April 25, 2018

Emory Creates Unified Center for Digital Scholarship

Emory University is consolidating four existing digital technology services located in the Robert W. Woodruff Library into the newly created Emory Center for Digital Scholarship (ECDS), in a process which began in June and is expected to take several months.

The center is led by Wayne Morse Jr., interim-co-director and director of Emory Center for Interactive Teaching (ECIT), and Allen Tullos, faculty co-director.

Of the component parts of the new center, the Digital Scholarship Commons (DISC), the Lewis H. Beck Center for Electronic Collections, and the Electronic Data Center were formerly under library leadership, while the ECIT fell under the domain of information technology.  When Rich Mendola assumed the role of enterprise CIO and senior vice provost for library services and digital scholarship earlier this year, combining them became practical.

According to the Emory Report, though recommendations for the consolidation emerged from a four-month study, Mendola said that the concept has been discussed within the library system for years.

Previously, faculty and graduate students whose projects encompassed digital research, digital teaching, electronic publications and digital data sets or visualization work had to interact with each entity separately.  Besides being inconvenient, the different priorities of each service unit could present a problem.

“ECDS will provide a one-stop shop for all things dealing with digital scholarship,” Morse said. “Everyone will be working toward the same goal. I think that’s going to leverage the best of both organizations in a way that’s seamless.”

One thing the consolidation won’t do is eliminate the eight, full-time staff currently employed by the four services. In fact, “the ECDS will likely add staff to increase its capacity for innovative work,” the university said in a statement. ECDS will be positioned to take on even more projects, and Morse says there are plenty of projects in the pipeline.

Designing for flexibility

ECDS will be housed on the third floor of the library. (Previously the four services were separately housed on the second and third floors.) In addition to the eight core employees, the area will include group project meeting space and consultation space. Morse anticipates that up to 12 graduate students will work in the area at different times, and that resources from different areas around campus will be pulled in to assist with specific projects.

“The plan and final budget for the new space is close to completion; the architect and interior designer are finalizing their plans. Our hope is to complete the transformation by Thanksgiving,” Morse told LJ. The ECIT staff has been meeting with the university interior designer since June to create a dynamic and flexible space that can easily accommodate the needs of each ongoing project, perhaps with offices around the perimeter and group spaces in the center. Initially, furniture and displays will likely be leveraged from DISC and ECIT.

“One of the lessons we learned from ECIT that transferred to DISC and Cox Hall is that having things on wheels and having things that are mobile has been really beneficial,” Morse said. “Now, with our access to wireless technology that’s even more critical.”

Additionally, the Center for Faculty Development and Excellence (CFDE) will be brought into the space—though not into the reporting structure of the ECDS.

Change brings challenges

“I’m really excited about this,” said Alice Hickcox, director, Lewis H. Beck Center for Electronic Collections. “It’s going to be richer and easier for faculty to find help and access it and to create research projects that take advantage of the new digital technologies.”

Not everyone is so excited. “Understandably, they are a little hesitant and maybe a tad bit skeptical, but our goal is to bring everyone in that core team together, and perhaps some of the graduate students, and include those folks in all the decisions, right down to the furniture layout,” Morse said. “Even the skeptics see that this is coming from the top down, and that’s winning over some folks who may not have come over quite so quickly.”

Creating a cohesive identity without sacrificing strong histories may be one of the more challenging decisions.

The Beck Center, created in 1994, is the oldest of the four services. Over the years its name has become well recognized for digitizing literary and historical works for academic scholarship. Its newest project is digitizing the complete prose of T.S. Eliot and former renowned projects include Emory Women Writers Resource Project, Southern Changes, and the Lincoln Project.

“The Beck Center’s been in existence for 20 years,” Hickcox said. “So what happens to the name of the Beck Center? Does it remain as a publishing imprint under the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship? Or does it disappear entirely? What do we do with that legacy? Those are some of the choices we are faced with as we move forward.”

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