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Clifford Lynch on the Stewardship of Scholarship

Executive director of the Coalition of Networked Information visits Harvard.

 

March 12, 2013—On a recent New England morning, more than 150 people packed a classroom at the Harvard Law School to hear Clifford Lynch, Executive Director for the Coalition of Networked Information, speak about “Research Universities and the Stewardship of Scholarship and Cultural Memory.”

 

Lynch was invited by the Harvard Library to share a draft set of information stewardship principles with the Library community. These principles will be explored further in partnership with Library, research administration and Harvard University Information Technology (HUIT) colleagues, as well as with Harvard faculty and students. This discussion is part of a Library-wide planning effort led by the Library Leadership Team, which is also developing a mission statement, strategic objectives and FY14 initiatives for the Harvard Library.

 

Libraries, Lynch said, are part of the core missions of universities. “They’re not just simply something that’s nice to have around,” he said. “They’re really [part of the] core missions for the institution: maintaining a record of the scholarly work done by the faculty and the community here.”

 

Lynch shared several principles he developed to condense the goals that an institution must pursue when thinking about gathering, curating and sharing its information, research and scholarship. His five principles addressed managing scholarly output, providing community access to scholarship and the evidence underpinning scholarship, creating digital representations from physical materials, the preservation and organization of events and establishing long-term relationships to support the creation, dissemination and preservation of digital scholarship.

 

Delving into his first principle, Lynch said that managing institutional scholarly output was clearly essential. “You have to capture, organize, preserve and make that scholarship available—as well as the evidence that underpins it,” he said. “That goes beyond digital data and well beyond libraries.”

 

Second, Lynch said, Harvard has an obligation to “provide a community with the best possible access to the scholarly record in order to support the range of teaching and research that happens here,” he said. “Obviously, that’s not something you do alone: it’s something that you do with in partnership with research libraries around the country and around the world. But I think, given the stature of the institution, you clearly have a leadership role to play.” He also spoke of the need to preserve and provide access to the broader cultural record.

 

For his third principle, Lynch said the time had come to recognize that, “in most cases, good practice includes creating digital representations made from physical materials. It ensures their broad use and their survival against natural disasters,” he said.

 

Lynch’s fourth principle was the preservation and organization of events at Harvard. “There are a lot of things that go on here besides the production of books, articles, and such things by the faculty,” he said, noting that Harvard is actually an immense cultural and intellectual center, both nationally and internationally. “You have enormous numbers of people coming through here, putting on performances and giving talks, you organize influential colloquia and symposia,” Lynch said. “You need a coherent strategy to capture a lot of this material, preserve it and get the information out there... I think that it’s time to institutionalize some of that thinking.”

 

For his final principle, Lynch focused on the fluid and changing nature of scholarly communication, and the need to establish stable, ongoing partnerships among institutions to further the evolution of online scholarly communities.

 

“We know that scholarly communication is changing. It is being transformed, perhaps not at the rate that some of us would like,” he said. “Truth be told, if you look at your average online scientific journal, it looks just like a printed journal, except it’s on a screen.

 

“Institutionally, it is essential to establish an ongoing partnership with the faculty of the university community to further these technological changes in an intelligent way: to form a partnership internally and with other institutions to broaden the way scholarly communication happens.” Those institutional partnerships, Lynch said, are vital to establishing sustainability and balance.