Some time ago, I promised a series of posts following my attendance at the Digital Humanities Australasia 2012 conference. It has turned out to be an occasional series – with this being the the next occasion.
I was challenged to rethink my experience of the conference only last week, when I attended a presentation skills course conducted by NIDA. I’ve been preparing a presentation to give to staff at MPOW as part of the requirements of attending the conference, but the NIDA course challenged me to distill the message I wanted to give down to a 2-3 minute presentation – without powerpoint or other visual aids. Presenting without visual aids doesn’t frighten me per se, but the conference was very project-example heavy and I will be showing some of those projects during my longer presentation as a way of describing what I learned.
Taking the show-and-tell based presentation I had half prepared and turning it into 2 minutes of me talking about the concepts forced me to distil those concepts for myself – let alone my audience. I ended up dividing my talk into three sections. What are digital humanities? What were some of the key themes from the conference? What can/should libraries be doing to get involved?
What are digital humanities? Essentially anything humanities scholars do in a digital environment. This means that both the process of digitising a manuscript, artwork or other object AND/OR the subsequent use of that digitised product for research can come under under the umbrella of digital humanities scholarship. All clear? Further explanation from the research page of the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College, London:
The digital humanities form a bridge between the traditional practices of research and the opportunities afforded by technology, providing scholars with new ways of looking at old problems, and the methods, tools and frameworks to support them in novel avenues of enquiry. … the digital humanities does not simply evangelise for the use of technology but provides a critical perspective on when it is appropriate (or not) to use a particular technology and how (King’s College London, 2012).
The more I read on the subject of digital humanities, the more this contextual definition makes sense. Four academics from King’s College presented a keynote panel at the conference on the challenges in collaborative research in the digital humanities and offered some sample projects from their current portfolio that can be viewed here.
What were the main themes from the conference? The overall conference theme was Building, Mapping, Connecting. From the sessions I attended and looking back over the twitter stream, blog posts that have been published subsequently and reflecting on lunchtime conversations I think the following emerged as recurrent, important themes:
There were more of course, but as an LIS professional these resonated with me the most – and I am sure with most people reading this post. In most libraries, (in this context academic libraries), this is what we do, what we know how to do and this leads nicely to the third question which is….
How do/can/should academic libraries get involved? The answer to this is not straightforward and is going to vary from institution to institution, depending on the research focus of the library and the university. Some university libraries do not involve them in the research process very much, if at all, while others are focussing attention on research needs, including engagement with our role as digital libraries. Getting started may be as simple as starting to have conversations with the academics and researchers about what their needs are. Finding out how they see the library fitting into their research cycle is important, as is doing some brainstorming ourselves and coming up with some services to offer that they may not have considered as part of the library’s role. This from the blog Library Sphere:
In a world where the academic library’s value will increasingly be determined by the quality of its services rather than the number of physical objects it stores, we must have a deep understanding of how knowledge production is changing in the fields we serve and partner with scholars to build new services that they actually need.
At MPOW, the focus is on encouraging library staff to engage with the research communities in the university and there is already some collaboration going on between us. A recent job advertisement by Yale University Library has this to say about their library’s commitment to the field of digital humanities:
We are looking for a creative, technically-grounded, and visionary person who will serve as an advisor, advocate, and implementer for digital humanities at Yale University Library….This is an evolving specialization in librarianship, one that requires a combination of strong academic background in the humanities with technical knowledge, [and] curiosity about how technology is affecting research…We are seeking candidates with a keen interest in text mining and analysis, natural language processing, geospatial analysis, data visualization, and image analysis.
The job title is Librarian for Digital Humanities Research. Sounds pretty cool, yes?