Digital Scholarship – an Irish context

Digital Scholarship is an umbrella term for modern scholarship using digital methods, tools, or approaches. It is used to define a set of functions and services that enable newer forms of scholarship in universities, cultural institutions, and other research institutions. This is often within the digital arena and can encompass: Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums (GLAM) focused research support, open access, digital repositories, digital exhibitions, project management, digital publishing, metadata, impact, discovery, digital preservation, identifiers, copyright, data management, and research metrics. There is significant overlap in what has emerged as Open Scholarship. In effect, both digital and open scholarship attempt to define the same thing, that is newer forms of scholarship and the direction of travel for future scholarship. Digital Scholarship tends to focus on digital products, using data and output, infrastructure, and technology. For University Libraries and GLAM institutions, this is mainly in scholarship capture, storage, dissemination, and meta-activities. Open scholarship focuses on the practice of research and education in an open way. Open in this context means in a way that all others can freely and easily collaborate on and contribute to. Library Open Scholarship can develop policy, advocate for, and develop a practice of scholarship that is open. Both Digital and Open Scholarship focus on engagement and promotion.

While this post is about Digital Scholarship and what it means, I believe the mature consensuses are that staff working in Digital Scholarship should focus on strategy and services for Digital Scholarship rather than attempting to clearly define Digital Scholarship. Digital Scholarship as modern scholarship is changing fast; it is a moving target. Attempting to cleanly and clearly quantify and define Digital Scholarship consumes considerable time and is a fruitless challenge. What Digital Scholarship is evolves over time while being shaped by perceptions and the local environment. Digital Scholarship functions and services should be assessed and shaped to suit the local environment. Often there are multiple units and teams providing Digital Scholarship services. An awareness of local partnership opportunities and building on these relationships is critical to the success of effective Digital Scholarship services.

The organisation’s role in Digital Scholarship

As a central unit and one of the players in developing digital collections, GLAM institutions often use and develop their own digital technology and service infrastructures. For example GLAM Labs, the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF), and many other open source software projects. In doing so, while remaining cognisant of the key role that GLAM plays in enabling digital scholarship in Europe, the United States, and internationally, GLAMs are driven by best practice while consulting widely regarding projects and proposals. There are great digital opportunities for GLAM through development of strategically funded digital and open projects. GLAM’s primary attractiveness is the uniqueness of archival and special collections’ holdings, the quality and diversity of potential projects, research and teaching alignments, and the potential for partnerships.

Irish background and international outlook

In February 2018, the Consortium of National and University Libraries (CONUL) Research Group conducted a survey of Irish research libraries and institutions to better understand how CONUL Libraries currently structure Digital Scholarship services and supports (Joy et al., 2019). It can be said that Libraries are still struggling to agree and use a common shared vision for Digital Scholarship. However, in recent years, guided by CONUL partnerships and colleagues, there is convergence on the meaning and purpose of Digital Scholarship. The recently formed Irish Digital Scholarship Network aims to harness national collective experience and expertise in projects in the digital area to develop and deliver a programme of work in direct support of a national action plan.

The CONUL Digital Scholarship survey found that the most library-supported digital scholarship activities are 1) digitisation, 2) making digital collections, 3) metadata creation, 4) digital exhibitions, 5) digital preservation, 6) project planning and management, 7) digital publishing, and 8) data curation and management. These core Digital Scholarship activities exist primarily as Library functions, yet high levels of collaboration from both inside and outside the library are employed to be effective in these activities. The survey data shows the least supported activities are statistical analysis/support, computational text analysis, and developing Digital Scholarship software. While Libraries don’t tend to create software, survey comments suggest a healthy level of participation in open-source communities such as IIIF, Islandora, Samvera, and VuFind. For activities not strongly or typically supported within the Library context (e.g. project management, text analysis, and 3D modelling) supports that do exist are highly collaborative, whether ad-hoc or structured. In terms of partners, IT staff, researchers, and finance staff appear as the most frequent collaborative partners in supporting Digital Scholarship activity across the institution.

