by Mark Y. Herring (Dean of Library Services, Dacus Library, Winthrop University)
Column Editor’s Note: My column in this issue is devoted to an interview with Peggy Glahn, one of the principals of Reveal Digital. RD is doing some fascinating work in the Open Access arena and I wanted to make sure libraries are fully aware of its significance.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have served on RD’s Executive Committee for several years but in a completely uncompensated manner. Neither I nor Winthrop stand to gain any benefit whatsoever from RD and its success. My interest here is purely for the sake of informing colleagues who may as yet be unaware. After reading the interview, I think readers will agree with me it is information eminently worth sharing! — MH
MH: Let’s begin at the beginning. What is the mission of Reveal Digital?
PG: Our mission is to define and develop open access digital collections that have a significant impact on research and teaching. We do this in a way that is truly ground-breaking in terms of the level of collaboration with libraries and the transparency we bring to the entire process, including what it all costs and how funds are used.
MH: For the benefit of those who may not have yet heard about Reveal Digital, can you give us a brief history? RD goes back some years and isn’t some Johnny-Come-Lately to the Open Access party, right?
PG: We love a good party and I think we arrived at just the right time. Jeff Moyer, the founder of Reveal Digital, started working on our first collection, Independent Voices, in 2012. Jeff spent the first year consulting with subject matter experts to develop a target title list and pursuing open access rights to the content. At the same time, Jeff was meeting with key thought leaders in libraries who helped him shape the business model that ultimately proved to be successful. By 2013, Jeff had secured enough rights, enough source libraries and enough funding to begin digitizing content and putting it online.
MH: One of the new developments for RD is its recent association with ITHAKA. Can you go over how that came about and what benefits will accrue to RD and therefore its clients in this marriage?
PG: I love the marriage analogy. As newlyweds, we are absolutely thrilled with married life with ITHAKA and look forward to growing together. The path to ITHAKA wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.
When Jeff started Reveal Digital he recognized Reveal Digital needed a support base from which to grow. A company called IDC was providing Reveal Digital with scanning services. They offered an array of support services. They were a good home for us in the beginning. Unfortunately, due to factors beyond us, IDC’s business took a downturn and ultimately failed.
We have a big vision for Reveal Digital, so we immediately began seeking a new home with a large and stable non-profit organization. We considered a number of excellent partners. ITHAKA proved to be a perfect match for us and us for them.
There are so many great benefits that come from being part of ITHAKA. Let me try to narrow down to the top three.
First, ITHAKA is a strong and stable organization with a high level of trust among libraries. Libraries can invest in Reveal Digital with confidence, knowing their investments will continue to have an impact for years to come.
Second, Reveal Digital collections will reside on the same platform and be cross-searchable with JSTOR and Artstor. Humanities students start their research with JSTOR. Once our collections are on the JSTOR platform, our content will be discovered by many more people than would have been possible if we remained on our own. In one search, students will find both the secondary and primary sources they need to do great research.
The third benefit is a little more nebulous, but potentially transformative. ITHAKA’s leadership team brings a tremendous amount of experience working with libraries and they share the same goals we have. The synergy these relationships bring helps us think really big about where Reveal Digital can go. Being part of ITHAKA expands our vision for the future, which means we and the libraries who work with us can have a huge impact on the future of scholarly publishing.
MH: What is RD’s model? Is it Open Access entirely, a hybrid, something else? I note on the RD web site (http://revealdigital.com/) that collections have a “funding goal” and what percentage has been reached. Tell us how that works.
PG: Our goal is to make everything we digitize open access. As you noted, each of our projects has a funding goal. We begin digitizing content for a collection as soon as enough money has been contributed to enable us to digitize a meaningful number of pages. As soon as we have enough content to load onto our delivery platform, we open the collection to our funding libraries. Funding libraries continue to have exclusive access all the way through the project’s development. When we finish a project we open the collection to everyone.
MH: What is RD’s flagship collection? Tell us a little about it.
PG: I love talking to librarians about our Independent Voices collection. The content meets real needs on campus and librarians are always delighted to hear they can add it to their database A to Z lists without having to pay an invoice.
Independent Voices is a collection of 1,000 alternative press newspapers, magazines and newsletters published by activists in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s. It is composed of seven series, each of which focus on one of the major social movements active during this era.
By bringing this material together into one collection, students and researchers are making new connections between organizations and movements that were never possible before.
MH: One of RD’s collections touched a bit of controversy a while back. RD’s Hate in America collection. Tell us about that collection and how RD navigates the tempestuous waters of First Amendment Rights and what are now being called “trigger warnings” regarding certain themes or topics some might not want to hear about.
PG: Yes, our Hate In America collection (originally called KKK Newspapers) has sparked a lively debate. Chelcie Rowell and Taryn Cooksey recently wrote a really thoughtful blog post about the ethics of digitizing this kind of material. They raised issues around engaging more deeply with communities that might be negatively impacted that we have taken to heart.
We have had numerous discussions with people who represent these communities. What we have consistently heard is there is research value in the content we are digitizing, but we need to place the content into context. This contextualization should include lesson plans, further reading lists and essays. We are working on how best to develop and incorporate this material.
We have also heard it is important to include more newspapers representing opposing views. As a result, we are expanding our target title list to include newspapers published by Catholic, African American and Jewish organizations. It is because of this expanded scope that we think it made sense to change the name of the collection to Hate In America.
MH: What are some of the benefits of RD’s collections to researchers?
PG: Primary sources are critically important to quality research and learning. Yet, a lot of valuable primary source content is hidden away from people who need it. Primary source archives are rarely catalogued to the item level, making discovery difficult. Even if a researcher locates content that might be useful, most will have to travel to use the material. Reveal Digital collections eliminate those barriers. The digitized material is much more discoverable and physical proximity to the content is no longer an issue. The cherry on top is that our collections are open to everyone, no affiliation with a well-funded institution required.
MH: What are some of the other RD collections, both those on the site and perhaps some being considered?
PG: New Reveal Digital collections will come from our Diversity & Dissent Fund. We are expecting to add at least 100,000 pages of new content under the Fund this year. We are working pretty intensely with our Diversity & Dissent Editorial Board to determine a thematic emphasis for this year’s publishing program. Once we finalize the thematic emphasis, we will begin soliciting proposals from libraries. More to come on this very soon.
MH: If I am a library director or collections head, how do I get involved with RD?
PG: Call me! Let’s talk! The best way to get started is by making a funding commitment to Hate In America, the Diversity & Dissent Fund or both. Being a Diversity & Dissent funding library opens up the opportunity to help guide Reveal Digital through our advisory boards and to help set our publishing agenda. It also gives the library an inside track on contributing content for digitization.
MH: Anything else we haven’t covered?
PG: We didn’t talk about the libraries that provide the source material for our collections. We have partnered with more than 40 libraries so far who have benefited greatly from their participation. This would be a great topic for a future conversion!