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Member Perspectives on the Collection: Findings from the 2020 Community Week Session by the Digital Collection Strategy Working Group

Authored by: Digital Collection Strategy Working Group (DCSWG)

During HathiTrust’s inaugural Community Week in October 2020, the Digital Collection Strategy Working Group (DCSWG) hosted two facilitated conversations to explore member perspectives on issues related to the content of the HathiTrust Digital Library (HTDL), including diversity and representation in collections, real and perceived barriers to contributing content to HathiTrust, and potential approaches to identifying and addressing collection gaps in the HTDL.

During the sessions, several participants highlighted their library’s renewed emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion in their collections strategies. HathiTrust member libraries identified projects in the following areas:

  • Acquiring materials focused on social justice
  • Working with more diverse publishers and vendors
  • Connecting collections to curricular initiatives addressing diversity
  • Developing values-based collection development plans

The members of the  DCSWG see these and similar initiatives as opportunities for HathiTrust to partner with, support, and benefit from member libraries seeking to make their collections richer and more representative. As an example, HathiTrust could work with member libraries acquiring books from BIPOC publishers to ensure that these materials are digitized and contributed to the HTDL, thus broadening the impact of these important works and ensuring their digital preservation and long-term access.

In order to add content to the HTDL, libraries must establish the necessary local workflows to enable digitization and ingest; in both Community Week sessions, participants described barriers to participation in this aspect of HathiTrust’s work. HathiTrust’s process for submitting materials for ingest is perceived as dauntingly complex, especially for libraries with limited staff capacity in areas such as digitization and metadata. Of particular interest to members of the DCSWG was the observation that libraries, especially those newer to HathiTrust membership, would appreciate more guidance about the kind of content HathiTrust seeks. Members are eager to help fill gaps in the HTDL but are unsure of how to prioritize their library’s activities in support of this goal.

In addition to discussing how their own libraries could contribute to the growth of the HTDL corpus, attendees brainstormed about other possible paths for community contribution of important content, especially materials that could address underrepresented groups and subject areas. For example, public libraries, especially those with specialized holdings such as the Chicago Public Library’s African-American cultural collections, could be very welcome contributors of material for digitization. Thinking beyond HathiTrust’s current focus on digitized monographs and serials, participants suggested that archival and born digital materials be considered for inclusion in the HTDL as well.

The DCSWG recognizes that moving into new areas like these will be a significant shift for HathiTrust and will require careful thought, planning, and resourcing, as well as significant input from and investment by members. A commitment to filling collection gaps and diversifying the HTDL will require including content subject to historic barriers such as structural racism in collecting practices as well as infrastructure and funding limitations that have contributed to their exclusion from traditional publishing platforms and digitization efforts in the past. The DCSWG looks forward to further engagement with HathiTrust members over the coming year. Together we can reach the goal of including a broader range of content and more diverse voices found in (and perhaps beyond) current members’ collections in the expanding HTDL.