Notes from HathiTrust Constitutional Convention

Ballot proposals, amendments (friendly and otherwise), coalition building, lobbying, weighted voting formulas, and roll-call votes are not usual features of librarian gatherings. But HathiTrust is no ordinary library collaboration, so the first HathiTrust Constitutional Convention was bound to be unusual as well.

General information about the Constitutional Convention (including original ballot proposals, agenda, and delegates list) was made available and open to the public for quite some time in advance of the convention. In another nod to transparency, facilitator extraordinaire Abby Smith Rumsey, put no restrictions of blogging, tweeting, or otherwise broadcasting the proceedings, except to encourage us to “Tweet Responsibly.” Although there were only a few of us who took her up on the challenge, you can check out the hashtag #htcc to see how well we did.

So, what actually happened at the HTCC, and what does it mean?

The scorecard:
Proposals 1, 2, 3, 4, & 7 passed
Proposal 5 was tabled
Proposal 6 failed

Amendments made it into most of the proposals (with Jeremy York doing an incredible job of editing on the fly); but my recollection is that few of the amendments changed anything substantial about the intent of the proposals. Given how awesomely open Hathi has been about everything to date, I expect the amended proposals will be available soon.

My thoughts and observations:

Proposal 1, Print Archive:
In passing this proposal, HathiTrust members agreed that HathiTrust will “establish a distributed print monograph archiving program among HathiTrust member libraries.”
I actually expected much more discussion and pushback on this amendment, but it sailed through fairly smoothly. The comments during the pre-vote discussion centered around whether tackling print archiving would detract from the core mission and how much compensation would be provided to institutions that agreed to provide the archival home for selected titles. The answer on compensation for archive holders is that compensation will be partial (token?) only – under the wise assumption that institutions and storage facilities that make preservation commitments would be preserving that content anyway.
Stanford is a non-contributing member of HathiTrust right now, so we respectfully abstained from this vote.

Proposal 2, Development Initiative Review Approval Process:
As far as I recall this passed with little debate, save the general warnings and concerns over allowing HathiTrust to become overly-beauracratized.
Stanford voted Yes.

Proposal 3, Governance:
Because it concerned future governance, Proposal 3 was actually the first one we tackled. It was amended to increase from 3 to 5 years the terms for the Board of Governors, and passed rather easily. Of note is that while the Board of Governors includes 5 members elected at-large, the election for Board members will be conducted using the weighted voting formula based on investments and contributions. I expect it would be nearly impossible for anyone not from one of the consortial members (CIC and the UCs) to get elected, unless the “independents” do some organized coalition building and agree to back a single candidate to represent their common interests. That could be really interesting, as the list of institutions with Single digit votes includes a pretty diverse mix of large & small, publics & privates. It will be interesting to see if that diverse group can find enough common ground to form an effective coalition to represent their interests (assuming we even have collective interests with respect to HathiTrust).
Stanford voted Yes.

Proposal 4, U.S. Federal Documents:
Here is where we started to get bogged down in some wordsmithing, finally agreeing to substitute “publications” for “documents” (with “publications” being considered the more inclusive term); and adding language that expanded the proposal to include born-digital Federal Publications. In principle, I’m in favor of just about any efforts at preserving, inventorying, cataloging and providing improved access to Federal Documents/Publications, and I think that HathiTrust putting resources into this is a good thing. I do hope, that those guiding this effort on behalf of the HathiTrust membership will rise above the current ASERL v GPO controversy, so that HathiTrust can work effectively with the GPO for the common good. I also hope that HathiTrust will leverage the terrific work already done by my colleagues at LOCKSS in providing distributed preservation of born-digital documents.
Stanford voted Yes.

Proposal 5, Mission & Goals:
Things really got interesting once we started talking about whether HathiTrust should expand its mission and focus from digitized print materials to include digital assets of all formats. Essentially, the proposal was to allow HathiTrust to expand to include the ingest and archiving of all kinds of digital stuff – “audio and video files, art slides, research data, museum specimens, born-digital files, etc.”
This is where the concerns over Mission Creep got pretty serious – with one delegate declaring this a case of not just Mission Creep, but Mission Leap. One of my favorite moments of the convention was when someone suggested that now may be exactly the time when we need not just Mission Creep, but Mission Leap. It was a great moment not because I necessarily agree, but because I think it brought the conversation to a level we needed it at, and because I think we need more moments that acknowledge the major philosophical approaches that sometimes divide us.

After lots of amemdments and wordsmithing, someone finally proposed that we table this proposal. The motion to table the proposal and refer the issue of mission to the incoming Board of Governors passed unanimously.
Stanford voted Yes to tabling the proposal.

Proposal 6, Implementation Review Committee:
Although the intent of this proposal was to complement Proposal 2, the general consensus in the room seemed to be that it was redundant to Proposal 2. Moreover, some delegates thought that the Board of Governors established in Proposal 3 would be empowered to develop processes to address the kinds of concerns that prompted this proposal. The proposal failed.
Stanford voted No.

Proposal 7, Fee for service, Content Deposit:
This proposal allows HathiTrust to develop and vet a process that would allow institutions to pay to deposit content in Hathi for preservation, but not become members of HathiTrust (and therefore not partake in the benefits of membership). It passed unanimously, and with little debate.
Stanford voted Yes.

I hope my fellow delegates will correct anything I got wrong above, and add anything I forgot. With the exception of the fact that the hotel served Pepsi products rather than Coke, I found the proceedings to be exceptionally well-run, important, and interesting. Kudos to all the folks involved in the planning and execution.


(Updated Oct 12, 2011 to add some links and correct some grammar.)

3 Responses to “Notes from HathiTrust Constitutional Convention”

  1. 1 Catherine October 12, 2011 at 7:54 am

    Stanford abstained from #1 because we have serious doubts about the impact of the initiative on our mission.


    • 2 Chris October 12, 2011 at 8:47 am

      True — as I see it, our doubts kept us from voting Yes, our non-contributing status kept us from voting No; so we abstained.
      As the reality of the implications of HathiTrust taking on Print Archiving of monographs set in, I’m personally becoming more and more concerned. Time permitting, I’ll probably blog more about that later.


  1. 1 Hathi Trust Constitutional Convention « Preservation & Conservation Administration News Trackback on October 13, 2011 at 9:27 am

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