written by Courtney Day, journalism major and intern
When Carl Dahlman, associate professor of geography, needed help for what he calls a “data rescue” project, he turned to the digital initiative staff at Miami University Libraries.
Over the past two decades, the libraries have acquired advanced digital equipment, and library staff members have developed expertise in areas including digital imaging, web application programming, database and metadata design, interface design, geospatial information, project design and rights management. This semester, the libraries opened the Center for Digital Scholarship to further extend their reach to faculty and students.
According to John Millard, head of digital initiatives at the university libraries, informal collaborations between faculty members like Dahlman and library staff generated such effective and interesting projects that he wanted to extend the libraries’ digital expertise to help more of the university community.
The scope of the services, Millard said, is still in development. Library staff can provide free consultation to help with project design and implementation. From there, they can assist faculty, staff and students in efforts to find sources of project funding and write grant proposals.
The center, located on the third floor of King Library and open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. on weekdays with walk-ins welcome 10 a.m.-3 p.m., houses digital technologies including a commercial slide scanner, a high speed automated microfilm scanner, advanced book scanners and audio and video conversion equipment. These digitizing resources preserve data from older formats to prevent data loss and create formats that can be easily accessed and shared.
With help from the new center, Dahlman is organizing an initiative to help geographers digitize and catalogue photographs from their fieldwork.
He said that all too often when geographers retire or pass away, the images they have collected are thrown away or pushed aside. Valuable historical information is lost.
Dahlman says gathering photographs and slides and making them accessible in digital formats would help people understand how humans impact the landscape.
“These images contain valuable evidence of what different places looked like in the past, whether that be once-large glaciers now rapidly melting away or city streets now demolished,” he said.
By digitally cataloging photos and slides, geographers can not only preserve their images for the future, but also provide information about what is in each image so that other users can understand the photos’ content and significance.
Library staff members are helping Dahlman build a digital repository and image management system for the project so geographers across the country can post and organize content.
The center also has a Microsoft Surface station where computer science students develop and test applications they create for capstone projects.
In addition to digital workstations, the center provides meeting spaces for consulting, small group collaboration and larger group brainstorming. Digital flat panels in these spaces allow participants to share digital media from laptops or mobile devices.
The scope of the center’s services is limited to curricular, research and teaching related projects. Services are tailored to support faculty, graduate students and upper division undergraduate students working on complex projects such as capstones. Digital support for smaller undergraduate projects is provided by the libraries’ Center for Information Management (CIM).
The Center for Digital Scholarship is already operational with the use of existing resources including furniture, but some space remodeling is in the works, such as building a new entrance. A set of larger doors will distinguish the space as a public center rather than a staff only space.
Similar initiatives at other higher education institutions have informed the development of the center. Miami’s service is modeled most closely after the University of Kansas Center for Digital Scholarship, and Miami staff have visited KU and met with their staff about how they developed their services.