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Global Dimensions of Scholarship and Research: Community Response and Outcomes

James T. Simon
Director of International Resources, Center for Research Libraries


Main Reading Room, The National Library of China, Beijing, 2012.

The Global Dimensions of Scholarship and Research Libraries: A Forum on the Future took place at Duke University December 5–7, 2012. Supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and cosponsored by Duke University Libraries and the Center for Research Libraries (CRL), the event brought together some 50 individuals—librarians, faculty, university administrators, and representatives of scholarly societies and associations—from 15 states, from both public and private institutions.

The principal objective of the Forum was to “bring an international focus to the current conversations regarding the future of research libraries, and to consider how our mission to collect, preserve, and provide access to a wide array of materials created and published around the world, and thus to support scholarship broadly, can be achieved in the present environment.”

The Forum was intended to propose strategies to address the principal challenges affecting research libraries and their role in support of international scholarship, in light of ongoing fiscal pressures on collections budgets, shifts in research priorities and funding support within international and area studies programs, and the trend toward “globalization” on many campuses.

The proceedings of the Forum were summarized in the Winter 2013 issue of FOCUS on Global Resources (Vol. 32, Num. 2), and a preliminary report, “Global Dimensions of Scholarship and Research Libraries: Finding Synergies, Creating Convergence,” was posted on CRL’s event description page as well as on a Duke blog space created to invite comments and feedback on the report.

The report was circulated broadly to academic libraries, library and scholarly associations, area studies library groups, and other internationally focused institutions supporting higher education and research. Additionally, members of the Forum Steering Group attended meetings of area studies and library organizations, and convened groups of librarians, web and digital scholarship specialists, and technologists on several campuses, including Stanford, University of Illinois, UCLA, Cornell, University of California, Berkeley, and others. The Forum sparked or contributed to other follow-up events, including a conference at Indiana University in October 2013 and a gathering for New York-area librarians in early 2014.

Based on the written responses and discussions among the community, this article summarizes some of the key points of consensus at the Duke Global Forum, and opinions and reactions from attendees of the subsequent forums.

Forum Recommendations and Responses

The Forum report was intended as an initial framework to be expanded in collaboration with stakeholders, drawing from specific examples of achievements and best practices. The report makes strategic recommendations and proposals for action in three closely linked areas:

  1. Aggressively pursue broad digital access to international information resources.
  2. Internationalize research library services and perspectives.
  3. Broaden and internationalize library collaborations.

Digital access to international information resources

The report highlights the inexorable trend (both in terms of student preference and library response) toward digital resources. The call for building and linking comprehensive collections of public domain digital resources from around the world drew comparisons to the Digital Public Library of America and Europeana, but respondents questioned whether such a model could apply to the global digital collections held by libraries in North America and elsewhere. Both DPLA and Europeana aggregate metadata about digital objects held by libraries, museums, and archives and serve as a platform and catalyst for concerted action. HathiTrust endorsed the report and commented that building a comprehensive, shared collection “can be accomplished much more effectively by consolidating our efforts” now, rather than in a reactive, clean-up effort in the future.

Commercial providers are playing an increasingly prominent role in the provision of digitized and born-digital resources. Respondents suggested that better coordination among consortia and national database licensing programs could expand acquisition and licensing of databases and e-resources from—and about—problematic world regions. However, high prices for subscriptions and licenses are difficult to support with area studies budgets, and we need to think differently about how to “trade in materials” for international and area studies.

The Forum participants acknowledged that the digital information ecosystem is growing more complex, and libraries have yet to fully adapt to new forms of publication and dissemination. And yet, for international and area studies, the report emphasizes “a great deal of material is still issued exclusively in print format and remains very difficult to acquire.” Libraries and university administrations must acknowledge and support efforts that provide access to these resources, including non-English resources.

