Sustainability Implementation Toolkit: About This Project

With generous support from the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Office of Digital Humanities, Ithaka S+R undertook Sustaining the Digital Humanities: Host Institution Support beyond the Start-Up Phase, a research project examining the role played by the institutional host in supporting digital humanities resources created in higher education in the United States. This research project builds on a related JISC-supported study conducted by Ithaka S+R in the UK that concluded in fall 2012. The final report from the UK-based project is available here.

Academic digital resources can be costly to maintain, but their ongoing costs and activities are rarely factored in at the planning stages, making institutional support a critical factor when project leaders arrive at the end of a grant without clear sustainability plans. While projects of all sorts face somewhat similar issues, the situation for digital humanities projects is particularly urgent, as most of the safety nets that help to support their counterparts in the sciences do not yet exist in the humanities. By exploring both the assumptions and practices that govern host support, from the grant-stage to the post-launch period, we hoped to gain a clearer understanding of how institutional administrators prioritize this support, how project leaders attempt to secure it, and what practices seem to be working best.

Research for this NEH-funded study began in October 2012 and involved two stages:

  • Phase 1, Sector-Wide Research: Interviews and desk research with stakeholders at a variety of higher education institutions (public and private, teaching- and research-focused, large universities and small liberal arts colleges) provided an overview of the practices and expectations of digital humanities project leaders, funders, and their university administrators, as well as the challenges and successes they have encountered along the way.
  • Phase II, Deep-Dive Research: More extensive analysis of four institutions that have created and managed several of their own digital projects allowed us to develop a map of the full scope of their activities, the value they offer to the host university, and the dynamics that drive decision making around the role the university plays in supporting them.

An advisory committee helped to guide this work from its earliest stages. The committee included:

  • Richard Detweiler, President, Great Lakes Colleges Association
  • Martin Halbert, Dean of Libraries, University of North Texas
  • Stanley N. Katz, Director, Center for the Arts and Cultural Policy Studies; Lecturer with rank of Professor, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs; President Emeritus of the American Council of Learned Societies
  • Maria C. Pantelia, Professor, Classics, University of California, Irvine; Director, Thesarus Linguae Graecae®
  • Richard Spies, Former Executive Vice President for Planning and Senior Advisor to the President at Brown University, Former Vice President for Finance and Administration at Princeton University

Ann J. Wolpert, who was the Director of Libraries, MIT, was a valued member of the advisory council.  She passed away in October 2013.

The aim of this research is to help digital humanities project leaders understand the needs and motivations of decision-makers on campus and to support university administrators and managers in better understanding both the struggles that digital humanities resources face and the investments that these digital projects often require to be valuable. The final report was issued in June 2014 and is accompanied by this Sustainability Implementation Toolkit, which provides guidance for campus administrators developing strategies to sustain digital humanities projects at their institutions.