Campus Collections Initiate Cultural Partnership with $500,000 Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Grant

Image is of a website from The University of Texas Libraries digital collections, funded by the Mellon grant.

The University of Texas Libraries, the Blanton Museum of Art and the Harry Ransom Center have been awarded a $500,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to establish a collective digital infrastructure at The University of Texas at Austin that will provide expanded digital access to the rich cultural resources of the university.

The initial phase in the cooperative strategic endeavor — “Strategic Directions to Support Infrastructure for Sharing Digital Special Collections at The University of Texas at Austin” — will initiate a partnership among the collecting institutions as an Arts and Cultural Heritage Collective (ACHC), aligning activities more closely to ensure that technology investments effectively support the research and teaching throughout the university and to facilitate use of collections more broadly in increasingly collaborative and cost-effective ways.

The three institutions manage large and ever-growing collections of art, photographs, film, audio and video recordings, time-based media art, rare printed volumes, unique archival materials and related objects, which are utilized by a global community for research, scholarship and general interest.

The office of University Provost Maurie McInnis has provided an additional $260,000 to bridge the expected budget for the first phase of the project. The Libraries will be lead on the project, with Director of Digital Strategies Aaron Choate serving as the principle investigator on the project.

The implementation phase of the partnership is a four-year project and received $500,000 from the Mellon Foundation to:

  • produce a common interface for discovering and accessing digital collections and introduce it to a diverse user community
  • ensure that core systems that support distinctive collections implement modern standards and technologies
  • work together to map descriptive practices, and develop the integrations that allow for the data about the objects to be collected into a unified index
  • to develop a common work plan and identify future phases of work, including identifying ways to extend this work locally to benefit other collections on campus as well as how the collective will engage with statewide, national and international efforts in the future

Directors of participating campus collections established a Digital Strategies Council (DSC) in 2018 with the explicit charge of identifying strategies to systematically and creatively work together to engage in campus IT and Research initiatives to solve common challenges and to better meet shared goals.

The grant funding coincides with a transition period at the noteworthy institutions and will allow them to leverage their strengths as part of a unified effort. The Blanton Museum of Art is migrating their collection management to a new online system; the Harry Ransom Center will consolidate multiple systems in order to efficiently manage millions of collection items and is building a digital preservation system in partnership with Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC); and the University of Texas Libraries recently launched a unified Digital Asset Management System, pursuing digital preservation and developing discovery interfaces in support of distinctive digital collections at the Libraries. 

“The Mellon grant will provide vital support for the effort to align the individual and collective strategic goals of all the university’s collecting institutions,” says Vice Provost and Libraries Director Lorraine Haricombe. “It will enable a collaborative approach to digital preservation and access the will ultimately benefit the university community, the citizens of Texas and the larger global community.”