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Repost: Institutionalizing Digital Scholarship, by Dan Cohen

This article was originally published on Dan Cohen’s website on November 29, 2017 and has been re-posted here with permission. 
Dr. Cohen (2006 ACLS Digital Innovation Fellow) work focuses on digital media and technology and what they mean for the nature of libraries and their resources, research techniques, software tools, and the current landscape of communication and publication. Dr. Cohen serves as the Vice Provost for Information Collaboration, Dean of the Libraries, and Professor of History at Northeastern University


Institutionalizing Digital Scholarship (or Anything Else New in a Large Organization)

by Dan Cohen

I recently gave a talk at Brown University on “Institutionalizing Digital Scholarship,” and upon reflection it struck me that the lessons I tried to convey were more generally applicable. Everyone prefers to talk about innovation, rather than institutionalization, but the former can only have a long-term impact if the latter occurs. What at first seems like a dreary administrative matter is actually at the heart of real and lasting change.

New ideas and methods are notoriously difficult to integrate into large organizations. Institutions and the practitioners within them, outside of and within academia (perhaps especially within academia?), too frequently claim to be open-minded but often exhibit a close-mindedness when the new impinges upon their area of work or expertise. One need only look at the reaction to digital humanities and digital scholarship over the last two decades, and the antagonism and disciplinary policing it is still subject to, often from adjacent scholars.

In my talk I drew on the experience of directing the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, the Digital Public Library of America, and now the Northeastern University library. The long history of RRCHNM is especially helpful as a case study, since it faced multiple headwinds, and yet thrived, in large part due to the compelling vision of its founder and the careful pursuit of opportunities related to that vision by scores of people over many years.

If you wish to digest the entire subject, please watch my full presentation. But for those short on time, here are the three critical elements of institutionalization I concluded with. If all three of these challenging processes occur, you will know that you have successfully and fully integrated something new into an organization.


At first, new fields and methods are pursued haphazardly, as practitioners try to understand what they are doing and how to do it. In digital scholarship, this meant a lot of experimentation. In the 1990s and early 2000s, digital projects that advanced scholarly theories eclectically tried out new technologies. Websites were often hand-coded and distinctive. But in the long run, such one-off, innovative projects were unsustainable. The new scholarly activity had to be routinized into a common, recognizable grammar and standardized formats and infrastructure, both for audiences to grasp genres and for projects to be technically sustainable over time.

At RRCHNM, this meant that after we realized we were making the same kind of digital historical project over and over, by hand, we created generalized software, Omeka, through which we could host an infinite number of similar projects. Although it reduced flexibility somewhat, Omeka made new digital projects much easier to launch and sustain. Now there are hundreds of institutions that use the software and countless history (and non-history) projects that rely on it.


To become institutionalized, new activities cannot remain on the fringes. They have to become normalized, part of the ordinary set of approaches within a domain. Practitioners shouldn’t even think twice before engaging in them. Even those outside of the discipline have to recognize the validity of the new idea or method; indeed, it should become unremarkable. (Fellow historians of science will catch a reference here to Thomas Kuhn’s “normal science.”) In academia, the path to normalization often—alas, too often—expresses itself primarily around concerns over tenure. But the anxiety is broader than that and relates to how new ideas and methods receive equal recognition (broadly construed) and especially the right support structures in places like the library and information technology unit.


The story of anything new often begins with one or a small number of people, like Roy Rosenzweig, who advanced a craft without caring about the routine and the normal. In the long run, however, for new ideas and methods to last, they have to find a way to exist beyond the founders, and beyond those who follow the founders. RRCHNM has now had three directors and hundreds of staffers, but similar centers have struggled or ceased to exist after the departure of their founders. This is perhaps the toughest, and final, aspect of institutionalization. It’s hard to lose someone like Roy. On the other hand, it’s another sign of his strong vision that the center he created was able to carry on and strengthen, now over a decade after he passed away.

HEB on YEWNO Discover

HEB and Yewno recently partnered to bring the Humanities E-Book collection into the Yewno Discover service for libraries.  HEB joins leading publishers around the globe to offer content for the YEWNO Discovery service. By “leveraging machine learning, computational linguistics, and a vast reservoir of information from the most respected content providers in the world.” (Yewno, 2017), Yewno Discover transforms the research and user experience into an “organic” and in-depth journey into key topics, ideas, and content across disciplines.


As you can see in the screenshot below, the Discover product brings users into an interactive, interdisciplinary topic web based off of the user’s search input. The related topics and content can be explored, as well as the relationship to the original search term itself. On the left hand side, related materials will appear for each selected related term or connection, with previews of the materials and a link (if user’s institutional provides access) to the content.

If you want to learn more about Yewno Discover you can request a demo for your library or visit

Industry Insights: Alexandra Provo of NYU Libraries

Humanities E-Book is happy to introduce our first video in our new series, “Industry Insights.” This series will highlight exciting innovations in the professional and scholarly industry.

