Creativity and the Scholarly Record


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“There is no scholarship without preservation.”

At Greenhouse Studios, we are working out the process of creating new forms of scholarship. One important aspect of what differentiates scholarship from projects is sustainability. As I like to say, there is no scholarship without persistence. The infrastructure of persistence is well understood in traditional academic publishing, but is less understood in the world digital humanities.

The Greenhouse Studios model works through five distinct phases, Understand, Identify, Build, Review, Release, and is based on the idea of flattening traditional academic hierarchies: we do not build things for faculty, we gather together a group of people around a common intellectual question, and go from there.

Archivists have traditionally insisted that it improves the preservation potential of any digital record for the archivist—or at least preservation thinking—to be a part of the creation of that record from the beginning. At Greenhouse Studios we are testing what that actually means in terms of new forms of scholarship. What is the beginning? When is it appropriate to consider preservation?

Originally at Greenhouse Studios, we had a sense that it was important to consider preservation at the very beginning, but as we move through the process with our initial cohorts, we are finding that thinking about preservation in the initial, Understand, phase, when conversations are more about “what if” than “how” would limit the imagination of the group. The second phase, Identify, seemed a more logical place to have a preservation discussion, since this is where the project’s core deliverable would be defined. However, this too was not the time, as this phase served to define more of the intellectual direction of the project rather than the technology, even though the technology is generally defined in this phase. So the current thinking is that the preservation discussion happens in the Build phase—and nearer the end of the Build phase than at the beginning.

Pushing the preservation discussion further downstream has a number of effects. At the moment we don’t know if these are positive or negative effects. A project is much more flexible and creative if there are no limits on what can be done. But, it also keeps the preservation discussion on a transactional relationship, outside the bounds of the project.

To use Henry Mintzberg’s terminology, Greenhouse Studios projects are organized as ad hocracies—where roles are loosely defined and fluid. Although within Greenhouse Studios projects are considered ad hocracies, GS exists within the professional bureaucracy of academia, where roles and responsibilities are sharply defined, and the external technostructure of payroll, procurement, and Human Resources processes tend to constrict the freedom of GS participants.
That particular discussion is for another day.

The question we raise today is whether preservation is integral to the development of scholarship or if it is part of the technostructure of process driven services. By pushing the preservation discussion farther downstream we also push it farther into the technostructure, as preservation becomes an external demand that must be satisfied, rather than an integral part of the creative process.

Do preservation considerations belong within the creative process, or is it the job or archivists to figure out how to preserve whatever creative people ultimately create? It seems obvious that involving archivists in the early stages of more traditionally-based research contributes to preserving things like research data, and that activity stands outside the creative process. We will ultimately figure out where preservation is best discussed, because as I said at the beginning, there is no scholarship without persistence. But for now, we are thinking, watching, and waiting.

Greg Colati

Greenhouse Studios Working Group
Assistant University Librarian for Archives, Special Collections, and Digital Curation at UConn