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Scholarly Commons to provide better access to campus resources and services

Scott Walter
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Easy access Scott Walter, associate university librarian for services and associate dean of libraries, led the team that proposed the formation of the Scholarly Commons, a collaborative service model that will provide access to a variety of services related to e-learning, scholarly communications, data curation and digital content creation.

Beginning this fall, faculty members and graduate students will have a new resource on campus to support their scholarly activities. The Scholarly Commons, a new approach to scholarly support services based upon the collaborative service model of the Undergraduate Library Learning Commons, will provide access to a variety of services related to e-learning, scholarly communications, data curation and digital content creation.

“The Learning Commons was a new model for library support for undergraduate students when it opened in 2006, and one that was designed to foster partnerships across campus among units dedicated to promoting student success,” said Scott Walter, associate university librarian for services and associate dean of libraries. “The natural next questions were: ‘How can we adapt that model in order to enhance our support for graduate students and faculty pursuing scholarly teaching and research activities?’ and ‘Are there ways to adapt that model to the traditional strengths of the main library as a center for access to scholarship in the humanities and social sciences?’ ”

Awareness of available resources, expertise and access to information technology varies across campus. Changes in scholarly publishing, the emergence of new technologies, the explosive growth of digital content, and universitywide budgetary constraints call for greater collaboration and communication about the resources and professional expertise available to support scholarship at Illinois.

“What we hope to do is to foster a campuswide view of the resources and services available at Illinois, and to apply that to the library’s historic mission of providing support for teaching, research and service,” Walter said.

“What scholarly support meant 50 years ago was providing physical access to a rich collection of materials – primarily books and journals, but also manuscripts and archives. Today, the base level of what you should expect from your library at a place like Illinois has changed, and we are working to create a structure that will integrate traditional means of scholarly support with new means of scholarly support, including those that are housed in other campus units.”

 “Among the goals of the Scholarly Commons are to identify a suite of services that support scholarly work, provide a common entry point to those services that directs people to relevant campus resources and experts, and to bring a core set of those services into the library so that we can provide the same attention to emergent forms of scholar service as we have to more traditional forms,” said JoAnn Jacoby, professor of library administration and new service models program coordinator.

The library will be building on existing relationships with the Graduate College, Campus Information Technologies and Educational Services, Applied Technologies for Learning in the Arts and Sciences, and other campus partners in developing the Scholarly Commons.

The library collaborated with ATLAS on a pilot program to bring a broader suite of data services to library users beginning in 2008 and plans to expand that program through the Scholarly Commons. Other programs that will benefit from this approach to scholar services include scholarly communications programs such as the Illinois Digital Environment for Access to Learning and Scholarship that is supported by the library and CITES, and instructional programs such as the “Savvy Researcher” series that is co-sponsored by the library and the Graduate College. 

Areas for future development of the Scholarly Commons include support for scholars working with geospatial data and consultation on the creation, description and curation of digital content. The library also would like to expand the large-scale digitization programs it has supported in recent years to provide greater support for scholars who want to create collections of digital content for use in their teaching and research, or who want to learn about the resources for digital content management.

“Right now, there is no service directing someone to the right person or people to talk to in the library about these issues,” Walter said. “We’re launching the Scholarly Commons with some programs that have been in place in a provisional way; we’re aiming to establish them as core scholarly services that we will continue to support and expand as appropriate.”

The Scholarly Commons will be located on the third floor of the main library, with an initial space for consulting services and access to information technology planned for renovation later this year. Access to its workshop programs will be in the instructional lab in 314 Library, which was funded last year through the library/IT fee paid by students.

In the coming year, the Illinois Informatics Institute; the Institute for Computing in Humanities, Arts, and Social Science; and the ATLAS data services program will relocate to the third floor of the main library, offering additional opportunities for developing new partnerships.

As the initial programs develop and campus partnerships flourish, the library hopes to add support for programs that foster academic community, such as seminars, invited lectures and similar activities.

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