribute to the wider knowledge economy through innovative projects and services that add value and impact to the process of research. We contribute to the health of society through the preservation and sharing of knowledge: one of the pillars of an open society.

We are here to represent the collective voice of our members, to be an effective advocate on their behalf, to convene our members around issues which affect them, and to promote the research library community as a vibrant and integral element of the scholarly landscape.

It is for these reasons that RLUK has been an active partner of the GDDNetwork and has sought to facilitate enhanced collaboration between its members around their digitisation activities.

RLUK and the GDDNetwork

This is a period of great change and transition for the research library community. The nature and format of the library collection is changing, as are the needs and expectations of library users. The shift from an analogue to a mixed analogue/digital environment is well underway, and this transition requires libraries to look, operate, and organise themselves differently.

Photo of corridor between library shelves filled with books
Image courtesy of Queen Mary, University of London.

The challenges that these changes can bring are explored within RLUK’s strategy, Reshaping Scholarship, 2018-2021. The strategy recognises the potential and value of mass digitisation to provide access to geographically distant or disparate collections, to enable and underpin digital scholarship activities, and facilitate the deduplication of high-volume, low-use, library collections. The latter, explored by RLUK’s Collection Strategy Network, can enable libraries to redesign and utilise their library spaces in different ways, at a time of immense spatial pressures within the library estate, as showcased by RLUK’s Space Programme.

RLUK has worked to convene its members around these issues since the launch of Reshaping Scholarship in March 2018, whilst undertaking strategic research to highlight and explore current practices, and opportunities for enhanced collaboration. RLUK’s recent research report, Digital Scholarship and the Role of the Research Library, highlighted the extent of ongoing collaboration between members regarding their digital scholarship and digitisation activities, and that there is an appetite for more.

The research found that 23% of respondents were part of a collaborative arrangement regarding the digitisation of their collections whereas 40% would be interested in joining one [1]. In relation to the aims of the GDDNetwork, 63% of respondents reported that knowing whether an item had been previously digitised elsewhere by another institution was ‘important’ or ‘very important’ to them when considering their own digitisation activities.[2]

The desire for continued, and enhanced collaborative activity around digitisation between research libraries, and their wish to avoid duplication of effort, are both reasons for RLUK’s involvement in the project. It strikes at the heart of RLUK’s role in identifying collective opportunities for its members and its ability to convene colleagues around these through its member networks and events. It also supports RLUK’s efforts to place the work of its members within an international context, through the HathiTrust’s membership of the GDDNetwork, and as evidenced by the alignment of RLUK’s recent digital scholarship research with international studies.

The progress of the GDD Network will be showcased at this year’s Discovering Collections, Discovering Communities conference (Birmingham Conference and Events Centre, 12-14 November). The conference will see around 400 colleagues from across the library, archival, museum, and academic communities come to together to explore the collective challenges and opportunities posed by the ‘digital shift’ in collections.

Both the GDDNetwork, and its partner institutions, will be well represented within the conference programme, with presentations from the University of Glasgow, HathiTrust, and an RLUK workshop exploring the future work of the research library and digital scholarship. It further underlines both the potential and collective enthusiasm for greater collaboration between research libraries when undertaking digitisation, and the interest in taking a more strategic approach to doing so.

[1] M. Greenhall, (2019). Digital scholarship and the role of the Research Library, RLUK Report, p. 26.

[2] Ibid., p. 37