Sapping Attention_ Digital Collections, Research Libraries, Collaboration

Digital Collections, Research Libraries, Collaboration

By Benjamin Schmidt | April 6, 2012

As a few people here have suggested, there’s a lot to be suspicious of in the foisting of collaboration on unsuspecting researchers. To those worries about collaboration that have already been brought up (including by myself elsewhere), I’d add the particular suspicions that early-career scholars often bear. Collaboration is often one of those ambitious things that successful scholars only seem to turn to in earnest with the security of tenure, like transnational history or raising children.

But in the last few years, I’ve turned more and more to working with digital sources; and in doing so, it turns out collaboration is essential. It’s impossible to escape. And, as everyone says, it really is wonderful.

But the forms that digital collaboration takes, particularly when it’s most helpful, are very different than the traditional forms of heady engagement around a shared codex, blackboard, or meal that tend to get us most sentimental when talking about collaborative work. And that has important implications for libraries like this, because it suggests that the way you find your collaborators may be quite different. In some cases, you may not even know who they are. And the attributes it takes to attract these invisible collaborators can be quite different from those that libraries traditionally try to display, though they remain one that a library like this may have in abundance.

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