Digital Scholarship @ CUA: Digital Humanities in the Library

dhlibraryLast March, the Catholic University of America embarked on a voyage of digital humanities discovery. We had our first DH cross campus inaugural meeting, involving faculty, students, librarians, archivists, curators, and administrators. We outlined our individual and institutional challenges and focused on our needs going forward. Consequently, in the fall 2015 semester, we will begin having workshops on collaborating on our projects, exploring new software, and in general, getting to know each other. Stay tuned!

Our roles as librarians has changed rapidly over the past few years. Once just keepers of print warehouses and guides for library tours, we have now become harbingers of change agents across the entire scholarly communication paradigm. Subject (or liaison) librarians that have experience and knowledge in subject expertise, information literacy and research skills, collection management skills, and collection development, have a foundation on which to make contributions to digital humanities scholarship. The big question is, ‘Where to begin?’

Digital Humanities in the Library: Challenges and Opportunities for Subject Specialists is a long overdue addition to the burgeoning interest in digital humanities by librarians. Edited by Arianne Hartsell-Gundy, Laura Braunstein, and Liorah Golomb–all humanities librarians in their own right–the work is designed specifically for subject/liaison humanities librarians who are seeking ways to collaborate with scholars and students on a wide variety of projects, and it provides an overview of the challenges and opportunities that abound at any institution, whether at a two-year college or at a research institution. The book is divided into four parts: 1) the first part discusses why librarians should acquire DH skills, 2) ways one can get involved, 3) the issues of collaboration, spaces, and instruction, and last, 4) conceiving, implementing, and maintaining a DH project.  The fourteen chapters have been written by a variety of specialists: DH librarians, social science librarians, archivists, editors, faculty, graduate students, and others. The chapters range from practical advice (e.g. a checklist for DH scholarship), to case studies (e.g. librarians teaching DH in the classroom) to theoretical/philosophical discussions (e.g. literary critical theory as it pertains to DH).

Librarians should acquire DH skills for a number of reasons, as outlined in the opening chapter ‘Traversing the Gap: Subject Specialists connecting Humanities Researchers and Digital Scholarship Centers.’ Katie Gibson, Marcus Ladd (a CUA alumnus), and Jenny Presnell argue that there are many DH roles that a librarian can adopt depending on the type of model (i.e. service, lab or network) existing at one’s institution.  They advise being proactive in your endeavors, seeking out opportunities and collaborators rather than having scholars and students come to you. Being involved early in the project planning process, educating scholars about the services that the library can provide, adding subject expertise when necessary, and networking across campus to make resources available for scholarly support, are only a few of the roles librarians can adopt in implementing digital scholarship standards at their institutions.

The projects that stem from the mission of the university often have the greatest chance of success.  If the college or university has limited resources and is strapped for funding, the right incremental changes put in place by librarians can have significant outcomes on the creation and maintenance of DH projects. Judy Walker provides a case study of this approach at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte in ‘Digital Humanities for the Rest of Us.’   The local history project, New South Voices, was a collaboration that included librarians, faculty, students from various departments as well as community organizations. In order to do this with no new money, the Digital Scholarship Lab (DSL) was created by reorganizing the existing staff expertise and by having the staff match the needs of faculty and students with the liaisons and IT staff who possessed the best suited particular skills and knowledge sets.  Walker discusses the type of collaboration one can be involved in, from hosting a THATCamp to workshops on tools to creating an open access journal, Urban Education Research and Policy Annuals.  It is interesting to note that the creation of DH projects emboldened others to reach out to the librarians. For example, the aforementioned journal led to the creation of an undergraduate psychology journal and two education journals.  The DSL staff set up the publications and trained the staff. As Walker notes, ‘Librarians are great at finding and organizing information and resources. What we haven’t done in the past, though, is share our tools and expertise.’ Implementing DH projects is not without its challenges. Faculty and administration who are skeptical of the digital humanities (whatever ‘that’ is), its relevance, and in large part, the role of librarians in research endeavors, serve to undermine scholarly endeavors. Copyright, open access, scholarly publishing, working with datasets (i.e. finding, using, storing and curating datasets), are just some of the challenges facing librarians.  Working with the university IT staff on issues of security and access is another issue. In addition, librarians and library staff  are often unwilling or unable to adopt or keep up with the changing needs of their constituents. Hence, the need for this book!

