Skip to content ↓

MIT Libraries host Grand Challenges Summit

Experts in information science and scholarly communication convene at MIT to set research agenda.
Press Inquiries

Press Contact:

Brigham Fay
Phone: 617-253-5686
MIT Libraries Director Chris Bourg welcomes attendees to the opening keynote speech of the Grand Challenges Summit.
MIT Libraries Director Chris Bourg welcomes attendees to the opening keynote speech of the Grand Challenges Summit.
Photo: Bryce Vickmark
Kate Zwaard of the Library of Congress delivers the opening keynote at the Grand Challenges Summit at MIT.
Kate Zwaard of the Library of Congress delivers the opening keynote at the Grand Challenges Summit at MIT.
Photo: Bryce Vickmark

Forty-five experts from across disciplines gathered at MIT March 19-23 for a week of workshops focused on the most vital issues in information science and scholarly communication. Supported by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the summit on Grand Challenges in Information Sciences and Scholarly Communication aimed to identify critical problems that are solvable within 10 years and which have broad implications across the scholarly community.

“We gathered experts from across many domains, locations, and social roles,” said Chris Bourg, director of MIT Libraries. “We spent a lot of time developing an idea of what the challenges are from many points of view.”

The summit focused on three areas: scholarly discovery, digital curation and preservation, and open scholarship. For each topic, there was a keynote speaker and a one-and-a-half-day workshop to produce a draft research agenda.

Scholarly discovery

In the opening keynote, Kate Zwaard, director of digital strategy at the U.S. Library of Congress, shared creative projects from LC Labs, which encourages innovation with the library’s digital collections. One initiative invites the public to develop digital projects using congressional data; others use color as a way to explore the library’s catalog. “We’re still in the early days of the disruption that computation is going to bring to our profession,” said Zwaard. But she sees collaboration and experimentation as critical to keeping libraries welcoming places: “We need to invite people into the tent.” 

In the workshop that followed, participants considered several key concerns: how to make discovery environments that reflect the values of transparency, agency, and participation; how to ensure discovery is globally inclusive and supports mutual exchanges of ideas; and the political, social, policy/legal, and economic barriers to creating these kinds of environments.

Curation and preservation

Keynote speaker Anasuya Sengupta leads Whose Knowledge, a global campaign to center the knowledge of marginalized communities on the Internet. She stressed the responsibility of knowledge curators in deciding whose voices are heard and preserved. Three quarters of the people online today are from Asia, Africa, and Latin America, but who is online is not reflected in the content online. Creating a truly global, inclusive sense of knowledge, said Sengupta, is a strategic choice and an ethical one: “So many communities are waiting for us to do this work.”

Workshop participants focused on four themes in digital curation and preservation: making knowledge global, making data useful, making participation open and inclusive, and promoting skill building.

Open scholarship

A longtime advocate of internet freedom and open scholarship, MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito discussed the profound impact of the internet on scholarship and publishing. “The business model of transferring information was completely turned on its head,” he said. “Innovation and research was pushed to the edges because the cost of collaboration was diminished. What’s not keeping up are the academic publications.” Ito described high-impact “citizen science” projects using open-source technology, his work with Creative Commons to legally share knowledge, and a first-of-its-kind collaboration between the Media Lab and the MIT Press to transform publishing.

In the final workshop, participants explored possible incentives to motivate communities to participate in open scholarship and what infrastructures are needed to sustain it. Discussion also examined the challenges to establishing the credibility, durability, and integrity of the record of human knowledge.

A forthcoming summit report will be made available on the open publishing platform PubPub, where the community will be invited to comment. Background readings and presentations are also being shared through PubPub, and each keynote speech can be streamed at

Related Links

Related Topics

Related Articles

More MIT News