Digitizing the past, present, and future

Photograph Courtesy of Ursinus College

Serena Schaefer


    While the college works on its plans for the upcoming physical Commons, the Ursinus College Digital Commons continues to grow, entering its fourth year of operations. According to its page on the Ursinus website, the Ursinus Digital Commons is a permanent digital archive that provides access to Ursinus research, publications, historical materials, and special collections. It is home to over 2,400 works that have amassed over 105,000 downloads and attract scholars and readers from all over the world.

     Andy Prock, Scholarly Communications and Metadata Librarian for Ursinus College, manages the Digital Commons and has high hopes for it as it continues into the future.

     The development of the Digital Commons has been a long-term collaboration between faculty and staff.

     “The Library of the Future working group spent a year exploring open access and repository options and we went live with the Digital Commons platform in the Fall 2014 semester,” explained Prock.

     Dr. Nicholas Scoville, the Chair of the Mathematics and Computer Science department, emphasized the importance of the digitization: “[The] Digital Commons was proposed as an online repository whose content was found in Google searches, thereby making it accessible to anyone in the world with an internet connection.”

     Scoville continued to explain that it is an “excellent solution to the question of how to disseminate the work of Summer Fellows.”

     Scoville is involved in the TRIUMPHS project, which has created a collection of mathematical content developed using historical sources. Along with TRIUMPHS papers, the repository also includes materials dealing with all aspects of the college’s history, important literary papers of John Updike’s mother Linda Grace Hoyer, historic documents from Nazi Germany and the U.S. State Department, and other items with an international focus such as the Kenneth Grundy South African collection.

     The Ursinus College Postcard collection, which includes cards portraying the now non-existent Collegeville Mill Dam, the Yost History of Ursinus College, and the Pennsylvanian Folklife Society Collection at Ursinus are listed as notable regional and historical collections in the Pennsylvania Research Commons.

     Plans include continuing to digitize the college’s past and connecting with alumni, no matter where they live now. “There are so many things people will be able to discover that they maybe didn’t have the time or interest to find out about while they were studying here,” said Prock.

     As for current students, the Bears Make History course co-taught by Dr. Susanna Throop and Dr. Kara McShane has encouraged participants to use these collections and the rest of the Digital Commons to create digital history projects.

     Prock, who has worked with students with their search through the collections, said that the course was a “wonderful experience” and that he hopes more departments will take advantage of the capabilities and convenience of the Digital Commons.

     While faculty helped to launch the repository, as of May 2017 only approximately 11% of the faculty had contributed work, and not all departments had contributors. Prock explained that copyright and access policies may prevent some published work from being added, and that he has not noticed a significant increase in the interim.

     However, Prock noted, “For faculty who are able to take advantage of it, it’s great to have more exposure and wider readership for scholarship.”

     According to Scoville, the repository “provides an outlet for scholarly work which may not be appropriate for traditional outlets.”

     Prock is excited to explore the potential of such an outlet. He “would love to see Ursinus make full use of the publishing capabilities of the repository.  For instance, we could publish our own journal or open access textbook.  I’d like to see us hosting more open educational resources and research data sets.”

     Prock added, “We’re also reaching out to the local community to form partnerships with digitizing and hosting materials. We have a project in the works with the Historical Society of Trappe, Collegeville and Perkiomen Valley to digitize and host the old Collegeville newspaper – ‘The Independent’.  My hope is that the Digital Commons can serve as a hub for local historic materials from many partners in the future.”

     The future of the Digital Commons is linked to the future of the college. According to Prock, “The repository is a great way for Ursinus to get its name out into the wider world.  Prospective students can easily see the types of research that students and faculty are engaged in.”

     Prock stated that “I truly learn something new every day in my job and it’s fun working with students on these materials.”

     Those interested in learning more about the Digital Commons are encouraged to reach out to Prock at aprock@ursinus.edu.

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