Digital scholarship, makerspaces and libraries

I first came across the concept of ‘digital scholarship’ around 3 years ago when I was the Faculty Librarian for Humanities at Curtin University and first learned about the wonderful but nebulous thing called ‘digital humanities’, its relationship to digital scholarship, and how academic libraries were central to both.

Digital scholarship is a broad term and can mean a number of different things. One definition that captures some of its complexity is “the use of digital evidence and method, digital authoring, digital publishing, digital curation and preservation, and digital use and reuse of scholarship.” (Abby Smith Rumsey, 2011)

According to the ACRL, digital scholarship is one of the top academic library trends of 2016.  The increasing importance of the role of academic libraries in supporting and contributing to digital humanities projects is evident in the growth of digital scholarship centres, often established as partnerships between the academic library and humanities faculty. (For more on this see Rikk Milligan’s discussion ‘Digital Scholarship Support in ARL Member Libraries: An Overview‘)

Different elements feed into digital scholarship, which sits at the intersection of the library, teaching and learning, and research.


As I indicate in this Venn diagram, the academic library has many traditional areas of expertise which support digital scholarship such as scholarly communication and publication (e.g. maintaining institutional repositories), archival or special collections (e.g. cultural heritage collections), and more recently research data management. Teaching of information literacy is expanding to include a recognition of the library’s responsibility to foster digital literacy and digital fluency. Moreover, makerspaces are becoming an important component of academic libraries, providing not only a physical space for the sharing of tools and equipment, but also – and perhaps more importantly – providing a means to build a community of people with shared interests, knowledge, experience who are willing to experiment, explore, collaborate and learn together through making things.

Three areas around which a digital scholarship support network could be developed are:

1. Learning skills & technologies though hands-on activities

2. Creating knowledge, conducting research using those skills & tools

3. Communicating that knowledge through digital publication

The makerspace is an important resource for fostering the learning of skills and technologies through conducting or hosting workshops and facilitating making activities and projects. Maker projects can be research-based, utilising creative research methods. There is also scope for research into the process of making itself using the emerging body of theory and practice around ’critical making’, defined as “a mode of materially productive engagement that is intended to bridge the gap between creative physical and conceptual exploration” (Ratto 2011).

Exploring new forms of digital publishing is another exciting area to explore. There a number of interesting programs and tools in development, including Scalar. With Scalar different media formats can be integrated, and non-linear and non-hierarchical structures and paths created to connect the different elements that make up the publication, which can in turn influence the way in which the content is interpreted and understood.

Universities generally have many existing resources and expertise, partnerships and collaborations that are fostering and supporting digital scholarship. However they are often disparate with tenuous connections to each other. Those of us engaged or involved in digital scholarship can be proactive in forging these connections and sharing our skills, knowledge and experiences. However formalising these relationships is not necessarily the best way forward. While I don’t necessarily have any answers as to what is, I am sure that the more conversations we have about it, the more clear it will become.


Note: This is the essence of a short talk I gave at the GLAMVR event held at the HIVE, Curtin University. The workshop, which bought together researchers, students and industry folk from the GLAM sector, was organised by Prof. Erik Champion and was funded by a small grant from the School of Media, Communication and Creative Arts (MCCA) at Curtin University.

My slides from the talk are available on Slideshare



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