These days in the academic world, as in any profession, our most precious and disappearing commodity seems to be time. That is why the University of Virginia Libraries came up with Research Sprints, a new opportunity for faculty to partner with a team of expert librarians on a specific project or component of a larger project. Sprints differ depending on the one-time consultations in both their timing and in their depth of interaction. The Sprints allow individuals or teams of faculty to work intensively with a team of librarians for four-and-a-half working days, with the intention being that the entire team – faculty and staff – will be able to work without distractions throughout that period to produce a tangible product or outcome. The format is flexible, meaning that faculty projects can be related to any phase of the scholarly lifecycle, which accommodates faculty who want to get started on a new project or perhaps overcome a pesky obstacle on an existing one. For instance, startup projects might benefit from literature reviews or facilitated brainstorming, or from the design of a roadmap toward the application of technology to a research or teaching problem. The Research Sprints have allowed the Drama Department's Associate Professor of Costume Technology Marcy Linton to unlock the costume equivalent of buried treasures.
"We have an amazing historical clothing collection," Linton said. While many universities with theatre departments have gems in their costume storage, few have collections as extensive as UVA does, she said, with pieces dating back to 1795. "If more people knew about this, I think they might be more inclined to donate pieces to us, especially as the history of clothing is becoming more recognized and appreciated for what it tells us about people and societies." The Research Sprint opportunity came at just the right time, Linton said. "When I found out about the pilot program, I was in the midst of trying to figure out how to digitize the collection. I have always wanted to create a record or an archive of everything we have, because I am not sure any one of us truly knows how much we have, especially since donations continue to come in." Linton was assigned a team of librarians, and they spent the week working on everything from making the collection more searchable with metadata to working with the library's Will Rourk to do a 3D scan of one of the garments, and to start the process of photographing some garments to start creating a visual record in the database. "The process was amazing," she said. "It literally jump-started the whole project for me because I had been wanting to do this for so long and this sort of blew it out of the water. I had no idea how many resources and how many people were available to help." Managing and digitizing this collection, she said, "could be a full-time job, and now to find out you have the talent and the resources that I never knew existed is amazing. The Research Sprint has opened up every single door that could be opened."