International Digital Scholarship surveys have been carried out in the US (Mulligan, 2016), the UK (Greenhall, 2019), and Europe (Wilms, 2021). The first survey conducted was in the US by the American Research Libraries (ARL), then in Ireland by CONUL, followed by Research Libraries United Kingdom (RLUK) in the UK, and finally LIBER conducted a European level survey. The LIBER survey included Ireland and compared results to previous surveys. The ARL, CONUL, and RLUK surveys use a similar taxonomy consisting of 19 activities to define Digital Scholarship. The LIBER survey uses the Taxonomy of Digital Research Activities in the Humanities (TaDiRAH) research taxonomy of digital research (Borek, 2016). The TaDiRAH taxonomy lists eight activity nodes: Capture, Creation, Enrichment, Analysis, Interpretation, Storage, Dissemination, and Meta-activities. These are subdivided into more specific activities, such as imaging, visualisation, and project management. Table 1 from (Wilms, 2021) maps the LIBER taxonomy to the taxonomy used by ARL, CONUL, and RLUK. Using the TaDiRAH taxonomy Figure 1 and Figure 2 by (Wilms, 2021) plot and compare the activity data carried out by ARL, CONUL, RLUK, and LIBER libraries. Data is included in the figures showing where the activity is primarily carried out in the local institution.

For Library activities, RLUK and CONUL data is comparable to the results of the LIBER survey (see Figure 1 Figure 2). Data shows that activities traditionally centred in the Library are the most common and include the ‘Capture’, ‘Enrichment’, and ‘Storage’ stages using the TaDiRAH taxonomy. The ARL survey data differs in that it found library activities are primarily focused on digital collections, data analysis, and project management (Wilms, 2021). This suggests that ARL libraries are more involved in projects as partners. 

CaptureDigitisation, Making Digital Collections, 3D modeling and printing
CreationDeveloping digital scholarship software, Interface design / UX
EnrichmentEncoding content, Data curation and management
AnalysisStatistical analysis, Visualisation, Computational text analysis, Support GIS and digital mapping
InterpretationDatabase development
StorageDigital preservation, Technical upkeep, Metadata creation
DisseminationDigital publishing, Digital exhibits
Meta-activitiesProject management, Project planning
OtherOther Digital Scholarship activity
Table 1 Mapping of survey taxonomies (Wilms, 2021)
Figure 1 An overview of activities in the ARL, CONUL, RLUK libraries with absolute numbers averaged per answer type (Wilms, 2021)
Figure 2 Activity categories in LIBER survey with absolute numbers of responses (Wilms, 2021)

Key areas for development

The Digital Scholarship Network Ireland (DSN-IE) are further exploring the Irish Digital Scholarship landscape. The DSN-IE work provides advice for Irish Libraries who are engaging in enabling Digital Scholarship activities. The DSN-IE will deliver on an action plan of collective activity, to be driven by the Network, based on the findings and recommendations of existing reports and surveys. The DSN-IE has three working groups covering skills, partnership, and strategy. For skills, the DSN-IE skills group will create an annual programme of workshops and webinars in the digital scholarship domain, while developing a skills’ audit template and checklist of skills needed to support digital scholarship. For partnership, the DSN-IE partnership group will work to create a shared approach to Digital Scholarship projects and influence on a wider platform, and the DSN-IE strategy group will work to create a roadmap for institutional and national Digital Scholarship while exploring approaches to quantify and communicate value.

Describe a typical digital scholarship offering

Digital Scholarship often involves a suite of services including the use of digital evidence, new methods of inquiry, research, publication, and preservation. Digital Scholarship aims to leverage infrastructure across three domains in particular: digital archives, research data management, and open access to materials. Initially a typical Digital Scholarship function should aim to consolidate existing services and collaborations. As the function matures so should the development of new Digital Scholarship services to support related digital initiatives elsewhere in the organisation. A key aspect to any Digital Scholarship function is to participate as a partner in projects locally, nationally, and internationally.

