Scholarly Communications

For much of 2019, the Scholarly Communications (SC) program was led by Senior Program Officer Donald J. Waters and Program Officer Patricia Hswe. After twenty years of devoted, exemplary service, Mr. Waters retired from the Foundation in August. His influence over the grantmaking landscape for libraries, archives, and publishing is immeasurable. The grants he facilitated over two decades galvanized a range of academic institutions to engage digital technologies in support of new forms of humanities research and modes of scholarly communication.

21_IMG_2970.jpgThe University of Kentucky received support to pursue an innovative digital restoration of the Herculaneum papyri. Photo: University of Kentucky.

In the pursuit of humanistic inquiry, SC promotes the significance and value of libraries, archives, and academic presses by focusing on three key areas: access services, preservation, and publishing. Within these areas of emphasis, SC strives to: (1) equip organizations, both large and small, with the capacity to develop infrastructure and tools for advancing, and providing access to, new forms of knowledge in the humanities; (2) enable the persistence of cultural and scholarly records in all their formats, from papyri scrolls to web archives; and (3) encourage creative approaches for sharing, disseminating, and evaluating the methods and outputs of peer-reviewed research in the humanities. In 2019 the area of access services in particular sparked new directions for the program’s grantmaking. First, SC conducted its first open call for proposals (CFP), directed at community-based archives in need of programmatic and operational support. Second, increasingly mindful that open-source infrastructure for digital scholarship is in need of maintenance and sustainability, the program has started to provide support for organizational financial health.

Access Services

An enduring priority for SC is to help ensure that the humanities and humanistic social sciences benefit from the broadest possible base of primary source evidence. In further fulfillment of this objective, the program deployed extensive support to community-based archives. As a result of the open CFP, fifteen archives—located across the United States and in the US Virgin Islands—received support for operational, programming, and collection care activities. The University of Alabama, serving as the fiscal sponsor, received first-time funding for the Invisible Histories Project, which is creating “satellite sites” of community-based archives to document the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people in the American South. SC also funded international archives for capacity building in digital preservation, such as the District Six Museum Foundation in Cape Town, South Africa, and the Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center (via fiscal sponsor Give2Asia) in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

22_Copy of GLBA_display_1993_MarchonWashington_04.jpgThe Invisible Histories Project is creating “satellite sites” of community-based archival material to document the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people in the American South. Photo: Invisible Histories Project.

Humanities scholars require a reliable digital infrastructure to gather and organize sources and to analyze and interpret them. The continual refinement of this infrastructure is another SC priority, as demonstrated by grants to the University of Maryland at College Park, which is addressing the challenge of accurately transcribing digitized Arabic script, and to Brandeis University, which is realizing a system of natural language processing tools for searching, describing, and analyzing documents in multiple languages. In addition, SC awarded funds to provide training in digital scholarship practices at a Latinx Studies digital humanities center (University of Houston); further develop a values-based framework for promotion and tenure processes (Michigan State University, or MSU); aggregate data from multiple libraries and colleges for comprehensive collection access in a single digital environment (University of Oxford); build a shared infrastructure for Linked Open Data (OCLC, Inc.); enable researchers to work with cloud-based cultural heritage collections (Library of Congress); and explore the feasibility of scholarly activities in a “decentralized web” (Ghent University). Two institutions, MSU and Emory University, received renewed support for their web-based projects on the people of the transatlantic slave trade. The library at James Madison University is developing a living academic center for poetry and the arts with archival, digital, and performance components. In addition, The Book Arts Press, Inc. and the University of Pittsburgh are implementing mentorship and professional development programs for librarians, archivists, and students from underrepresented minority groups. Finally, in an initiative that SC expects to be multiphased, the Nonprofit Finance Fund is providing expert guidance to a cohort of digital resource organizations on securing capital for organizational change and growth—an especially challenging objective for membership-based organizations that oversee open-source technology products.


23_643_Museum of Flight.jpgA grant to CLIR for the Recordings at Risk program will preserve important twentieth-century audiovisual archives, including films from early aviation history at the Museum of Flight. Photo: The Museum of Flight Foundation (via CLIR).

Support for preservation efforts continues to be wide-ranging in terms of materials and types of approach. With Foundation funds, the University of Kentucky is applying noninvasive techniques from the medical field to restore the contents of the Herculaneum papyri. Stanford University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are improving the long-term preservation of email, and the University of Missouri at Columbia is identifying best practices for the preservation of born-digital news. Columbia University is digitizing at-risk audiovisual recordings and oral histories representing significant twentieth-century artists, activists, and cultural and political figures. SC also renewed support for the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) for its Recordings at Risk program; the University of Calgary to preserve an extensive audiovisual collection from a commercial recording company; and Rhizome Communications, Inc. to spin off Webrecorder, its popular web-archiving tool, as a new entity within a nonprofit software development company.

24_2UH Moment_0L9A7610.jpgScholars working with archival materials at Arte Publico Press, a Latinx digital humanities center at the University of Houston. Photo: University of Houston’s Arte Público Press.


A critical piece of the scholarly workflow infrastructure is the publication of digital scholarship. The libraries at the University of Connecticut and Brown University received renewed funding to provide support for digital monographs. Stanford is formulating a sustainable business model for the further acquisition and publishing of interactive scholarly works, and the University of British Columbia is engaged in business planning for RavenSpace, a versatile platform for culturally sensitive works of Indigenous studies. In addition, the University of North Texas is piloting a data trust for usage information on open-access monographs. SC also sustained collaborations with two federal funding agencies on publishing programs. With the National Endowment for the Humanities, SC ran a third round of the Humanities Open Book program, awarding funds to Abilene Christian, Brown, and Indiana Universities, and the University of Kansas to digitize 300 backlist titles for open-access distribution. In partnership with the National Historic Records and Preservation Commission, SC awarded three institutions—Bucknell University, the Massachusetts Historical Society, and the University of Virginia—with implementation grants to establish digital scholarly edition cooperatives. Building on earlier planning support, the cooperatives are producing tools and platforms for edition making, and formalizing governance structures and editorial standards.

25_IMG_9216.jpgDuke University received renewed support for the Research Triangle Scholarly Communications Institute. Photo: Duke University.