At the same time, models of collecting should be examined and enhanced with new approaches to accommodate technological developments and new forms of dissemination of born-digital resources, such as news, government publications, and ephemera. Such enhancements can best be accomplished through partnerships and coordinated efforts.

Internationalizing services and perspectives

The report calls for greater attention to the mandates of globalization on campuses, but stresses that such imperatives must recognize the inherent “foreign-ness” of international collections and that libraries must maintain specialized language and area expertise in order to identify, acquire, and make accessible resources beyond traditional English-language collections.

Some respondents suggested that technological developments have all but solved the “language issue” in library computing. Others, however, strongly argued that most discovery technologies have yet to bring to scale solutions that take into account the complex issues of scripts, character sets, and languages. Closer collaboration among area studies librarians and other experts in information technology, web and data services would be fruitful.

Training staff to broaden awareness of global perspectives was the subject of a recent panel hosted by the ACRL International Perspectives Discussion Group, at which Paula Smith, Reference Librarian at Pennsylvania State University discussed the “Global Awareness Dialog Project” at PSU libraries. The series, borne of Smith’s interest in the impact of globalization on education, focuses on pedagogy and global awareness, and engages faculty in the exchange of ideas about contemporary global issues in education.

Discovery technologies have yet to bring to scale solutions that take into account the complex issues of scripts, character sets, and languages.

Many commenters took issue with the report’s perceived position that research libraries are transitioning from “area studies” to “global studies.” The report maintains that libraries must grapple with globalization and its cross-cutting themes. However, the intent of the report authors (and those presenting at the Forum) in focusing on the “global dimensions of scholarship” is that librarian specialists must increasingly serve the needs of global scholars in addition to serving area studies constituencies in their varied and interdisciplinary domains. Rather than pitting globalization against area studies as a dominating mode of scholarship, the report sought to make clear that area librarians and programs must contend with the needs of both in their ever-evolving roles.

Internationalizing library partnerships

One major focus should be new global collections relationships that result in productive projects and partnerships.

Partnerships on small and large scale have helped to expand access to research materials from outside North America. CRL’s Area Studies and Global Resources Network programs, for example, now engage institutions in Europe and from other regions of interest (including Uganda, South Africa, Egypt, Lebanon, and Israel). Project partnerships, such as the Digital Library of the Caribbean (DLoC) and Texas’ Human Rights Documentation Initiative (HRDI), support regional capacity building and extend access to cultural, historical and other research materials otherwise inaccessible to mass audiences. Institutions engaging in bilateral partnerships, such as Cornell University Library and Tsinghua University Library in China, identify and develop joint opportunities for enhancing scholarship and learning at both universities through collaborative collection building.

One major focus should be new global collections relationships that result in productive projects and partnerships. For example, connecting with:

  • large-scale foreign collections programs (such as the Special Collection Areas [SSG] system of German research libraries);
  • selected national or central bank libraries, to explore mutually beneficial uses of surplus legal deposit materials as well as e-resource deposits and rights;
  • small and/or independent specialty publishers, NGOs, local organizations and societies, etc.; and
  • strong scholarly communications consortia in other parts of the world (including the Latin American Council of Social Sciences [CLACSO], Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa [CODESRIA], etc.).

Future Plans

Through the initial framework and follow-on discussions, the Forum organizers sought to develop an action agenda for research libraries, identifying major areas where the concentration of new resources can affect high-impact change within the next five years. The following article, A Prospective Action Agenda, is a synthesis of the major themes from the Forum and follow-on discussions, and a set of concrete steps that might address some of the challenges identified. This agenda will serve as a guide in shaping CRL’s international collection development activities in the years ahead.

Broader dissemination of these ideas is a basic building block for progress in achieving the goals of enhancing digital access in support of global scholarship, and actively forging broader international collaborations. The organizers hope that the findings of the Global Dimensions Forum will encourage librarians, library administrators, faculty, and university administrators to see the importance and desirability of internationalizing their perspectives, collections, providing services in the service of scholarship.