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Proposed: Initiative for Research in Primary Artifacts: Cross-Campus Initiatives Group, University Library

This proposal seeks to galvanize common research interests and strengths among the humanities, social sciences, and cultural heritage stakeholders on campus to exploit fully the university’s rich investment in the Library’s outstanding primary research materials, thereby creating new opportunities for innovative research collaborations across the disciplines.  The aim of this initiative is to develop a locus of activity around the Library’s collections, and to produce new research on the use of these materials, thereby bringing increased visibility to the Library’s unique collections and to the research mission of the University.

The Library represents the common ground where many cross-campus initiatives are facilitated.  Librarians are often catalysts through their interactions with scholars in the humanities and social sciences, and through the connections that they help scholars make, both with relevant research materials, and, perhaps equally important, with scholars in other disciplines who are using the same materials from a related, but slightly different perspective.

From the cultural heritage perspective, artifacts may be broadly defined as “things that have intrinsic value as objects, independent of their informational content.”   The development of new technologies to provide networked access to digital information has prompted cultural heritage institutions (libraries, archives and museums) to assess their ability to ensure the long-term life of original artifacts. There is an acute and well-founded concern across the cultural heritage professions that academia currently lacks sufficient resources and appropriate methods to understand how much and what kinds of information are critical to preserve in their original and alternative forms for both present and future scholars.  This concern is fueled in tandem by two issues—the lack of adequate preservation resources, and, perhaps more important, the lack of understanding of the use of the artifact in a scholar’s research.

Typically primary source artifacts (e.g., books, manuscripts, photographs, sound recordings, and motion pictures) are invaluable to scholars whose research spans one or more fields.  While this type of usage is on the rise, academia understands very little of the information-seeking behavior of these scholars—research that enables the creation of new, more effective services and programs, and contributes substantially to the nascent field of study on interdisciplinary research behavior.  Ground-breaking research in this area is now being carried out in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS).   In numerous cases, past and present, the Library and other cultural heritage institutions on campus have, together and separately, enabled creative synergy through their collections of artifacts, documents, and other primary source materials that have sparked fruitful interdisciplinary research.  The program we propose has the potential to build on such existing “shadow structures” that have developed to support interdisciplinary research needs, as the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities, and research activities that have grown from the University’s collaborative agreements with international organizations such as the CNRS.

Therefore, we recommend the development of the Primary Artifacts Research Initiative, which would encompass a two-fold purpose:

This initiative would be comprised of several efforts under a single umbrella, to encourage cross-disciplinary research among scholars, using primary source artifacts:

Fellowship programs for faculty, graduate, and post-graduate study, with a focus on the use of the artifact in research:
 Research in pairs:  support for a pair of scholars (one UIUC, one external; can be a combination of teaching faculty and an external faculty member in related disciplines; or a teaching faculty member, a librarian, and an external faculty member in a related discipline.)  Proposed research should focus on one or more primary source collections at UIUC, addressing a common theme across two or more disciplines.  Examples of themes supported by the UIUC collections:


Colloquium series—“Collections in Context”—a campus-wide series of public presentations and lectures by scholars and librarians about research involving a variety of the Library’s primary source materials, set in the context of specific research questions.

Publication program—expand the scope of the Robert B. Downs publication fund (used to underwrite the cost of book-length guides to Library collections), re-define its mission to incorporate the publication of new research findings from interdisciplinary collaboration of scholars using the collections, as well as the research findings of GSLIS/Library collaborations on the information-seeking behaviors of scholars working with primary artifacts.

Courses:  “The integration of teaching and research with primary source artifacts into the undergraduate experience.”  Offer incentives for faculty in humanities, social sciences, GSLIS, and the Library to develop and offer courses that focus on the use of artifacts in teaching and research, at several levels, but with emphasis on teaching undergraduates to utilize primary source materials in their research:


Some institutions offer programs that focus on facilitating scholars’ access to primary source collections (e.g., the Getty Research Center); still other institutions have sponsored programs that focus on digital primary source collections (e.g., the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities.)  The unique aspect of the UIUC proposal is that it utilizes the artifact as the focus for promoting interdisciplinary research, and for carrying out research that will increase our understanding of the nature of inquiry using primary artifacts.