For our first episode, HEB’s Marketing & Production Manager Chris Plattsmier sits down with Alexandra Provo. Ms. Provo is currently the Project Manager of the Enhanced Networked Monographs (ENM) project—an exciting collaboration between NYU Press and NYU Libraries’ Digital Library Technology Services department.

The ENM Project began in 2015 from an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant. The project uses NYU Press’s 110 Open Access Books to new build new ways of discovering content within large bodies of works through semantic tagging, topic maps, and more. As more and more professional and scholarly publishing evolves digitally, this project shows the exciting opportunities, for users and publishers alike, that come with it. You can find out more about the project here.

Download the transcript for the full interview.

Alexandra Provo is Project Manager for the Enhanced Networked Monographs Project at NYU. She was the 2015-2016 Kress Fellow in Art Librarianship at Yale University and has been the project manager for two linked open data projects: Drawings of the Florentine Painters and Linked Jazz. From 2012-2013, she was a photograph cataloger on the “Homeless Paintings of the Italian Renaissance” project at Harvard University’s Villa I Tatti. She has an MSLIS from Pratt Institute and a BA in art history from Wesleyan University.

Takeaways: Disruptors in Professional & Scholarly Publishing

ACLS Humanities E-Book recently attended a presentation put on by the Professional and Scholarly Publishing division of the Association of American Publishers. This presentation, “Disruptors in Professional & Scholarly Publishing,” discussed the factors driving disruption and change in the industry and the new models and technology emerging from these trends. David Crotty, the Editorial Director of Oxford University Press Journals and Bill Deluise, the VP of Society Strategy and Marketing at Wiley, each presented on these topics.

Here are our five biggest takeaways:

  1. Publishers need to move away from their content being the end point of value; rather than simply selling content, publishers must think of themselves as selling services. Crotty mentioned  a comment made to him, that “the metadata may be more valuable than the content itself.”
  2. The driving forces of changes in the industry are the growth in the amount of research being produced and the shrinking of library budgets. This is prompting a move to efficiency and a decline in price per download.
  3. During this era of consolidation, the big publishers are getting into every area of research, no longer classifying themselves only as publishers but as service and information providers.
  4. Publishers can no longer be complacent; rather than reacting to threats to the industry, publishers should focus on creating a better user experience.
  5. Publishers need to understand the need of the communities they serve in order to be of value to their readers.


Though much of these presentations focused on publishers of science, medicine, and technology, we found that many of the takeaways still applied for us here at HEB. We care about creating a better user experience, which is why we are working with University of Michigan to refine our new platform, Fulcrum, for easier use and accessibility. We have heard the needs for change in the platform and we are responding with features like chapter downloads, reflowable text, and annotations, all of which will make each user’s experience better.

HEB also recognizes that library’s budgets are shrinking; we provide the greatest value by keeping our subscription costs low while providing over 5,000+ works in our curated collection that is accessible 24/7 by multiple users along with excellent customer service. Our collection houses titles that users will not find anywhere else and we are continuously adding to and improving our collection. Finally, HEB started out as an innovative project over 15 years ago and has maintained that innovation as we adapt and respond to changing needs and shifts in the professional and scholarly publishing industry.

University Press Week

In honor of University Press Week, we’ve gathered some fun facts about the presses Humanities E-Book partners with:

1. The oldest university press (the oldest publishing house in the world actually!) is Cambridge University Press: it published its first book, Two Treatises of the Lord His Holie Supper, in 1584.

Learn more about the history of Cambridge University Press by visiting


2. Oxford University Press is the second oldest, established in 1586.


3. In the United States, Johns Hopkins University Press is the oldest press that has run continuously since 1878.

It is one of the noblest duties of a university to advance knowledge and to diffuse it not merely among those who can attend the daily lectures but far and wide. 

Daniel Coit Gilman, first President of Johns Hopkins University

4. Some university presses such as those at Oxford, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale have endowments, while other presses rely on sales and grants.

Read more: “University Presses Under Fire“, by Scott Sherman. (The Nation, 2014)


 5. The Ohio State University Press has published several scholarly works in Comics Studies.


 6. Oxford University Presses has offices in 50 countries around the world, making it the largest university press.

Oxford University Press Building

Oxford University Press, Oxfordshire, England

 7. In the U.S., Wesleyan University is the smallest college to have its own press.


 8. Many university presses are facing funding issues. The University of Illinois Press has been continuing operations without a budget for the past three years.

Suggested Reading: “University Presses Cope with Budget Cuts“, by Claire Kirch (Publishers Weekly, 2016)

 9. HEB’s oldest partners, i.e. the university presses that have partnered with us from our inception, include the presses of Harvard, Cornell, Oxford University, Stanford, University of California, Kentucky, Rutgers, Johns Hopkins, University of Texas, University of Chicago, University of Nebraska, Louisiana State University, Cambridge, Yale, University of Wisconsin, University of Tennessee, New York University, Wesleyan, Columbia, and MIT.


So there you have it! Some facts and history of some of the university presses that HEB partners with. Happy University Press Week! Celebrate knowledge, #LookItUP. To see more about University Press Week, click here. For a complete list of HEB contributing publishers, click here.