At CNI’s Spring Meeting in April, we had the pleasure of presenting some of the highlights from the recent Ithaka S+R brief on scholars as collectors and discuss the implications, benefits, trade-offs, and other key questions that must be taken into account when considering different models for supporting scholarly collecting. It was one of the talks selected for recording and is now available on CNI’s YouTube and Vimeo channels.

In conjunction with their research and teaching activities, scholars create and assemble complex personal collections of information. These collections vary widely depending on the discipline and take many forms, including digitized archival materials, numeric data sets from experiments, audio recordings of interviews, field notes from research sites, and visual materials. Supporting these activities may fall under the purview of data management plans and data sharing requirements, as mandated by funders. However, our findings at Ithaka S+R into the research practices of scholars during the last 15 years indicate that research institutions often fail to provide holistic support for scholars as they collect data and other forms of information over the course of their careers, from various funding sources and institutional locales. In our presentation, we shared research on the integrated nature of scholarly collecting activities and the strategic rationale for why universities should realign their research support services around scholarly work habits and flows. We also raised questions about what’s at stake for academic institutions if they do not take a more proactive strategic approach to supporting and leveraging scholars’ collections.

The pursuing discussion was lively and brought up several important issues, including:

  • Differentiating between curating digital collections in support of digital scholarship vs. scholars’ own materials as “raw data” and evidence.
  • Remembering that analog materials matter too; scholars continue to rely on print and physical information objects.
  • Taking into consideration the collections and archives of underrepresented and underserved communities.
  • Factoring in that scholars are transient and are not location-bound as their careers and collaborations take them to different institutions.
  • Considering the research workflow tools landscape as it includes a range of commercial and open source products that are not always easy to identify or assess.

Our session highlighted why “research support” should be reframed in a more holistic way in order to ensure that academic institutions are strategically positioned in a research support landscape increasingly centered on scholarly workflows. Establishing a new central organizing principle to scholarly support, such as through the framework of scholar as a collector, is essential at a time when universities continue to grapple with how to dynamically respond to and support the evolving research landscape.