It is critical now for libraries to study the process involved in research that utilizes primary artifacts because of the need to set priorities for what we need to save, how to preserve it across subject domains, and to determine what methods are viable.  Perhaps the most critical point in this endeavor is the need to establish a straightforward and systematic approach to resolving these problems—a natural consequence resulting from the establishment of a scientific area of inquiry.  This in turn would serve to inform the development of more effective library services and programs.  The faculty in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science possess the research expertise to profile the information needs of interdisciplinary scholars.  There is already an established and fruitful track record of collaboration between faculty in the GSLIS and in the Library to identify more effective ways to provide access to primary artifacts, and to provide a rich network of support to address the contextual needs of humanities and social science scholars who are working with primary source collections.   Together these efforts can contribute internationally to the goal of determining best practices for research libraries in preserving and providing effective access to unique primary source artifacts.

The University Library’s primary source collections are consistently ranked by local and external faculty among the most outstanding of any major public research library world-wide.  Numerous humanities and social science faculty cite the Library’s primary collections, its secondary support materials and its service programs as major reasons for their decisions to accept faculty appointments on the UIUC campus. The primary research value of many of the Library’s collections regularly attracts visits by scholars and students from throughout the world for whom the University of Illinois is a obligatory foundation of their work.  Collections of both traditional and non-traditional primary source artifacts are the hallmark of this library, including the following collections:  the Papers of James “Scotty” Reston; the Avery Brundage Collection; the Spanish Civil War Collections; the papers and manuscripts of major literary figures including Carl Sandburg, H. G. Wells, William Maxwell, W. S. Merwin, Shana Alexander; a premier collection of Emblem books from 16th-18th century Europe; one of the best and most comprehensive collections of Milton’s works outside of England.  Specific examples of the importance of primary artifact collections in research and program development on this campus are profiled here.

The Contemporary American Painting and Sculpture Exhibitions (CAPS), which was initiated by Prof. Alan Weller, Dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts, and held regularly on the UIUC Campus as part of the Festival of Contemporary Arts from the 1940’s – 1970’s, included annual exhibitions of Midwest artists’ work, including painting, sculpture, and music; local, but international impact featuring a number of Midwest artists who later became well-known.  The materials from these events, including correspondence, programs, photographs of art works, and exhibition catalogs, are housed in several campus libraries and the Krannert Art Museum.  Scholars from several disciplines, including art history, music, and history, would have potential interest in access to these collections.

The Papers of Reginald and Gladys Laubin, Indian dance performers, promoters, and collectors of Native American folklore, are comprised of invaluable materials to researchers in dance, history, anthropology, and folklore.  They include: biographical materials and student papers, journals and notebooks, publications, professional correspondence, performance portfolios, programs, flyers, and scripts, craft notes and patterns, cassette and reel-to-reel audiotapes, sketches and paintings relating to their work as producers and performers of Native American dance concerts; authors, lecturers, and filmmakers on topics related to Native American arts and culture; and collectors and craftsmen of Native American artifacts.  These unique materials represent a rich area for interdisciplinary research especially insofar as they document and provide context for the Spurlock Museum’s ‘Laubin Collection of Lakota Sioux Artifacts.’

The Kolb/Proust Archive for Research grew from a synergy between the work of Professor Philip Kolb (French) with the life and correspondence of Marcel Proust.  Kolb’s collection of in-depth notecards on Proust’s life, and the Library’s collection of Proust manuscripts, letters, and contemporary publications, serves not only as a treasure-trove for Proust scholars, but also as a fin de siècle virtual archives of the creative arts culture in 19th-century Europe.  The recent Symposium on Proust (2000) on the UIUC campus drew scholars from numerous disciplines internationally, and featured a series of events in teaching departments, the Library, the Krannert Center for Performing Arts and the Krannert Art Museum that represented creative arts across the disciplines.

There are numerous specific examples of synergy between teaching units and cultural heritage organizations on campus.  Other initiatives that have been formed by the Library in collaboration with other campus units that already support the development of excellent collections-based services and programs include:  the American Bibliography of Slavic and East European Studies (ABSEES); the Illinois Researcher Information System (IRIS); Digital Library Initiatives that address the use of digital information in the sciences, arts, humanities, and social sciences; the informal “public good” group comprised of the Krannert Art Museum, the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, WILL, and the University Library.

Cross-campus initiatives group:  Mara Wade (Germanic Languages), William Maher (University Archives), Carole Palmer (GSLIS), Caroline Szylowicz (Kolb/Proust Archive for Research), Barbara Jones (Rare Book and Special Collections Library), Beth Sandore (Library Information Technology)

3 February 2002