Monday, June 25, 2012

I attended the ACRL Digital Humanities Discussion Group during the American Library Association Annual Conference, which met at 4-5:30PM, on Sunday June 24, 2012.

Facilitated by Kate Brooks; (incoming head: Angela Courtney) there about 40-50 in attendance. (The ACRL Digital Humanities email list has over 500 subscribers.)

We went around the room for everyone introduced themselves, and mentioned their interest in digital humanities (hereafter DH) and why they came. In part this was to help determine the future direction of the group.

Some of the interesting projects mentioned were:
  • A commons set up by the Modern Language Association
  • A librarian involved the creation of an online multimedia book
  • A librarian from UCLA noted that institution's 31st year of offering a digital certificate. They have just recently opened an area for staff to participate in DH
  • The University of Michigan plans to unveil a digital humanities project in October about the 1918 Influenza
  • A joint project of the Brooklyn Museum, the Brooklyn Public Library, the Brooklyn Historical Society and Pratt University plans to explore the ways to showcase their digital photography project
While many attendee were able to mention projects at their institutions, other stated that they were present for in order to see what DH is about and learning more.

The agenda was based on responses to the questionnaire Kate sent out to the ARCL Digital Humanities email list: What do we understand DH and DH librarians to be? What are new directions for librarians to follow? Are they extensions of existing responsibilities?

How does a DH project begin? It's usually initiated by the faculty or students. The library or librarian is brought in at a later stage of the project. Librarians serve as the volunteers who can help shepherd the project through. They can function as facilitators. The library is one place where hierarchical status can be leveled and participants can be can equals.

It was noted that some faculty, used to dealing primarily with humanities, have a fear of technology. Some forbid students from consulting ebooks, or smart phones. They are very print-focused. Data, collaborations are new things to them. They can't see the value in (for example) text mining. All the more reason that a library is a natural home for the blending of humanities and technology. It is a space that fosters collaboration. Libraries are the ultimate connectors between faculty, students, IT, users – all parties involved in a DH project.

In the context of DH, the change in librarians' responsibilities was noted. It is a shift away from their area of subject expertise to an area that requires new skills. Prominent among these was the need for project management. Many participants in a DH project need someone with an overall view of the entire project, process, workflow, stakeholders, etc. and project management is one way to see the project to completion.

Is the word “digital” a term that fosters fragmentation? There was a perception that once the word “digital” was used, members of the institution felt a disconnect, a separation. The emphatic response was no, that DH should really be considered a part of humanities. DH is neither different nor separate.

Attendees clarified the difference between digitization (a transfer to a new format) and DH (how that new format is used).

Where are the standards in digitization? Documentation on best practices? It depends on the materials. Check out projects that you find similar. Many have documentation of their metholody and process as part of their website. Ask what are their tools, standards, etc.? (Do not be afraid to email them and ask how they did it.) Check out DigitalLibrary Federation, Nineteenth-Century Scholarship Online ( TEI has a set of guidelines. (Developing a more comprehensive list of sources would be a useful project for the blog – see below.)

What are the challenges one faces with DH projects?  Some of them are:
  • Reaching out to faculty
  • Participating in DH projects
  • Teaching in the library
  • Institutions that don't have a DH department
  • A project with no single DH person managing
  • Not having dedicated staff
For dedicated DH librarians: how do you work with archivists, book groups, subject librarians, and other participants/stakeholders? One person mentioned a danger where some project initiator's enthusiasm will prompt them to imagine an expedited process that leaves out the library entirely (they'll be sorry later!). It shouldn't happen: Sooner or later the library is going to be involved (and most institutional staff will believe and want this.) [Remember the discussion above of the perception of the library was the unifier of disparate institutional communities.]

One librarian recalled what happened at his institution. He took on the role of project manager because it was the only way the proejct was going to get done. He created a DH group by bringing in people across the institution. He created a new workflow to see the project through and get it done. He observed that getting people on group made them have an investment in the project. Also important: a narrative of how it was implemented and done can be an important thing for tenure and for others who want to learn.

What should this ACRL DH group do? Should the group continue as a discussion group, or become an interest group. The differences: A discussion group is free form, open ended, no membership requirements (anyone can attend), but no financial support from ACRL. An interest group receives money from ARCL to assist with programing, for example, the presentation of papers. An interest group has to have at least 75 members, and goes for 3 years, after which the group is reviewed. Kate promised to poll the email list to see how they felt on whether to continue the group as a discussion group or move toward an interest group.

The blog. Recap: Based on conversations over the ACRL DH email list, it was felt that a platform using WordPress could be useful as a central place for the intersection of librarians and DH. The question currently before us: What do we want the blog to be? Some mentioned an aggregation function, although others were not interest in a site that was simply going to pull information from other sites. One idea was that it could be a site where people submit original content. Or it could be two site: one for announcements, and one for original content with editorial curation. People felt strongly that the ACRL DH email list has been a significant communication tool and that it should be maintained. There was some brainstorming on what path the site could take: It could be like, or it could be like ProfHacker (on the Chronicle of Higher Education). It could be a place where DH tools could be commented on as to their scope and usefulness, and providing documentation of various projects.

[The blog is being set up by Sarah Potvin, Roxanne Shirazi and Angela Courtney.]

Kate again promised to send out a survey over the email list to get an idea of what people envision.

The meeting closed with the final question: What should the blog be named.

It was an enthusiastic group and I'm interested to see what course it will take.  Bravo Kate and welcome, Angela!


Miriam Posner said...

Great summary -- thank you! Just a note that at UCLA we just completed our first year offering a Digital Humanities certificate, not our 31st! We do like to think of ourselves as ahead of the curve, but we can't claim that much foresight!

Beja19046 said...

Thanks for posting your summary of the meeting for those of us who couldn't attend.