Knowledge Mobilization and the Library

The term “Knowledge Mobilization” (often shortened to KMb) is an increasingly important term in the life of the university, and especially the humanities. The phrase itself gained national use in Canada in 2004, after the governmental funding agency, The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), created a a division of “Knowledge Products and Mobilization to enhance and accelerate the movement of research findings into policy and program development” (Wikipedia).

The idea of linking knowledge and the public is not the sole domain of Canadian funding bodies. The National Endowment for the Humanities in the United States has a division of “Public Programs” that “encourages projects that feature multiple formats to engage the public in the exploration of humanities ideas” (NEH). Moreover, the U.K. has “public impact” as part of its Research Excellence Framework (REF). Knowledge Mobilization has become a key component in North American and UK grant applications.

This is one area of KMb in which Digital Humanities projects have tended to excel. With its strong emphasis on collaboration, public engagement, and accessibility, DH projects tend to perform well in funding decisions (indeed, the NEH has an office specifically for the Digital Humanities).

I would like to focus my discussion in this post on the library’s potential role in grant funding, knowledge mobilization, and preservation in terms of a larger strategy for humanities scholars seeking funding. I am currently working in Special Collections at the University of Victoria, where I am learning about archival practices in Canada. I have been on various DH projects during my career, and I would like to identify an area of potential weakness in some humanities practices when it comes to grant applications: We sometimes do not use the full potential of our libraries when it comes to conceiving our grant applications and issues of access and preservation.

I’ve recently read the “Rules for Archival Description” (RAD) “a joint effort of the English and French professional associations, produced in cooperation with the Canadian Council of Archives and with the financial assistance of the National Archives of Canada (now LAC),”  which governs the best practices of archival description in this country (Wilson). The first sentence in the declaration of principles reads: “Archival description serves ‘to identify and explain the context and content of archival material in order to promote its accessibility'” (xxii).

Accessibility is the first step of Knowledge Mobilization, and many of us at research institutions have access to archivists and librarians who have dedicated their careers to the issues of preservation and access, which are becoming even more complicated in the era of digital production and inquiry. I call on my humanities colleagues to consider including an archivist and librarian on their team as they conceive and develop their grants. And the relationship is mutually beneficial. The work we’re doing now in terms of digital projects will need to be preserved in our institutional libraries.

Bodleian_Libraries_logoI would like to offer The Cultures of Knowledge project as an ideal example of how scholars, librarians, and archivists can work together for mutual benefit and create conditions for maximum public impact.  Early Modern Letters Online (under the auspices of Cultures of Knowledge) works closely with the Bodleian library “to reconstruct the correspondence networks that were central to the revolutionary developments of the seventeenth century […] we believe that the digital revolution of recent decades finally can provide tools adequate to studying this aspect of the communications revolution of the early modern era” (EMLO). Scholars identified early networks of communication as relevant and important to various interdisciplinary lines of inquiry. The library–which is dedicated to solving problems of preservation, accessibility, and cataloging–is able to lend its expertise in digitally housing and future-proofing the EMLO project as it, and its underlying technology, evolves over time. The work EMLO produces is then fed back into the library system, augmenting the Bodleian’s collections.

It’s a brave new world for those in North American humanities departments interested in writing grants. Remember that your university library is filled with professionals specializing in metadata, accessibility, and preservation. If you’re thinking about a grant, consider sitting down with your colleagues in the library to discuss the ways in which you can work together in Knowledge Mobilization.

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