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NEH/VFH Report on the Digital Needs of Scholarly Editors

March 20, 2008 | By Brett Bobley

NEH and the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities (VFH) co-hosted a conference on January 14, 2008 to discuss the digital needs of scholarly editors. The meeting included many leading scholarly editors and university presses. The meeting was facilitated by Ithaka, who also wrote up the final report which is now available on the VFH website.
The conference was very well done -- Meredith Quinn from Ithaka did a great job facilitating. Joel Schwartz from the NEH's Division of Research and I were both there representing the NEH.

One of the themes that most struck me from the conference was that of "adding value." How can technology add value to a scholarly edition? One obvious way is increased access; if your edition is only available via print (and is only affordable by a handful of libraries) then access is limited. Put it on the web and many people can access it. But the editors all seemed to feel that increased access was just a starting point. How might technology allow editors (and others) to add additional layered information on top of a scholarly edition? You can think of the primary source material (images and OCR) as the base layer. Then you can think of the traditional scholarly annotation as the 2nd layer. But why stop there? Perhaps you could add a K-12 layer that includes lesson plans for students that make use of the primary materials? Or a research layer that allows for computational access? Or other layers that explore historical themes that cut across the primary documents?

During the conference, we first focused on documenting how scholarly editors do their work -- on work flow. Then we heard a proposal from Holly Shulman (Dolley Madison Digital Edition) and Sue Perdue (Jefferson Retirement Series) who are interested in becoming a "service provider." Sort of an IT consulting firm for scholarly editors. A service provider might help leverage best practices and economies of scale to help scholarly editors automate their workflow and use technology to add these layers of value. Do check out the final report if you get a chance.