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Dean’s Update: Challenges for Higher Education to Deliver Its Mission of Open Dissemination of Knowledge

May 10, 2021

Dissemination of knowledge—sharing the product of research and creative expression—is key to the mission of institutions of higher education. Researchers create knowledge, and, as authors, they are drivers of the characteristic role of higher education to share that resulting scholarship. 

To enable researchers, scholars, authors and other knowledge workers to be highly impactful to society, the evolving “open movement” aims to remove barriers for making scientific research and data accessible to all, by enabling effective discovery, access and reuse of research outputs to shape further research and address society’s concerns.

For example, while existing infrastructures that connect the higher education community with scholarship are evolving, they are not fostering adequate global connections. Their sets of services, protocols, standards and software do not yet meet the academic needs to be productive throughout the research lifecycle and their reliance on reliable information and scholarly resources. 

Multiple points of dependency challenge academics who try to strengthen their individual institutions’ infrastructure. These range from early phases of topic identity and analysis of what is known about it, through forming collaborations and effective research designs, to supporting the operational activities, such as data storage and organization, data analysis and computation, manuscript writing, submission, peer review, publishing, archiving, and citing.

This issue of In Circulation highlights a few initiatives the Drexel Libraries is undertaking, as well as milestones Libraries staff reached in our strategic efforts to improve support services that contribute to the University’s success as a highly active research institution.  

An interview with the Libraries’ Manager of Library Integrated Technology Systems offers insights into an initiative to strengthen the University’s infrastructure to manage research output to be openly findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable. Recognizing we do not have capacity to design and develop systems and protocols alone, the initiative illustrates a decision to work with a global software designer in the information management sector that both works with institutions of higher education and shares their values of enabling open dissemination of knowledge.   

The Libraries co-hosts a celebration of authors each year. Read the recap of this year’s annual event, during which presenters addressed some of the challenges to identify Drexel authors its organizers face when working with an insufficient infrastructure to identify our institution’s contributors to building global scholarship and innovations ranging from scientific evidence to expressions of human creative expression.

Another component of implementing a vision of open infrastructure is to establish sustainable funding and staffing support. While review has begun of the Libraries’ position within the University’s budgeting model, we participate in other efforts to raise support. This year, as part of about the University’s 24 Hours of Impact, the Libraries demonstrated the power of donations by highlighting the launch of its Drexel Family Digital Archive—a project made possible by donations from Drexel Family Members. The Digital Archive is an initial prototype of expanding our infrastructure that aims to offer integrated and open discovery and access to collections of multiple formats and disciplinary interest. In advance, I extend sincere appreciation to those readers of In Circulation who have expressed support and donated to the Libraries.

In the backdrop of this past month’s activities, efforts continue to position the Libraries within the University’s strategic planning and structural reviews to contribute to Drexel’s emerging vision of its future as a leading institution of higher education. This vision promotes our unique version of commitments to education, research and civic engagement.

Building on our industry’s experiences, I look beyond our campus for ideas to help envision the Libraries’ contributions. I’ve been inspired by diverse perspectives I am learning about through a collaboration with leaders of three associations supporting higher education—these represent planners and designers, academic administrative and strategic leaders, and librarians and information specialists. Together, we have been planning a webinar series, “Libraries in Shaping the Future of Higher Education,” and expect soon to announce its launch. I raise this here to share one example of a project that sheds insights to help us better understand the root challenges we all face in further disseminating knowledge and strengthening connections to scholarship and offers strategies to collectively and collaboratively work toward sustainable solutions.

I recommend those interested in the open infrastructure movement in particular to follow work of the non-profit group Invest in Open Infrastructure (IOI). As its informative website notes, IOI is “an initiative dedicated to improving funding and resourcing for open technologies and systems supporting research and scholarship. We do this by shedding light on challenges, conducting research, and working with decision makers to enact change.”

Through its research, IOI uncovers several issues that negatively affect infrastructures that will build higher education capacity and resilience in addressing its mission to disseminate knowledge. For example, lack of coordinated strategy during perceived scarcity of funds drive talent to corporate spaces that appear stable. Beneficiaries of open technologies lack incentives to contribute to ways to invest in systems that support open infrastructures. And those with budgets to invest in this space—and especially those of us with small capacity to invest in building transformation—lack guidance on where to invest funds that will impact our collective resilience in higher education.

Best encouragement to engage you in the journey to transformation, as there is much to be continued.

Danuta A. Nitecki, PhD
Dean of Libraries