I’m excited to announce that, after a year of consulting with the Council on Library and Information Resoruces to assess their implementation of a major revision of Digitizing Hidden Collections, Ricky Punzalan and I will be publishing our final report. We have just completed final copyedits and the report will be available from CLIR in January 2023. We have presented this work publicly already, including in a presentation at the 2022 Digital Library Federation/Hidden Collections Symposium in Baltimore, Maryland (slides here), and the draft of the report has been available for public comment since October. Now, the complete, final, edited report is working its way to press. The following excerpts come from the report draft.
“We see further potential to increase equity in funding programs and representation of community stories in the digital historical record.”
Digitizing Hidden Collections (DHC) is a major funding program that has supported the digitization of unique, historical collections since 2015. Grants are administered and awarded by CLIR, but the funding comes from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. In 2020, CLIR worked with Mellon to adapt the program so it could better serve less-frequent-grantseeking organizations and emphasize the digitization of historical collections that told the story of groups under-represented in the digital historical record. The report summarizes my year-long work with Ricky Punzalan to assess the resulting program, “Amplifying Unheard Voices.” Through the 2021 program revision, CLIR aimed to expand the reach and appeal of the program to a broader range of institutions, including independent and community-based organizations and to emphasize the digitization of historical materials that tell the stories of groups underrepresented in the digital historical record. The program revision implemented significant changes to the application structure, created new applicant support resources, expanded eligibility to Canadian applicants, and added new thematic emphases and stated program values.
Enthusiasm for the program is high. The changes in the 2021 DHC:AUV iteration were warmly received by many potential applicants, including organizations that are not frequent grant seekers for collections-related activities as well as many organizations that have previously applied to DHC. The revised program was recognized as a critical funding resource unique in its newly articulated support for collections digitization in conjunction with social justice priorities. These interests are clearly expressed in the program values and positively benefit the preservation of and access to more representative digital collections and records. CLIR’s resource materials for applicants were praised highly for their clarity, comprehensiveness, and approachability and for being readily usable and accessible. The expanded membership of the review panel represented expertise well-suited to evaluate the new group of applicants and proposals received. Overall, program accessibility, the appeal of the call for proposals that emphasized underrepresented perspectives in collections, and the continuing support for digitization was welcomed and well received. Even among those interested in the program but who elected not to submit applications, more than half hoped to submit applications in future competitions if given the option.
Selected areas for attention and recommendations
Alongside these positive elements, we identified areas in which the program would benefit from further attention as it moves ahead:
- Allowed activities. While the current focus on digitization was popular, stakeholders also noted that DHC:AUV should consider designating support for reparative description or redescription of collections.
- Applicant support. The current applicant support mechanisms rely on direct email support; these are appreciated, but more tailored, one-on-one direct support is needed.
- Review process. We identified specific areas of need, including public library expertise; guidance materials for reviewers; and direct, specific items for actionable feedback.
- Award process. This part of the program was generally effective, but we raise notable concerns about DHC:AUV’s approach to intellectual property and collection ownership. We recommend that the program move toward reciprocal notions of ownership and access that respect community sovereignty and expertise.
- Program “voice groups.” If DHC:AUV aims to serve underrepresented narratives in the digital historical record, we identify community narratives, or “voices” that appear to be of particular value to the program as it is currently implemented.
- Program administration. To the extent possible, we recommend that DHC:AUV explore the option of creating an additional program officer or a program manager role—someone who can steer the review process and offer increased direct support to applicants.
We conclude the assessment with optimism about the program’s possibilities but also with an awareness of the significant work required to maintain and improve such funding programs. We note the high enthusiasm for increased support of community-based memory initiatives that will diversify the historical record and make that record more digitally available. At the same time, the assessment reveals challenges of funding digitization projects in cultural heritage: the significant time required for design, implementation, and management of multiyear programs; the limitations of project grants; and the challenges of making incremental yet responsive changes within a longstanding program.
The project revealed enthusiasm for and potential of the future of DHC:AUV, but more broadly, we see further potential to increase equity in funding programs and representation of community stories in the digital historical record.