Community and HathiTrust


photo by Flickr user droolcup

I’ve found that when we discuss community in librarianship, we’re talking about a more touchy-feely definition: the idea of finding common cause among professionals or connecting through relationships. And while I don’t doubt this happens among the actual people involved in HathiTrust, they’ve done an excellent job of using the community they’ve built for resource-sharing, shouldering the work, and for allowing new members to become integral parts of its governmental structure.

IThere are more than 60 partners in HathiTrust, as of 2013, and as we know from our time here at a large research university, academia is a world with a fair amount of politicking and where endowments and prestige can sometimes overwhelm institutions that lack those things. They’ve done a brilliant job of democratizing the way they’re structured to make sure that partner institutions get a say, no matter their size, particularly as they keep growing.

York notes that their original governing structure allowed for an evaluation period and a constitutional convention to ensure that new members were involved in establishing HathiTrust’s future directions. HathiTrust started with 13 institutions in 2008. In 2011, 52 institutions sent representatives to its constitutional convention. Half the seats in the Board of Governors remain with the founding schools, but the other half are elected, and representatives from the founding schools cannot run for those seats. HathiTrust’s host school retains only one appointed seat — I wouldn’t have blinked if they’d insisted on having a third of the seats.

So while this isn’t exactly what we think of when we think of a community, I am struck that a repository so devoted to openness and sharing takes a similarly democratic approach to how its run.


6 responses to “Community and HathiTrust

  1. Stevie – I completely agree with your observation about the democratizing aspect of the HathiTrust organization. I am really impressed in our reading so far with how flat the structure is, especially considering that this is a major collaboration of some very large institutions that each have a lot at stake in this investment, in particular the founding institutions and early joiners. I in part wonder if this lack of that this openness and collaborative nature is due to the inherent nature of librarians and libraries as institutions in coming from places where the mission is always to seek ways to provide more access never less.

  2. Stevie: It seems you have slightly different definition of “community.” I tend to interpret what you described as “partner” or “alliance” relationship.

    • I don’t think I do. But when I was thinking about how HathiTrust uses its community, it isn’t entirely about connection and relationship-building. It’s about democratizing the process to conduct business.

      • Great points, Stevie. This is about a community, in the larger (more touchy-feely?) sense, but also about a working relationship to accomplish a major initiative. Kind of brings us right to the idea of project management, actually, doesn’t it…? 🙂

  3. I think it definitely counts as community. There are forums for issue resolution, everyone is working toward a common goal and resources are shared. In terms of a professional/academic community, I don’t think you’ll find too many that are different from the HathiTrust set up.

  4. I had a completely different take on this question, but I see where you’re coming from, Stevie. I’ve been trying to think of similar organization structures that create the same sense of open-governance community, but every time I think I have an comparable example to HathiTrust something arises and I’m proven wrong. In my brainstorming I’ve been focusing on organizations within philanthropy (keeping it close to home 🙂 ). Even those organizations that I consider to be the best at fostering community (Grantmakers for Effective Organizations being one in particular that focuses on connecting its members and creating open dialogue on time-sensitive issues), falls short of the mark.
    Thank you for a different facet of HathiTrust’s community!

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