IU Libraries and partners receive $931,000 from Mellon Foundation grants

  • March 10, 2015


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University has received two grants totaling $931,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support further development of the Avalon Media System and a study of new business models for scholarly publishing. 

According to Carolyn Walters, Ruth Lilly Dean of University Libraries at Indiana University, "The IU Libraries and our partners at Northwestern University and the University of Michigan are grateful to the Mellon Foundation for their generous support. Both of these grants will benefit a broad range of institutions and will have lasting impact on the library and the scholarly publishing communities."

Avalon Media System Community Development

The first of these grants provides $750,000 to the IU Libraries and Northwestern University Library to support continuing development of the Avalon Media System, an open-source software product designed to help libraries and archives provide long-term online access to audio and video collections for primarily academic audiences. 

Avalon is central to Indiana University’s efforts to develop tools that will allow for the digitization and delivery of online content in order to preserve that content and improve access to it. In this respect, Avalon will be part of Indiana University's Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative, announced by President Michael A. McRobbie in October 2013 as part of his State of the University speech.

Dean of the Northwestern University Library Sarah Pritchard said, "Northwestern is excited to be able to continue this successful and productive partnership with Indiana and the growing Avalon community. The Avalon platform is transforming the way we produce, retain and use the complex digital content that is needed to integrate audio, video and related materials in university teaching and learning."

The current grant will focus on developing additional features and functionality for Avalon, conducting studies of scholarly use of audio and video media, developing a business model for ongoing sustainability, and offering more flexible implementation options for institutions that prefer to utilize cloud-based rather than locally hosted software.

IU and Northwestern have successfully collaborated to release three major versions of Avalon since the development project began in October 2011 with funding from a three-year, $948,000 National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and advice and support from 10 additional partner institutions. Avalon grew in part out of the Variations Project, one of the world’s first digital music libraries, developed initially in the mid-1990s at Indiana University.

Both IU and Northwestern are partners in the Hydra community, a group of 25 institutions working together to develop shared technical solutions for the management of digital content based the open source Fedora repository system.

Institutional Impacts of a New Model for Scholarly Publishing

The second of these grants, providing $181,000 to the IU Libraries and the University of Michigan Library, is a key component in a range of investigations underway to analyze the viability of alternative sustainable financial models for university presses and other nonprofit book publishers.

In the face of increasing financial pressure on academic publishing in the humanities and social sciences, this study explores alternative funding options. These include up-front institutional funding for monographs with the ultimate goal to make those publications freely available while still capitalizing on the existing strengths of the scholarly publishing process such as peer review, editorial selection, product development, marketing and outreach.

According to Paul Courant, professor of public policy at the University of Michigan and a lead investigator on the grant, "This study could be an important step towards making academic work more available to scholars and others around the world, and to allow scholars and scholarship to take greater advantage of the possibilities afforded by digital technologies. Scholarly publication is a process whereby valuable work is made public. We hope that our work on this project will help to make that process more effective."

This model has the potential to broaden the reach of scholarly research, increase the speed with which scholars learn about new developments in their fields, and support the public universities’ mission to disseminate their faculty’s research findings. The research will be accomplished through a mix of interviews with key faculty and administration stakeholders and financial analyses.

Carolyn Walters

Carolyn Walters

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