Digital Humanities for Librarianship

The Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) has been a rising force in the digital humanities (affectionately known simply as “DH” in the field).  Having been hosted at the University of Victoria campus for more than 10 years now, DHSI has provided an ideal environment for discussing and learning about new computing technologies and how they are influencing teaching, research, dissemination, and preservation in different disciplines.  Every year, faculty, staff, and students from the Arts, Humanities, Library, and Archives communities as well as independent scholars and participants from industry and government sectors participate in the DHSI.    Digital Humanists can no longer be classified as a “fringe group” or sub-discipline; it’s grown to encompass its own set of theories, best practices, industry standards, and scholarly publications.     What is DH and why should we care?   Simply put, it touches on so much, as

an area of study, research, teaching, and invention concerned with the intersection of computing and the disciplines of the humanities. Sometimes called humanities computing, the field has focused on the digitization and analysis of materials related to the traditional disciplines of the humanities. Digital Humanities currently incorporates both digitized and born-digital materials and combines the methodologies from the traditional humanities disciplines (such as historyphilosophylinguisticsliteratureartarchaeologymusic, and cultural studies) with tools provided by computing (such as data visualisationdata retrieval, computational analysis) and digital publishing.

One of this year’s themes of DHSI 2011 is Editing Modernism in Canada, or better known as EMiC.    Bridging academia, technology, and industry, EMiC has slowly risen as the hub for training and networking graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, professors, publishers, and technologists.  Where traditional disciplines shun digital technologies, EMiC fills in by providing the resources necessary for researchers to conduct literary projects using cutting edge technologies, be it digitization, text-encoding initiative markups, or social media fluencies.   Although it aims primarily at preserving Canadian modernist literature, it serves as a the gold standard in innovation for the digital humanities field.

It seems an opportune time for academic libraries to take note.  To a certain extent, academic libraries have slowly shifted in that direction, with such positions as Digital Humanities Librarian at Brown University’s Center for Digital Scholarship.    University of Toronto Library has its own digital scholarship librarian, and in the process of creating its own Digital Scholarship Unit.  The University of British Columbia Library forged ahead in creating a brand new division called Digital Initiatives.   It seems quite clear: academic libraries have an important voice in DH.   For humanists, who only recently had been questioned whether it will survive the 21st century, it’s only logical to collaborate with one of academia’s oldest partner: the library.  So let’s move forward.


Data data data

gleened from Stephen’s Lighthouse – can’t wait to dive in!

Social media use in European libraries

I came across a nice Slideshare today, which reports the results of an EBSCO survey given to subscribers in Europe. I’ve embedded the slides and transcribed some highlights below:

Perception of Social Media:

  • 15% Very positive
  • 47% Positive
  • 32% Somewhat positive
  • 06% Somewhat negative
  • 00% Negative
  • 00% Very Negative

It struck a nice chord with me that no one was “negative” or “very negative” anymore. So to a certain extent, the trajectory is going in the right direction. Begrudgingly, perhaps, but we’re getting somewhere.

Main reasons for not using Social Media

  • Difficult to control (spam, negative publicity) – 38%
  • Takes too much time to maintain – 37%
  • Low interest of users – 31%
  • Information security – 31%
  • Restrictive internal organisation policies – 28%
  • Confidentiality issues – 26%

Time is always an issue. It is hard to slot social media into an already busy schedule of programming, and equally hard to argue that time spent on social media is as effective as any other form of outreach. But given the growing percentages of positive feelings above, maybe this will become less of a roadblock soon.

The response “low interest of users” is interesting because I question how the survey respondents know… some may have designed surveys of their own, but still more perhaps “just know?” a feeling which we see in many different contexts as often misleading or too conservative. Consumers, customers and patrons of all kinds sometimes simply don’t know what they want until it’s available. Now, I’m not advocating for forcing libraries into social media if they’ve done the math and decided it’s not for them. But there is something to trying and seeing if there’s an unexpected response.

I wonder if the results will be consistent in Canada when Dean gets through with his upcoming work. I, for one, am looking forward to finding out!

Futures Thinking, Past Publishing

Today, the ACRL released the 33-page “Futures Thinking for Academic Librarians: Higher Education in 2025” by David J Staley (director of the Harvey Goldberg Center for Excellence in Teaching in the History Department of Ohio State University) and  Kara J. Malenfant (ACRL scholarly communications and government relations specialist). I have come across Dr Staley’s work before in projects relating to the use of technology to present history and historical collections and have been impressed by his early grasp of the ways in which new technologies would and should profoundly change the nature of academic writing. [Staley, David J, From Writing to Associative Assemblages: ‘History’ in an Electronic Culture. from Writing, Teaching and Researching History in the Electronic Age. 1998. Sharp.]

This will undoubtedly be a provocative report and the impetus for much professional soul-searching. However, there is a definite irony in a futures report in which the “editable” appendix (with a suggested activity for academic libraries) is offered in the form of a Word document as opposed to being published one of the many suitable tools available in the social media/online collaboration realm. Was this choice borne of

  • a fear of the transience of “the cloud”,
  • an (perhaps unwitting) adherence to familiar writing/publishing tools,
  • the desire to give the feeling of ownership over their version of the appendix to the participating libraries,
  • the belief that the more traditional formats will be more acceptable to a larger audience, or
  • a combination of these and/or other factors?

This seems to point to an opportunity to study not only what is being said about libraries and social media but how this work is being presented and shared. Are highlighted trends and suggestions in reports such as this one being reinforced by their publishing format?