Montana State University

MSU Library researchers win pair of grants totaling nearly $525,000

October 20, 2014 -- MSU News Service

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BOZEMAN – A pair of grants totaling nearly $525,000 will enable Montana State University Library faculty and administrators to perform research that could affect data collection and information sharing.

One is a $500,000, three-year grant for a project known as “Measuring Up: Assessing Use of Digital Repositories and the Resulting Impact.” With the funds, MSU – in partnership with OCLC Research, the Association of Research Libraries and the University of New Mexico – will investigate the difficulties libraries face in producing accurate reports of the use of their digital repositories through Web analytics.

The second is a $24,924 grant to help the MSU Library enhance and improve its prototype software for publishing books within a Web browser.

Libraries routinely collect statistics on the use of digital collections for assessment and evaluation purposes, according to MSU Library Dean Kenning Arlitsch. Libraries then report those statistics to a variety of stakeholders, including the libraries’ own institutions, professional organizations and funding agencies. However, differing counting methods and other difficulties can result in inaccurate statistics, Arlitsch said.

“Inaccurate statistics lead to a variance in numbers across the profession that makes it difficult to draw conclusions,” Arlitsch said. “The inaccuracy runs in both directions, with under-reporting numbers as much of a problem as over-reporting.”

To address the issue, Arlitsch and his colleagues from the partner institutions involved with the grant – known as a National Leadership Grants for Libraries – will examine the difficulties libraries face in producing accurate reports, as well as recommend best practices that will help improve the accuracy and consistency of the reports. The team will also examine how to assess the impact of institutions’ digital repositories on the citation rates of academic papers. Citation rates are important, Arlitsch said, because the number of citations often has a direct effect on university rankings and other performance indicators.

“In theory, if you can raise citation rates, you should be able to raise university rankings,” Arlitsch said.

The second grant – known as a “Sparks! Ignition Grant for Libraries – will enable MSU Library faculty members Jason Clark, Scott Young and Jan Zauha to enhance and improve software they developed to make online books more accessible, discoverable, shareable and ready for user analysis.

Clark said the project will establish best practices for Web publishing and semantic HTML markup – which reinforces the meaning of the information found in webpages – in specific genres, such as textbooks, fiction, poetry and journal articles. As part of the grant, the library will share information on best practices through outreach and publications. 

“This model builds on the idea of libraries as publishers and looks at how libraries can produce our own scholarly content using the Web as our platform,” Clark said.

The resulting software will contribute to a wider area of research related to open publishing models for e-books and the usability of long-form reading interfaces. Clark said that because the software provides a new way for information to be accessed, it will likely have copyright and funding implications. “The open data model the software uses raises questions about ownership and monetization. It might be one of the trickier questions we will grapple with as the research moves forward,” Clark said.

Both grants are from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which is the primary source of federal support for the nation's 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. More information about the institute and grants is available at

Contact: Kenning Arlitsch, dean, MSU Library, (406) 994-6978 or; or Jason Clark, head of library informatics and computing, (406) 994-6801 or