Boston College Libraries Faculty Newsletter



A Kaleidoscope of Digital American Literature

BCdia IconIn September 2005 Martha L. Brogan, with assistance from Daphnée Rentfrow, authored A Kaleidoscope of Digital American Literature, a report published by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The report has two principal purposes: to provide a sampling of the kinds of digital resources currently available or under development pertaining to American literature; and to present certain related views of more than 40 scholars, librarians, and practitioners in the field as expressed during interviews conducted between July 2004 and May 2005. Most of these interviewees clearly acknowledged the patent value and benefits of recent digital initiatives. They embraced the great democratizing impact of digital resources, not least the ability to access immediately a growing number of primary sources worldwide. They clearly recognized the boon of online searching that results in the extremely rapid identification of research patterns and intellectual connections. They warmly welcomed the benefits of online access to peer-reviewed journals through dependable aggregators such as JSTOR. They also appreciated the ability of the Web to situate, far more easily than through print, literary texts in their cultural, sociopolitical, and historical contexts. However, the interviewees also expressed a variety of critical observations and concerns about how the field is responding to the emergence of digital scholarship. These observations and concerns revolved about such issues as the lack of a prominent scholarly organization to lead from above and advocate a shared agenda among stakeholders; the need for more communities of practice; the scarcity of acceptable analytical and interpretative tools; absence of trusted mechanisms to sustain and preserve digital work; thorny issues of copyright and permissions; paucity of sustainable business models; the dearth of specialists; and insufficient peer-review processes for digital scholarship. The last concern appears particularly prominent though the authors of the Report observe cogently that “The development of formal peer-review mechanisms for digital scholarship will begin to address the concerns of scholars who remain skeptical about the quality of the digital text or the scholar's contribution to knowledge. . . . As the peer-review system is further developed, it will bring to the forefront debates about the value of digital scholarship and eventually help delineate what does or does not constitute bona fide scholarship in the digital world.”


The second part of the report is a consolidation of the results of these interviews with an exploration of resources currently available to illustrate, on the one hand, a kaleidoscope of differing attitudes and assessments, and, on the other, an underlying design that gives shape to the parts.” In particular, six categories of digital work are examined: (1) quality-controlled subject gateways, (2) author studies, (3) public domain e-book collections and alternative publishing models, (4) proprietary reference resources and full-text primary source collections, (5) collections by design, and (6) teaching applications. The report also has a valuable list of references. This report will be useful to anyone interested in the current state of online American literature resources. David Seaman, Executive Director of the Digital Library Federation, rightly observes that this report will “be of use to individuals with a general interest in the shifts in scholarly communication and pedagogy that our universities and colleges are experiencing, and in humanities scholars' responses to the opportunities and pitfalls afforded by digital library collections and services."

The report is available in both HTML and PDF formats on the CLIR Reports page.


Brendan Rapple, Collection DevelopmentBrendan Rapple
Collection Development

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