Library Support for DH

This started as a comment to Micah Vandegrift’s amazing post “What is Digital Humanities and What’s it doing in the Library?” but it got too long … so now its a blog. While I take credit (or blame) for posting it, it is largely a compilation of ideas that came out of two different un-conference sessions on DH and libraries; one at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute at the University of Victoria and one at THATCamp CHNM at George Mason University; both in June of 2012 (it was a busy, awesome month).

Five things libraries and librarians can do to support digital humanities:

1. Get out of the library and talk to people wherever you can.

When I made a list of all the things librarians could do to support DH, most of it boiled down to communication. The stereotype of the librarian is not that of a social butterfly and faculty members are not known for their ease in social situations either. Someone has to break the ice so it might as well be you.

  • Attend events put on by the departments and centers you work with. It will be particularly valuable to attend events where scholars present their work.
  • Ask to be put on the agenda at faculty meetings to talk about what can do.
  • See if there are councils or committees that might like to hear from you.

2. Stay up on what the Digital Humanities Community is talking about.

When you are out and about, talking to faculty and students about what you do and what they need, it’s probably a good idea to be up to date on what everyone in DH is talking about.  Here are a few tips on how to stay current:

3. Make digital archives available.

Most libraries are creating digital content in some form. Too often, it just sits on a server somewhere un-or-under-utilized.

  • Make sure your collection is searchable and linkable by being thoughtful about format and metadata. Be realistic and honest about the consequences of non-standardization
  • Establish a digitization strategy that gives priority to collections that are unique and particularly attractive to your users.
  • Promote your digital collections to the point that only those faculty members who are conducting research under large rocks will be unaware of them.

4. Develop a project process.

Chances are, your library has helped a scholar complete a project. It is also likely that there was not a formal process in place to help you do that. You know that you will be asked to do this again so take some time to think about all the questions that need to be asked and people who need to be consulted. Don’t make it so bureaucratic that you scare people off but you need something to start with.

  • Are there IP concerns?
  • Will we need to digitize anything? How does that fit into our digitization strategy?
  • Is there a list of technologies and techniques that the library can (or cannot) support?
  • What happens to the project after you finish?
  • Who is responsible for long term service and, eventually, preservation? (This is the “Thanks for the puppy” delima.)

5. Decide what you can give up.

Your job is changing. You are being asked to do new things. While librarians have a great history tackling new responsibilities they still have to deal with the constraints of the time/space continuum. Take a look how you spend your day and see what could change. Library managers and administrators should be well aware of the issues and are likely interested in new ideas about how to be more effective in the changing university.

2 thoughts on “Library Support for DH”

  1. Thanks for posting Stuart—-all good advice. After doing number 1 and 2 above for a while faculty are starting to now come right to us….

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