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“Three Days, Two Nights, and a Wicked Portmanteau”
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“An un-Summit on Scholaboration”

Where does digital scholarship live? Does it matter? Are institutions duplicating positions or expecting departments to do the work often done in another area? How are librarians, instructional technologists, and other digital scholarship professionals working to break down barriers between and amongst one another?

Undoubtedly, many presentations, articles, and blogs touch upon projects and research describing collaborations that cross departmental or disciplinary boundaries. Yet, many of us know that too often those involved in supporting digital scholarship efforts on our campuses struggle to work beyond the walls and silos that have developed in and amongst our own departments, divisions and teams.

Bucknell University, with generous support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, hosted its third annual digital scholarship conference October 28-30, 2016. The theme for the conference was “Negotiating Borders through Digital Collaboration.” To explore these questions prior to the conference, participants in the “Crossing Borders” Pre-conference Summit gathered at Bucknell University for three days to discuss both challenges and opportunities of cross-departmental collaboration. Session facilitators sought to create a cohort that would reflect the diverse experiences, backgrounds, and perspectives of individuals who populate the field of digital scholarship but who often find themselves outside the conversation. The competitive application process resulted in the selection of nine participants including technologists, librarians, a faculty member, a grants manager, as well as others whose work moves beyond traditional job categories. Summit members represented a wide range of schools from small liberal arts colleges to very large state universities.

Leveraging participant narratives, we easily moved from topic to topic based on the activities and questions posed by the facilitators: what is Digital Scholarship? what isn’t Digital Scholarship? How can we assess and evaluate these digital projects to see what is not readily evident: how many people were involved? what type of analysis occurred during the project? what were the research questions that gave purpose to the project?

We concluded that there is no one universal definition of digital scholarship. Instead, it can be viewed as a continuum with varying levels of support needed for different projects, leading to numerous points of entry depending on skills, assets, content, and purpose, for example. Digital scholarship can vary depending on the local environment, available expertise, funding, spaces, faculty interests, to name but a few concerns. There are still common challenges around collaboration, such as shifting the conversation away from the “lone scholar” model. We recognized that locating partners is often preceded by making connections through outreach for other purposes.

None of us arrived as experts in digital scholarship but we all had expertise in our respective fields and similar questions about how to further collaborative efforts. Conversations and questions identified areas that would benefit from additional exploration. For example, how can already available resources be shared? Are there models for “good” collaboration that could be adapted and employed for digital scholarship across higher education?

We agreed that networking and working together are essential to support digital scholarship. In order for us to share the processes and ideas that developed in the Summit, we created several spaces for engaging with others. We invite you to follow and join us in our efforts to support scholarship and collaboration, or “scholaboration,” the term we have coined to describe the important integration and interdependence of these areas. Our intended audience includes people who do not necessarily work directly or exclusively in digital scholarship, and our primary goal is to engender collaboration and conversation by sharing perspectives, common experiences, and information.

We made Summit materials, including meeting notes, resources, and a tweet thread, publicly available for viewing and remixing. Many times, the processes of experimentation and learning are hidden from those using the final product; therefore we decided to open our resources so that others may also benefit. In addition, we created scholaboration.us, an open wiki to share individual stories of successes and how “failures” can be transformed into learning opportunities. We hope the wiki represents a means of demystifying the process and emphasizing transparency. Interested parties should contribute to the wiki so that others may benefit from their experiences and knowledge. Our activities and experiences laid the groundwork for future conversations and similar summits.

During our time together, we realized that our event was more an un-Summit than a Summit. We were asked to bring only open minds and laptops. We brainstormed, laughed, shared stories, invented a wicked portmanteau, and communicated ideas via sticky notes rather than through formal presentations. Because we came with no set objectives, whilst liberated from institutional norms that inhibit collaboration, we found opportunities for creative and critical exploration.

We feel the un-Summit model could be easily replicated at both large and small institutions, as well as with consortia and partners outside of academia. We strongly encourage others to engage in these conversations, both within and beyond their institutions, to further break down the barriers that can hinder scholaboration. Through inclusivity and outreach beyond our immediate areas, we can all continue to support the growth of scholarship, digital and otherwise.

We thank the Mellon Foundation for funding the cost of hotel rooms and several meals for the participants, totalling approximately $6500.

As Ever,
Leigh Bonds, The Ohio State University
Jon Breitenbucher, The College of Wooster
Bess de Farber, University of Florida
Matt Gardzina, Bucknell University
Meredith Goldsmith, Ursinus College
Daniel Lynds, St. Norbert College
Lisa McFall, Hamilton College
Emily McGinn, University of Georgia
Jody Perkins, Miami University
Jennifer Roth-Burnette, The University of Alabama
Cynthia Tomes, Messiah College
Lisa Villa, College of the Holy Cross