Jisc and JSTOR collaborate to maximise the impact of digitised special collections

Today, we are pleased to announce that Jisc is embarking on a project, in partnership with the JSTOR content platform and its parent organisation ITHAKA, to facilitate the hosting and delivery of digitised content from Jisc members, with the goal of extending their reach, impact and reputation.

At a time when the necessity of travel is subject to serious scrutiny and even visits to our regular places of work (whether the office, the library or the lecture theatre) are scaled back or avoided entirely, it is more vital than ever that the digital shift in working practices is matched by the availability of (and access to) not only secondary, critical materials, but primary source content as well.

Jisc and JSTOR are inviting Jisc member organisations to nominate collections of digitised materials to be uploaded to JSTOR’s platform as part of the Open Community Collections initiative.

What is ‘Open Community Collections’?

Open Community Collections aggregates a wide range of digitised special collections, from institutions around the world, covering an equally diverse spectrum of disciplines and subjects. Collections included in the programme are openly accessible and discoverable not only alongside one another but also with ebooks, the collections of periodical content for which Jstor is best known, and even content from Artstor.

The initiative has no restrictive subject parameters or overarching curatorial policy, seeking only to provide a space for collections of all types and formats to come together on a robust and powerful platform and to reach the widest possible audience. Collections from Jisc member organisations that have already joined Open Community Collections as part of a pilot project, include:

Other collections, including the many from non-UK institutions, further demonstrate the breadth of material included in Open Community Collections – from medieval books of hours to satirical prints, ballads to architectural photographs, papyri to postcards and personal papers. More information about how collections are presented and accessed on the JSTOR platform, as well as ongoing updates on the project can be found on the Jisc project page.

Why are we doing this?

A recent article in Time Higher Education, in which Jisc participated, highlighted the value of digitised primary sources, with a number of voices echoing the argument that the digitisation and online delivery of archival content represent a fundamental good – one which offers the chance to increase engagement with these collections and to grow potential research outcomes from their exploration:

‘Fiona Courage, associate director and curator of the Mass Observation Archive at the University of Sussex, says that digital archiving projects are “especially important to democratise archives and use digital technology to widen access to them”.’

Openly accessible collections such as those in Open Community Collections offer great potential for impact, as they can reach a wide range of users including local historians, retired scholars, genealogists and many others who are without formal academic affiliation or access to the resources of a university. Many collections already in the scheme that have the potential to be of value to students in secondary education, as well.

This idea is not new. From the Digital Agenda for Europe, back in 2011, to RLUK’s manifesto for the digital shift in research libraries, which earlier this year calls for a ‘Collective approach to digitisation […]’ and ‘Collections that are truly open and inclusive […]’, the drumbeat of digitisation and democratisation of access has been growing in volume and tempo for many years now. The advent of Covid-19, however – as in so many aspects of life – looks to be an accelerant for change. RLUK have already followed up on their manifesto with the report ‘Covid-19 and the digital shift in action’, which notes increased activity and urgency around a number of areas related to digitised content – from uploading of pre-digitised content, to the planning and prioritising of future digitisation, and an increased understanding of how digitised content can best be integrated with teaching. Despite all the pressures on universities and libraries stemming from the crisis, the report also notes that institutions had nonetheless moved to ‘quickly [enhance] their digital offer to local schools, colleges and members of the community’, looking beyond their virtual walls to seek the greatest impact from their resources and collections.

A limited pilot project, initiated towards the end of 2019 and with a small number of contributing institutions, helped us to better understand the opportunity for Jisc members to share their special collections (of varying sizes and touching on many areas of research interest) through Open Community Collections. We believe that the content is there; ready for more points of access and the chance to share a platform with other materials from across the globe. It also allowed us to review the suitability of the platform/initiative and the mechanisms and processes involved in participation. Becoming part of Open Community Collections is straightforward and easy, with the ingest and any work necessary to facilitate delivery carried out by JSTOR, at no cost to the participating institutions.

How can you get involved?

If you’d like to find out more about this project, take a look at the R&D project page or go to the Get involved page, where you can also find a link to a short online form to express your interest. You can use this to start a conversation with Jisc and JSTOR about contributing to the initiative and making your collections available via the JSTOR platform.

Later this month, on October 20th, we will also be holding a brief webinar to talk more about Open Community Collections and Jisc and JSTOR’s collaboration, as well as to answer questions. However, you don’t have to wait until then if you have any queries – simply get in touch with me at any time and I will be glad to talk about this project, explain how and why Jisc is taking part and help you answer any practical questions.

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