Measuring, in special collections

Following the Digitization and the Humanities Symposium, Jennifer Schaffner and I wrote a brief report, The Impact of Digitizing Special Collections on Teaching and Scholarship: Reflections on a Symposium about Digitization and the Humanities (PDF — 10 pages). The report acts as a summary of the symposium, and also gives some calls to action.

One of the topics that came up for discussion during the symposium was use metrics. Here’s a snippet from the report.

A major take-away point from the symposium was: know your scholars. The RLG Programs partners
engaged with the call for measuring and evaluating the impact of special collections on research.
Alice Schreyer (University of Chicago) spoke of the plusses and minuses of existing metrics in
special collections, and called for unified practices…. [Paul] Courant had a slightly different view… a provost is looking for a few top
faculty members to say that special collections (digital or not) are valuable for research. Without
faculty voices, all the metrics we have may be worthless. Ultimately, what matters is that scholars
find and use primary materials, and view the library (and its collections) as a valuable resource.

Call for action:
Although we need evidence of the impact of digitization and the unique collections themselves,
quantitative metrics aren’t enough. We must make sure libraries and archives both measure use of
special collections and work with faculty to demonstrate their value for excellent research.

As a follow up to this discussion, Jennifer and I will be hosting a Webinar on Thursday August 14th (8 am Pacific daylight time). Our Webinars are opportunities for us to discuss ongoing work in RLG Programs — this one will be a little different because we’d like to explore the topic with those of you who are out in the trenches. Do you need use metrics? If so, what? Why? Would data would you like to be collecting, and what keeps you from collecting it?

In preparing for the Webinar, I read a not-yet-published paper by Elizabeth Yakel and Elizabeth Goldman. They analyze interviews done with those who “measure” in archives. Then they categorized why institutions measure. Out of curiosity, and in advance of our Webinar, please take the poll below (this is completely non-scientific, and will only be used to help shape the discussion). I’ll share the results later. Please also note that you may need to scroll over the questions in order to see the whole thing — all part of the grand experiment).

If you are interested in joining the Webinar and participating in this conversation, please send me an email ( and I will email you the information.

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