Of all scholarly pursuits, Digital Humanities most clearly represents the spirit that animated the ancient foundation at Alexandria, Pergamum, and Memphis, the great monastic libraries of the Middle Ages, and even the first research libraries of the German Enlightenment. It is obsessed with varieties of representation, the organization of knowledge, the technology of communication and dissemination, and the production of useful tools for scholarly inquiry.[1]

Dr. Stephen Ramsay, Susan J. Rosowski Associate University Professor of English and a Fellow at the Center Digital Research in the Humanities at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, argues that DH not only belongs in the library, but connects the essence of the digital humanities to the very raison d’être of libraries.

While there are institutional challenges, as Miriam Posner noted her in 2012 Journal of Library Administration article, “No Half Measures: Overcoming Common Challenges to Doing Digital Humanities in the Library,” there are also opportunities. And yes, the digital humanities have been portrayed as a panacea to “save” the humanities and even to “save” the library, but that is not what I refer to. Rather, DH presents the opportunity to raise the library’s profile on campus as a site for cutting-edge 21st century research and for scholarly publication. Moreover, it offers the chance for librarians to collaborate with scholars as equal partners, not just service-providers, in research and in the creation of digital scholarly projects.

At the same time,  librarians’ extensive “traditional” experience and expertise need to be acknowledged and valued. Just a sampling of the American Library Association’s Core Competencies reveals that librarians already possess a number of skills highly useful in their work with all researchers, but some are particularly relevant to working with digital humanists:

1I. The techniques used to analyze complex problems and create appropriate
2A. Concepts and issues related to the lifecycle of recorded knowledge and information, from creation through various stages of use to disposition.
2B. Concepts, issues, and methods related to the acquisition and disposition of resources, including evaluation, selection, purchasing, processing, storing, and deselection.
2D. Concepts, issues, and methods related to the maintenance of collections, including preservation and conservation.
3B. The developmental, descriptive, and evaluative skills needed to organize recorded knowledge and information resources.
3C. The systems of cataloging, metadata, indexing, and classification standards and methods used to organize recorded knowledge and information.
4A. Information, communication, assistive, and related technologies as they affect the resources, service delivery, and uses of libraries and other information agencies.
4B. The application of information, communication, assistive, and related technology and tools consistent with professional ethics and prevailing service norms and applications.
4D. The principles and techniques necessary to identify and analyze emerging technologies and innovations in order to recognize and implement relevant technological improvements.
5A. The concepts, principles, and techniques of reference and user services that provide access to relevant and accurate recorded knowledge and information to individuals of all ages and groups.
5B. Techniques used to retrieve, evaluate, and synthesize information from diverse sources for use by individuals of all ages and groups.
5D. Information literacy/information competence techniques and methods, numerical literacy, and statistical literacy.
5E. The principles and methods of advocacy used to reach specific audiences to promote and explain concepts and services.
5F. The principles of assessment and response to diversity in user needs, user communities, and user preferences.
5G. The principles and methods used to assess the impact of current and emerging situations or circumstances on the design and implementation of appropriate services or resource development.
6A. The fundamentals of quantitative and qualitative research methods.
7A. The necessity of continuing professional development of practitioners in libraries and other information agencies.
7B. The role of the library in the lifelong learning of patrons, including an understanding of lifelong learning in the provision of quality service and the use of lifelong learning in the promotion of library services.
8D. The concepts behind, and methods for, developing partnerships, collaborations, networks, and other structures with all stakeholders and within communities served.

My point in listing these skills is that librarians are already skilled information specialists and well positioned to support digital humanities projects. Those who take the next step to develop greater facility with new digital research and publication methods will not only be able to support DH scholars but also partner with them on projects of mutual interest. Librarians already frequently serve as mentors for research and archival skills, but additional digital skills will empower them to h envision, design, plan, and create innovative digital scholarly projects of their own and to assist faculty and students through the same process.

[1] Stephen Ramsay, “Care of the Soul,” Lecture conducted from Emory University. Retrieved from http://stephenramsay.us/text/2010/10/08/care-of-the-soul.html. In Chris Alen Sula, “Digital Humanities and Libraries: A Conceptual Model,” Journal of Library Administration 53, no. 1 (January 1, 2013): 10–26, doi:10.1080/01930826.2013.756680.

Take a moment to read the following position and consider the argument and its implications for the CCL:

Framing digital humanities in libraries as a service to be provided and consequently centering the focus of the discussion on faculty members or others outside the library seem likely to stall rather than foster libraries engagement with digital humanities….Better, I think, for libraries to support space and resources for interesting, possibly risky DH projects and to think of “technology transfer” as the key service to develop…Enabling anyone in the library who wants to “do DH” to be involved and to have at least some way for librarians, library staff, and GAs to start pursuing their own DH ideas will be a more productive starting point.[1]

I would like to think very carefully about the position stated above and its implications. Of course, the challenges to doing what Munoz suggests come immediately to mind, but let’s take some time to think creatively about potential solutions and the impacts that various courses of action might have.

  1. What challenges does the CCL face as it seeks to support and actively participate in the design and development of digital scholarship?
  2. Now, take a moment or two to consider how the CCL might overcome these hurdles. No idea is too crazy. Think big and bold. What would it take?
  3. Finally, is it worth it to invest time and energy in this direction? Does it serve our mission? If not, what should our resources be invested in instead? What are the benefits and costs, not just for the library and librarians, but also for our students and faculty?

[1] Trevor Munoz. (2012) “Digital Humanities in the Library isn’t a Service.” Retrieved from https://gist.github.com/3415438.