What I found refreshing about this work is the honesty of the librarians discussing their trials and tribulations in bringing forth a project and candidly writing about what worked and often more importantly, what did not work. Liorah Golomb’s ‘Dipping a Toe into the DH Waters: a Librarian’s Experience,’ serves as a model for curiosity and fearlessness. Golomb writes of her experiences at the University of Oklahoma, moving from an attendee of DH conferences and workshops to actively working on text mining the dialogue from the TV series Supernatural. Preparing a feasible research question, collecting the raw data, preparing the data for analysis, and selecting the right tools throughout the process, are essential steps in the research process that can have potential pitfalls. Golomb offers some tips:  define your goals, understand how to work with your data and if you are unsure, find someone who does understand, determine how to gather your data (discover whether is exists elsewhere can be a real time saver), and last, keep in mind that failure is always an option and not necessarily something to be shunned.

I teach a course in digital humanities in the Department of Library and Information Science at Catholic University. I tell my students to try new things and to not be afraid of failing at something. To quote Jake the Dog:

Sucking at something is the first step towards being sorta good at something.” — Jake the Dog

Reading Digital Humanities in the Library for practical advice and real-world examples is that first step towards ‘being sorta good at something.’

Digital Scholarship @ CUA: Humanities or Sciences?

Crossroads image between liberal arts and technology

Are we worried about too much Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) or the death of the humanities – or both? At many universities, including ours, we are having the conversations about making science more accessible to undergraduates in exploratory courses; and we are having the conversations about how science researchers can be better at communicating and creativity. We are also having a troubling conversation about how often a web site needs to be redesigned – yes, six years is way too long!

The following articles from many perspectives highlight the dichotomy between the humanities and sciences in higher education today that, hopefully, will inform higher education in the future.

Two excellent articles outline out the case for the importance of both humanities and sciences.

“A broad general education helps foster critical thinking and creativity. Exposure to a variety of fields produces synergy and cross fertilization. Yes, science and technology are crucial components of this education, but so are English and philosophy.”

“Turning to events internal to the intellectual world, we notice that during the last 150 years the humanities became radically eclipsed, even delegitimized, by the phenomenal success of their great intellectual rival, the hard sciences. The latter have rapidly built up an unprecedented edifice of knowledge. It is not only intellectually or theoretically superior to everything before — precise, systematic, and empirically verifiable — but also superior in its practical utility, generating unimagined new technologies for the improvement of human life. Today scientific knowledge is equated with real knowledge, all the rest seeming like folklore. All modern intellectuals suffer from physics envy. But even the extraordinary rise of modern science cannot adequately explain the current fate of the humanities. Empirical science is competent in the realm of measurable facts, but not in the realm of values. The wisdom of life and knowledge of the self that we desperately need come, not from scientific data, but from reflective accounts of the inner experience of being alive as a human being, and especially of being most fully, intensely, and authentically alive. The sciences eclipse the humanities in one way, but render them more necessary in another. By vastly expanding our power for good and ill, the rise of modern science greatly increases our need for self-­knowledge and moral clarity.” Continue reading “Digital Scholarship @ CUA: Humanities or Sciences?”

New Research Guide for Digital Humanities

The librarians in Religious Studies and Humanities Services have created a new research guide for studying Digital Humanities. The guide includes resources available through CUA Libraries as well as recommendations for useful websites, blogs, and  tools.

The guide was created by Jennifer Adams. Jennifer was a member of the Archimedes Palimpsest Project where she transcribed parts of the original text into digital format using TEI guidelines.

We welcome suggestions and comments.  Please contact Kevin Gunn at or 202-319-5088.

Father Robert Busa, Creator of Index Thomisticus, dead at 97

Father Robert Busa, creator of the Index Thomisticus, has died at the age of 97.  Father Busa is considered the pioneer of Humanities Computing or Digital Humanities.  For obituaries, see L’Osservatore Romano and Corriere del Veneto.  Background information on the creation of the Index Thomisticus can be found in the foreword of A Companion to Digital Humanities, ed. Susan Schreibman, Ray Siemens, John Unsworth. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004, written by Father Busa.

Digital Humanities 2009 at the University of Maryland

The 2009 Conference on the Digital Humanities will be happening in our backyard this June 22-25, 2009 at the University of Maryland, College Park.  This conference is the annual meeting of the Association for Computers and the Humanities, the Association for Literary and Linguistic Computing, and the Society for Digital Humanities / Société pour l’étude des médias interactifs.   The conference will be hosted by the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH).  Keynote speakers will be Lev Manovich and Christine Borgmann.