In their report “Searching for Sustainability: Strategies from Eight Digitized Special Collections, authors Nancy L. Maron, Sarah Pickle, and Deanna Marcum write that “While the efforts and activities needed to plan and build digitized collections have been addressed in a variety of ways, the set of activities that permit the digitized collection to remain vital and useful post-launch is often not addressed.” Many institutions receive grants or themselves fund projects to digitize their collections and build digital resources, but how and if these resources will remain sustainable is often left out of the conversation.
For this blog post, I looked at an exhibit hosted on the University of Illinois at Chicago’s library website titled “Changing Neighborhoods: Photographs of Social Reform from 7 Chicago Settlement Houses.”
While the exhibit will not “wow” anyone with its basic layout and simple color scheme, it does incorporate images and audio to tell the story of 7 settlement houses in Chicago.
One positive factor contributing to this exhibit’s sustainability is the obvious institutional support UIC has for its libraries and associated digital resources. UIC is a large institution that is better-funded than others, and has a large staff who, while I’m sure do not have all the resources they could wish for, are able to contribute to developing multiple projects. For example, 5 staff members, including graduate and student assistants, as well as an elementary school teacher in the Chicago Public Schools contributed to this project. This exhibit likely would not have been possible without support from a large staff.
One issue this exhibit may have in the future is its reliance on grant funding. The exhibit was funded by a Library Services and Technology Act grant awarded by the Illinois State Library under Secretary of State Jesse White. This exhibit is in a unique situation because it relies on state funds, and the State of Illinois currently does not have a budget. While the initial money to fund this exhibit came through, due to the current budget impasse, it would be difficult to receive any more funding if the exhibit needed any kind of upkeep or migration to a different platform.
Similarly, the Illinois State Museums, while currently closed due to the budget issue, only has its online exhibits and resources available. If the state does not pass a budget for them soon, even these might not be available in the near future. Servers have to be maintained and web domains hosted in order for these resources to remain online, and this is not free.
So what do institutions do that rely on government funding when their funding is interrupted? Situations such as these illustrate the importance for museums and other institutions to have diverse revenue streams. While many state-funded universities such as Chicago State and Northeastern University may have to close their doors if the budget is not approved soon, UIC, with its 2.278 billion dollar endowment, will be able to remain open.