Building a Solid Scholarly Workbench

November 22, 2017
Mimi Calter

The Stanford Libraries, like the rest of Stanford, has engaged in a long-range planning process which has all of our staff focused on the role that the library plays in a growing, and changing, academic organization.  That process, which has involved both internal review and engagement with faculty, students, and donors, has lead us to develop a new metaphorical model for envisioning the library’s position in the academic sphere: The Scholarly Workbench.

Of course, there are numerous metaphorical models for the library, and many continue to ring true.  The oft-cited image of the library as “the heart of the university” has ongoing appeal.  However, it has traditionally centered on the brick-and-mortar instantiation of the library, and has a different implication in a world where the library is a suite of services that extends well beyond the physical confines of its buildings.

The library is also commonly described as the “laboratory of the humanities”.  Stanford Libraries’ recent work in the Massively Multiplayer Humanities project, as well as much of the work of the libraries’’ Center for Interdisciplinary Digital Research (CIDR), demonstrate the continued validity of this metaphor.  My own engagement with the Faculty Senate’s Committee on Libraries has also borne out the importance of that concept.  However, the metaphor is not a holistic one, as the libraries support all scholars and researchers, regardless of discipline.  Moreover, as scholarship becomes more and more interdisciplinary, the libraries’ central position among departments and disciplines becomes a tool that can help bridge the challenges of that interdisciplinary work.  The libraries engagement in projects like the Çatalhöyük Living Archive, as well as the incredible response to the libraries training and support of geospatial tools, demonstrate the benefits that the libraries bring to interdisciplinary research.

The concept of the library as the Scholarly Workbench encompasses all of these ideas.  It recognizes the libraries as both strong base on which researchers can build their projects, and the provider of the tools needed to advance those projects.  Those tools may be physical or virtual, and are likely to involve both services and collections.  Teaching spaces, special collections, data services, the Stanford Digital Repository, database subscriptions, discovery interfaces, Special Collections, and, yes, the collections in the stacks, are all tools on the workbench.

As we move through the coming phases of the long-range planning process, we want to build out the libraries to be a fully-realized, 21st Century Scholarly Workbench.  We want our workbench to provide the basic tools, the wrenches and drills, that are the mainstay of our work, while also providing access to cutting-edge resources and services.  I look forward to working with you all to build a strong workbench for Stanford and the world.