Currently, Digital Scholarship can include the listed below functions. However, it is worth noting that presently in Ireland, many of these functions are often not official services. Where service descriptions and service delivery plans have yet to be developed and agreed.

  1. Digital projects
  2. Digital collections and exhibitions
  3. Digitisation and digital preservation
  4. Workshops, training, outreach, and promotion
  5. Publishing platforms and technologies
  6. Research data
  7. Open access publishing of scholarly articles

Digital Scholarship functions and services aim to help in the following areas:

  • Digitisation and digital preservation, often of archives and special collections
  • Metadata creation and enhancement for linked data, exchange, and reuse
  • Assignment of identifiers to promote discovery
  • Hosting of digital collections in library repositories
  • Creating digital exhibitions
  • Open access dissemination of research outputs
  • Management of research data
  • Curation of born-digital collections
  • Advice on copyright, digital rights management, and the application of standards
  • Participation in text mining, data analysis and geographic information systems (GIS) projects
  • Provision of spaces, tools, equipment, and training for digital scholarship.

Many of these functions involve collaboration both at and beyond the organisational level, incorporating a variety of models in terms of personnel, expertise, and funding sources. This gives the wider organisation an excellent platform for further engagement, potentially across a broader range of activities. However, possible deficits where local expertise may be unknown and/or unshared, equipment and effort duplicated, long-term sustainability uncertain, and opportunities for collaboration missed (NUI Galway, 2017).


Digital Scholarship is about study and research using digital methods, tools, and approaches. It is primarily focused on using, preserving, sharing, and re-using research output. International research (Wilms, 2021, Potter, 2020, Joy et al., 2019, Cox, 2016) found that Digital Scholarship functions and services add value by delivering reusable open digital collections, exhibitions, archives, and data. GLAMs work and encourage Digital Scholarship with digitisation, digital preservation, digital creation, and the publishing of output in a digital and open way. The DSN-IE is working on three key areas of Digital Scholarship; specifically, skills, partnership, and strategy. The DSN-IE acts as a forum for discussion, harnessing members’ collective experience and expertise in projects in the digital area. DSN-IE will build on the existing work to establish the nature and extent of current digital scholarship activities, and the infrastructure and skills required to support those in the future. The DSN-IE will also deliver on an action plan of collective activity based on the findings and recommendations of existing reports and surveys.

The work of the DSN-IE is on-going. Feel free to comment or contact us to get involved.

Note: This blog post focuses on Digital Scholarship for GLAM. The surveys referenced contain results and data from Libraries only.

Thanks to colleagues Eileen Kennedy and Labhaoise Ni Dhonnchadha who reviewed this blog post.


BOREK, L., DOMBROWSKI, Q., PERKINS, J., SCHÖCH, C. 2016. TaDiRAH: a case study in pragmatic classification. DHQ: Digital Humanities Quarterly, 10.

COX, J. 2016. Communicating New Library Roles to Enable Digital Scholarship: A Review Article.

GREENHALL, M. 2019. Digital scholarship and the role of the research library. The results of the RLUK digital scholarship survey. RLUK.

JOY, C., KILFEATHER, E., DERVEN, C. & HEALY, A. 2019. Digital Scholarship services and supports – an overview from Irish Research and National Libraries.

MULLIGAN, R. 2016. SPEC Kit 350: Supporting Digital Scholarship.

NUI GALWAY, L. 2017. Digital scholarship – NUI Galway [Online]. NUI Galway Library. Available: [Accessed 28 June  2017 2017].

POTTER, A. 2020. Digital Scholarship Working Group Report: Published [Online]. Library of Congress. Available: [Accessed 19 April 2021].

WILMS, L. 2021. Digital Humanities in European Research Libraries: Beyond Offering Digital Collections. LIBER Quarterly: The Journal of the Association of European Research Libraries, 31, 1-23.

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