This wiki space contains archival documentation of Project Bamboo, April 2008 - March 2013.
This "story" is the result of a one-on-one interview of a humanities scholar by a library researcher, as a part of larger Mellon Foundation-funded study of the research methods and scholarly workflows of graduate students and faculty in the humanities and social sciences at the University of Minnesota, "A Multi-Dimensional Framework for Academic Support" (http://www.lib.umn.edu/about/mellon/).
For the study, data was collected through a variety of methods: individual faculty interviews, focus groups with graduate students, and a survey sent to all faculty and graduate students in the participating departments (16 departments total---over 1,200 possible respondents). The purpose of the faculty interview was to capture the practical and conceptual challenges of a faculty member's research. Faculty were asked to describe a current research project and to comment on the physical and methodological activities they generally undertake in the course of their research. Interdisciplinary and collaborative research was addressed, as well as questions of financial support for research-related activities. In addition, we discussed the role of libraries and archives (physical and electronic) in research, the role of technology, and the kinds of tasks performed by graduate student research assistants.
The third part of the interview centered on questions about research materials that the faculty member amasses over the course of his or her research, methods of organization and storage, and questions of accessibility of the research materials collected. Finally, the faculty member was asked to describe his or her ideal research environment.
The scope of this story applies to about a third of humanities and social sciences faculty and graduate students, according the survey distributed as a part of the larger UMN Libraries study, A Multi-Dimensional Framework for Academic Support. 37% of respondents reported amassing personal research collections, and 56% of faculty reported that the engage in archiving activities generally. Like the scholar highlighted in this story, graduate students and faculty participated in the study in order to assist the University of Minnesota Libraries in improving the Libraries' physical spaces, online resources and tools, and other aspects of research support.
Additionally, a follow-up assessment of scholarly research practices of scientists, also undertaken by the University of Minnesota Libraries (http://www.lib.umn.edu/about/scieval/index.html) found that a majority of scientists struggle with best practices for organizing, preserving, and sharing data. Though the material and technical challenges surrounding data preservation differ from the "personal collections" amassed by scholars in the humanities and social sciences, the problem is fundamentally the same if not heightened in the sciences given the requirements by grantmakers to preserve and make data accessible.
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A senior professor in American Indian Studies struggles with the question of how best to organize, preserve, and make accessible both the history of the department--founding documents, curricular and language materials, and materials collected from local Native organizations and communities in Minnesota-as well as the corpus of primary documents collected over the course of her own research career. This unique collectionmostly picture postcards, tourism materials, and other paraphernalia collected at rummage sales, private sales, and from EBAY--consists of over 21,000 images of American Indians and more than 50,000 American ethnographic images.
Currently, the collection is inaccessible to other researchers, and generally unknown. It is organized in local file cabinets and organized according to geographic region or sub-region, tribal name, time period, and publisher or author. Some rare and fragile materials are kept in special cases for protection. All relevant information about the individual documents are catalogued and stored on a local, personal computer, but none of the images or materials have been digitized by the scholar.
Though the scholar intends eventually to donate the personal research collection to an institution that specializes in the field of American Indian Studies and history, there is no immediate sense of when the collection would be publicly accessible. In the interim, the scholar is unsure how to begin the massive digitization project, as well as how to build the kind of website that would appropriately display and describe the materials. Rights issues, often a thorny process for book and article publication, is a process the scholar is reticent to take on without support from publishers, research assistants, and the like. Though some digitization and technical support is available through the University, this scholar, and many other scholars, are unaware of the resources that are available. Further, there is inadequate financial support for the cost of such projects, as well as for the cost of research assistants who would likely have a primary role in the production and maintenance of a such a website.
The future of the department's holdings of unique materials relating to the department's history and the history of local Native groups and communities is even more uncertain. Currently, boxes of uncatalogued materials, and some web-based materials are kept in the department's limited storage space or are in the possession of individual faculty members. There is no substantial organization of these materials, which are not available for use by students or other scholars. Despite the University's efforts at promoting the University Archives for preservation of such collections, this scholar has some apprehensions about donating the collection to them. The exception to this predicament is a small collection of web-based materials that trace the material foundations of Native language and cultures. The department of American Indian Studies and the Minnesota Historical Society are working to make this collection available through the Minnesota Historical Society.
Though this case of personal and departmental research collections is focused on one scholar, the phenomenon of inaccessible but potentially useful and valuable research collections is endemic to the work of scholarship in the humanities and social sciences, and is also found in the sciences with the data collections of researchers, though some of the technological issues are different. Examples of other research and data collections include:
• Interviews with Muscogee Creek individuals in Oklahoma
• Microfilms of 14th c. Southern French notaries
• Tapes, transcripts and translations of hundreds of interviews spanning 20 years of research; rare photographs and ethnographic objects; a map collection
• Archaeological artifacts, primarily ancient ceramics but also original field notes, inventory cards, and other primary excavation records.
• Approximately 40-50,000 slides, covering four continents and 30 years, of mostly urban architecture. A small number have been digitized.
• Russian newspapers from the 80s and 90s that I don't know what to do with.
• Paper survey data from 20-year longitudinal sociology study
The organization and storage of research materials is a subject of significant interest for researchers. They concern themselves not only with methods of classification developed by librarians and archivists, but also, and most immediately, with their own methods of organizing and habits of collecting.
Methods of organization are haphazard, idiosyncratic, and often bordering on untenable. At the same time, researchers engage in more structured and intentional activities---scanning and digitizing archival materials and working with experts to make those materials accessible online or through searchable databases; storing large data sets and thinking about how to preserve data from multiple media; building substantial archival collections with idiosyncratic organization and naming practices; and sometimes planning to donate materials to a specialized archive or institution. Often, the fate of these collections is dependent of the individual skill set of the researcher or one of their close colleagues (often an administrative employee who happens to know something about, say, Photoshop). There is little systematic knowledge of how to go about preserving and making accessible a collection. The scholars how engage in complex projects to do so, often with the support of small grants, are rare. Further, some scholars express reticence to share "too much" of their research collections until their careers are firmly established or even approaching their end.
According to the survey data from the University of Minnesota Libraries' study, the majority of unique collections held by scholars are inaccessible to other scholars (50.7%). Only 19.3% of researchers report that their collections are "very" or "somewhat" accessible." Obstacles that hinder accessibility include:
• Not enough time: 81.8%
• Lack of assistance: 62.8%
• Inadequate funding: 54.8%
• Lack of expertise: 47.8%
• Too much material: 34.9%
• Rapidly changing technology: 32.4%
• Diversity of materials: 22.1%
In the Sciences, likewise, the organization, preservation, and accessibility of data is an endemic problem. Generally, scientists have workflow problems that often limit their abilities to effectively organize, preserve, and disseminate their data and research materials. There is also a need for better methods of retrieving, connecting, and relating data to published research accounts, especially beyond the data presented for publication. A lack of clear policies guiding the storage and preservation of data despite the requirements of funding agencies exacerbates the data problem. At the same time, standards, guidelines, and technological assistance--whether developed and implemented locally or nationally-- all need to be sensitive to personal and disciplinary practices, which vary widely. The data challenges faced in the sciences may offer a prescient view of how humanities and social sciences scholars will confront their needs to preserve and make accessible increasingly complex research collections, many of which are data intensive in their right, especially in the social sciences.