The Plan

“Big breakthroughs happen when what is suddenly possible meets what is desperately necessary.”  

—Thomas Friedman

This project, funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, seeks to understand the current level of investment in the infrastructure necessary for digital scholarship, to document the attitudes about these sorts of investments, and to identify promising strategies for encouraging greater investment by colleges and universities.

Why this Work is Important

Over the past several decades, scholarship has moved from a system based predominantly on print on paper to one that, while in some cases the final results are distributed on paper, is entirely based on digital technologies. Unsurprisingly, given the diversity of scholarly practice across disciplines and the widely distributed nature of higher education, the tools and services to support scholarship in this digital world developed in an opportunistic yet uncoordinated way.  Sustaining funding has been a challenge resulting in a diversity of projects that advanced scholarship in interesting and important ways that could not be adapted for use in broader communities.

Definition of Infrastructure

This project focuses primarily on the systems and services that make scholarship discoverable and accessible, as well as those that preserve it. This will include physical systems such as computer systems and software. It will also include the human resources that manage the creation, maintenance, and use of all systems.

For clarity, we offer four key distinctions, noting that each involves some gray areas and will require that we tighten definitions as we proceed.

  • Infrastructure vs. content. The project focuses on infrastructure, not content.  In some cases, this distinction is clear in others it is fuzzy.
  • Creating scholarship vs. discovery, access, and preservation.  There is another fuzzy boundary between systems and services used to create scholarship and those used for discovery, access, and preservation.  Laboratory instruments clearly fall into the former. Mapping software is in the gray area.
  • General application vs. specialization.  Infrastructure is generally understood to be systems and services that can be used by a broad range of individuals for a broad range of purposes.  We will adhere to this principle and will not consider systems and services that serve only specialized populations or niche applications.
  • Infrastructure inside institutions vs. regional, national, and international infrastructure.  The distinction between infrastructure housed inside an institution and infrastructure available to multiple institutions will be important and we will consider each separately.

The project will provide a view of existing infrastructure projects and services that support digital scholarship.  We will identify redundancies and gaps, survey academic library leaders, and review different funding and governance models that might be used to collaboratively support infrastructure going forward. This work will provide library and campus leaders with a more comprehensive, data-driven picture of what is required to build and maintain the scholarly infrastructure necessary for the digital world. In turn, this picture should guide investments made by libraries and their parent institutions.

There is a strong desire in the library community for a road map that includes not only technical requirements, but also strategies for the financing and governance of academy owned and controlled infrastructure.  We expect this project to create the grist from which such a road map can be created, and expect to make recommendations to advance this goal.

We begin with the hypothesis, based on the proposal by David Lewis, that 2.5% of the $7 billion spent in expenditures by US academic libraries could be sufficient to create and support an infrastructure to provide access to the scholarly research outputs.  Our work will explore whether this level of funding — $100 to $150 million per year – would be sufficient.  We believe a benchmark figure of this sort is critical so that libraries and their parent institutions may evaluate their current levels of investment and plan accordingly for the future.

To do so, the project will undertake the following activities:

  1. Write a Literature Review that situates this work within the current research on scholarly publishing.
  2. Conduct Focus Groups that will provide insight into how libraries currently make decisions about investing in infrastructure.
  3. Develop a Census of Infrastructure that will make visible the current set of platforms, systems, and applications that comprise the system of scholarly publishing
  4. Create a Map of the Scholarly Publishing System that visualizes the results of the census
  5. Write a set of Case Studies of Infrastructure Providers that provide insight into what is required for long-term sustainability for this infrastructure
  6. Conduct a Survey of Investment in Infrastructure by colleges and universities that will document the current state of investment
  7. Develop a Report that synthesizes the materials from our activities and provides recommendations on promising directions to sustain and grow investment in this infrastructure, and if warranted, how to sustain the specific work of this project.


The project begins in September 2018 and concludes in February 2020. Below is a timeline of activities. Detailed descriptions of each activity can be found in the body of this plan.

Project Organization

The Core Team conducting this work will be David Lewis, IUPUI (emeritus), and Michael Roy, Middlebury College (PI).

A key partner in this effort will be the Educopia Institute who will provide administrative, organizational, and facilitation services.

In addition, the team will rely on two advisory boards of leaders in this field in order to vet our work, and to connect this work to allied efforts.  The first will be comprised of key individuals involved in the creation of the infrastructure that comprises the scholarly commons. We will also convene a second advisory committee of individuals who will help us connect our work to the broader higher education community.

Contact Information:

Mike Roy (PI)

David Lewis


Twitter: @in4open