libraries and the digital humanities


The digital humanities is a fast-growing area which operates at the intersection of technology and humanities research.

For those who like definitions, here is one from the Australasian Association for the Digital Humanities:

We understand digital humanities as being the application of computing technology and techniques to build greater understanding of our diverse social and cultural archives, employing and designing tools, formats and approaches to support new methods and findings.

There are a lot of exciting projects underway in the digital humanities.   See for example, the lists of projects on the AADH site of Australian and NZ projects,  the UK-based project, and the  Humanities Machine, a NZ Digital Humanities Portal. Some of the projects, such as TROVE (National Library of Australia) and the NZ Alexander Turnbull Digital Collections are library-based.   

While most of the projects are led by humanities faculties, libraries are poised to start breaking down the walls of separation between the faculty and the library.

So what role can libraries play in the digital humanities?

Michelle Dalmau has written a report  Digital Humanities & Libraries: More of THAT!, in which she argues that digital humanities are becoming more established as a formal presence in academic libraries, where library professionals are moving beyond ‘support’ roles to ‘partner roles’, fostering collaborative digital humanities initiatives within the library and faculty.   The report outlines six interesting themes that emerged in the discussions at the DH & Libraries and THATCamp held in November 2012.

1: Sanctioned Cultural Change

“Grassroots initiatives are probably the most infectious for inspiring cultural changes across academic libraries, but ultimately administrative and organizational support is crucial to effectively mobilize and garner the resources often needed when effecting change”.

2: Exposure to Meaningful Learning

 “Exposure is key, we must remain conversant, not necessarily fluent, in the domain areas necessary to foster and sustain digital research projects and practices.”

3:  Engagement

“Instead of relegating library professionals to the windowless expanse of beige cubicle farms, why not embed them in academic departments, or public services alongside the subject and reference librarians?”

4:  Experimentation

“Libraries are perfectly situated for experimentation, and we should view the fostering of digital research in libraries as an opportunity to leverage existing technical infrastructure, and expand technical infrastructure (aka evolving “core” operations).”

5:  Liberate Data 

 “Create shareable (meta)data to allow scholars to re-use and re-mix data by providing easy-access to the data (APIs, batch downloads); be bold about data-sharing; champion open-access in open ways; disclose human understandable guidelines and policies.”

6: Broaden the Scope

“How do we flatten the hierarchy, operationally speaking, so that we can both cultivate knowledge transfer and exact domain expertise in our usual collaborative ways?”

For me, as a humanities faculty librarian, a few questions have emerged.  What is our unique role in the digital humanities as information professionals?   And, how can I contribute to defining this emerging role?

Other links:

Digital humanities and libraries: A conceptual model:  Article available open access, published in Journal of Library Administration, Vol 53, Issue 1, 2013.

Digital Humanities and the Future of Libraries:    Video of a panel discussion at the New York Public Library.

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