In a recent ResearchDataQ editorial, Montana State University (MSU) Library’s Justin D. Shanks (CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow), Sara Mannheimer (Assistant Professor, Data Librarian), and Jason Clark (Professor, Head of Special Collection and Archival Informatics) explore the computational turn in special collections and archives. With initiatives such as Collections as Data, librarians and archivists are working closer than ever, “to optimize digital collections for computational analysis and provide services that support theories and practices of digital scholarship (see Collections as Data Facets for several examples). Data management and data publishing practices are also closely related to archival practices such as archival processing, archival description, and digital preservation.”
They call on archivists and librarians, including digital humanities librarians, to embrace Nancy McGovern’s notion of “radical collaboration” to
“com[e] together across disparate, but engaged, domains in ways that are often unfamiliar or possibly uncomfortable to member organizations and individuals in order to identify and solve problems together, to achieve more together than we could separately.”
They present a case study of one such radical collaboration at their institution. This collaboration spanned MSU Library’s domains of data, digital scholarship, archives, and special collections to “creat[e] new space that encourages research endeavors pertaining to research data and digital scholarship.” They recount the reimagining of their Archives and Special Collections into the Special Collections and Archival Informatics to address the computational archival turn.
They address some of the conceptual and logistical challenges of this “merger and co-location of research data and digital scholarship with archives and special collections,” particularly given the agile and shifting configurations of projects. Staff had to learn to work together, and translate their work among each other, while acquiring new skills and redefining the understanding of their work. But they also reflect on their many educational and research successes, including as a new program to support digital literacies, data management, data ethics, and archival methods.
They conclude that “radical collaboration is not a one-size-fits-all approach” but that it can be a precursor to — or an alternative for — wholesale reorganization.