Saturday, July 16, 2011

Feds and Funding and a PhD

I pondered pursuing a PhD recently. I enjoy research, teaching, writing and I feel I bring a different perspective to the conversation. I did some research and talked with a couple mentor/colleagues. I eventually decided not to pursue the the degree primarily for two economic reasons: 1) trying to sell a home in this market, and 2) the limited employment opportunities for library PhDs with a preservation concentration.

In my thinking about this PhD idea I had narrowed down where I wanted to do my studies. (The school’s initials are S.C.) I also had an area of research that I would have liked to pursue. (I’m well aware that had I actually gone ahead with this PhD idea my research interest may well have changed multiple times during the course of my studies.)

The area that I was (and still am) interested in is looking at 20th century U.S. federal funding for preservation – I’m thinking particularly of NEH and IMLS (and predecessors) – and looking at the kind of programs they developed and the kind of funding they provided and exploring what this funding reveals of their “theory of preservation.” How do these federal funding programs understand preservation? What do they see is preservation’s function? What are these programs ultimately trying to preserve? And then, how has federal funding for preservation, and the underlying “theory” behind it, how has that influenced or created a national theory of preservation?

I think these are interesting and important questions. We all, individually and corporately make decisions based on ideas, theories, and worldviews of which we very likely are not aware. I think it is important to look back at past decisions - such as what kind of  preservation funding did the federal government provide - to decipher and decode what, if any, underlying beliefs and understandings for those decisions reveal.

I'm guessing my interest in federal funding for preservation is in part a product of the fact that in the course of my work I’ve had the good fortune of working both with the National Endowment for Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. I’ve worked for an NEH funded project, done grant reviewing for both NEH and IMLS, have attended NEH and IMLS sponsored events, and have been a partner in writing NEH and IMLS grants. (I’m still a little bitter about losing the IMLS grant.)

Speaking of IMLS, I’ve been quite impressed with these folks and their openness and interest in exploring different ways of engaging the larger community. They have been great at getting video of their Connecting to Collections and WebWise conferences posted online. They make available library related datasets on  (it would be great to see grant recipient data on this site.) And now, they are using the social media tool, Ideascale to solicit the public’s opinions and ideas as they create their next 5-year plan. This tool allows the participant to vote and comment on ideas, or submit their own ideas for others to vote/comment on.

Although I ended up deciding not to pursue PhD (for now?) my research and writing interests have not subsided. This blog is intended to help me meet some of those research and writing interests, but the problem with completely independent research/writing with no deadlines or people looking for results is it can so easily take a back seat to things like summer, yesterday’s Colbert Report, washing dishes, sitting on the porch swing, or taking a nap. Oh well.


  1. Kevin, I too have toyed with the idea of a PhD and like you decided against it due to the lack of job opportunities once complete. We both teach as adjuncts in our respective areas and most preservation is taught this way. I wonder when we will get beyond this and bring preservation (including digital issues) into the tenure track faculty. It would be nice if the library school of your choice (and mine if I translated correctly) has any thoughts on where its preservation PhD's would go or if they just want to show they are adding to the profession...

  2. Thanks for your comments, Donia. I think it is to the larger library world's loss that there seems to be so little interest (money) to support upper level preservation positions. The increasing complexity caused by digital issues seems to demand more research and teaching on broad, holistic approaches to preservation issues - but that doesn't seem to be the way things are going.