New Grant Funds Tools & Research to Support the Sharing of Digital Annotations

Ann Arbor, MI, Brisbane QLD (Australia), College Park, MD, Fairfax, VA, Los Alamos, NM, and Urbana, IL ― The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (New York) has awarded $362,000 to the Open Annotation Collaboration (OAC) for Phase I of a project to build new digital annotation tools and define and demonstrate a framework for sharing annotations of digital content across the World Wide Web. The OAC includes humanities scholars, librarians, and information scientists from four universities -- George Mason University, the University of Illinois, the University of Maryland, and the University of Queensland (Australia) -- from the Los Alamos National Laboratory Research Library, and from the Office of Advanced Technology Research at JSTOR, an integrated online archive of over five million items digitized from scholarly journals and primary source archives.

Annotating is a method by which scholars across disciplines organize existing knowledge and facilitate the creation and sharing of new knowledge. It is used by individual scholars when reading as an aid to memory, to add commentary, and to classify. It can facilitate shared editing, scholarly collaboration, and pedagogy. Over time annotations can have scholarly value in their own right as a compelling form of evidence for historians and others studying the evolution of scholarly thinking. The OAC effort will focus on annotation interoperability, creating data models, standards, and tools that allow scholars working in disparate locations to share and leverage annotations of digital resources across the boundaries of individual annotation applications and content collections.

As part of the OAC Phase I work funded by the Mellon Foundation, a new annotation tool, leveraging ongoing work at the Maryland Institute for the Humanities (MITH) that was initiated previously with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, will be integrated into the popular Zotero Firefox Web browser extension. Created by the Center for History and New Media (CHNM) at George Mason University, Zotero helps users collect, manage, and cite research sources found on the World Wide Web.

In parallel with this work, researchers at the Center for Informatics Research in Science and Scholarship (CIRSS) at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and at the eResearch Lab of the School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering (ITEE) at The University of Queensland in Australia will examine the breadth and diversity of current annotation models and system architectures in the context of scholarly practices and scholarly-focused use cases involving annotations in both online and traditional settings.

This research, in combination with what is learned in adding new annotation functionality to Zotero, will inform the development of a shared model of scholarly annotation that supports interoperable annotations, is adaptable by existing systems, and is rooted in traditional scholarly practice. The effort to define and describe this data model and the rules for sharing and exchanging annotations will be led by researchers at the Research Library of Los Alamos National Laboratory with contributions from other members of the OAC and from the broader community involved in scholarly communications. To ensure community input, the work of the OAC will be guided by a Project Advisory Board composed of community leaders, a broad-based committee of Web technology experts, and feedback openly solicited from scholars and the scholarly communications community at large over the course of the Project.

The co-Principal Investigators for the OAC Phase I project are Timothy W. Cole of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Neil Fraistat of the University of Maryland, Jane Hunter of the University of Queensland, and Herbert Van de Sompel of Los Alamos National Laboratory.

All work produced as part of the OAC Phase I project will be made available under open source license for the free use and exploitation by other scholars and non-profit educational, scholarly and charitable institutions.

For additional information contact or consult the Open Annotation Website at