Does the library have a role to play in the Digital Humanities?

What role does the library have to play in the increasingly data driven, technologically evolving humanities?

Humanities and the social sciences have traditionally been disciplines aligned closely with the institutional library and its resources and services. Increasingly, in my conversations with librarians, there is a concern that while the library as a space remains popular, this masks a growing distance between the services the library provides and the needs and expectations of researchers (to say nothing of undergrads).

As subjects like digital humanities find themselves transformed by their engagement with technology, is the library facing the threat of redundancy?

There has been a flurry of research recently including the RLUK report: Re-skilling for Research and JISC Collections’ UK Scholarly Reading and the Value of Library Resourcesexploring the evolving role of the library in supporting researchers.

Similarly, Ithaka S+R in the US is exploring the changing support needs of scholars across a variety of disciplines. The researcher-centric programme has recently published a ‘memo’ on the interim findings of their NEH funded History project (they are also exploring Chemistry, funded by JISC). And, as the report makes clear:

To many in the history field and in libraries, it is unclear what the role of the library should be in digital humanities. This is not to imply that there is no role for libraries – only that this role has not yet been widely developed and adopted effectively. Libraries remain very much in transition when it comes to expanding models for supporting research on campus

So, I wanted to explore some of the roles that libraries might have in the Digital Humanities:

Questions remain around the ability of the library, and the wider institution, to adapt to the changes that are affecting scholarly practice. While much of the focus of research has been on the library services and how these can be made attractive to researchers, it is clear that a researcher-centric approach needs to be adopted to ensure requirements and future needs are clearly understood.

Finally, I wonder if the values the library represents (openness, access, contemplation etc…) might also be something that needs ‘capturing’. If we only focus on researcher needs, is there a danger that what they see as the value of the library is lost? Is the library an expression of knowledge and prestige within the research community, and does this have a value in itself?

Comments

16 Responses to “Does the library have a role to play in the Digital Humanities?”

  1. Eric Lease Morgan on February 23rd, 2012 5:44 pm

    I read the Ithaka S+R report as well, and heard the same questions. “What is the role of a library in the digital humanities?” The things outlined above are obvious roles — typical for libraries.

    At the same time, I think librarianship can go further by incorporating digital humanities computing techniques into our systems and services. For example, why not provide concordance services against all of the full text items in our collections. Why not allow readers to create small corpuses of library content and then provide n-gram services, entity-recognition services, or parts-of-speech extraction service against the result.


    Eric Lease Morgan

  2. Ben Showers on February 23rd, 2012 6:06 pm

    I think these are some really good points – and some potentially very interesting services for libraries, or information providers to develop.

    I wonder about how near-term such a transformation in services of this type would be? The need for new skills, new infrastructure etc. How does the library create agility, how does it adapt quickly and responsively, and how does it engage with researchers to ensure that it is able to affect a new service turn that goes beyond ‘the obvious’?

  3. Brandon Butler on February 24th, 2012 3:09 pm

    It sounds like some of these ideas, especially Eric’s suggestion of creating smaller digital corpuses for analysis, are going to require some copyright thinking. Digitizing is copying, after all. ARL has tried to anticipate this with Principle 7 of the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries. I hope it can be helpful for you guys!

    Find more info here: http://www.arl.org/fairuse

    and particularly here: http://www.arl.org/pp/ppcopyright/codefairuse/code/seven-creating.shtml

  4. Micah Vandegrift on February 24th, 2012 3:59 pm

    I’d also like to offer this bibliography on the same topic compiled by Miriam Posner – http://miriamposner.com/blog/?page_id=1033

  5. Libraries and Digital Humanities – The Daily SLog on February 24th, 2012 4:19 pm

    [...] these days, but what exactly what is it? and how does it affect what we do? I came across this interesting explanatory post last night as I was flipping through Zite, my new personalized online magazine (that is, Zite as in [...]

  6. Ben Showers on February 24th, 2012 7:04 pm

    @Micah and @Brandon – Many thanks, these are great resources.

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  8. Interesting article about that old chestnut – libraries in the digital world. « Oxford Libraries Graduate Trainee Programme on February 27th, 2012 5:11 pm
  9. Nick Ruest on February 28th, 2012 1:33 pm

    Does the library have a role to play in the Digital Humanities? : Digital Infrastructure Team…

    See original: Does the library have a role to play in the Digital Humanities? : Digital Infrastructure Team…

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