A Tale of Two Cities: Implications of the Similarities and Differences in Collaborative Approaches within the Digital Libraries and Digital Humanities Communities

  1. 1. Lynne Siemens

    Faculty of Business - University of Victoria, School of Public Administration - University of Victoria

  2. 2. Richard Cunningham

    Acadia Digital Culture Observatory - Acadia University

  3. 3. Wendy Duff

    Faculty of Information - University of Toronto

  4. 4. Claire Warwick

    Department of Information Studies - University College London

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Besides drawing on content experts, librarians,
archivists, developers, programmers, managers,
and others, many emerging digital projects also
pull in disciplinary expertise from areas that do
not typically work in team environments. To
be effective, these teams must find processes
– some of which are counter to natural
individually-oriented work habits – that support
the larger goals and group-oriented work of
these digital projects. This paper will explore
the similarities and differences in approaches
within and between members of the Digital
Libraries (DL) and Digital Humanities (DH)
communities by formally documenting the
nature of collaboration in these teams. The
objective is to identify exemplary work patterns
and larger models of research collaboration that
have the potential to strengthen this positive
aspect of these communities even further, while
exploring the key differences between them
which may limit digital project teams’ efforts.
Our work is therefore designed to enable those
who work in such teams to recognise factors that
tend to predispose them to success, and perhaps
more importantly, to avoid those that may lead
to problematic interactions, and thus make the
project less successful than it might otherwise
have been.
1. Context
Traditionally, research contributions in the
humanities field have been felt to be, and
documented to be, predominantly solo efforts
by academics involving little direct collaboration
with others, a model reinforced through doctoral
studies and beyond (See, for example, Cuneo
2003; Newell and Swan 2000). However,
DL and DH communities are exceptions to
this. Given that the nature of digital projects
involves computers and a variety of skills
and expertise, collaborations in these fields
involve individuals within their institutions
and with others nationally and internationally.
Such collaboration typically must coordinate
efforts between academics, undergraduate
and graduate students, research assistants,
computer programmers and developers,
librarians, and other individuals as well as
financial and other resources. Further, as more
digital projects explore issues of long term
sustainability, academics and librarians are
likely to enter into more collaborations to ensure
this objective (Kretzschmar Jr. and Potter
Given this context, some research has been done
on the DL and DH (See, for example Liu and
Smith 2007; Ruecker and Radzikowska 2008;
Siemens 2009) communities as separate entities
(See, for example Johnson 2009; Liu, Tseng
and Huang 2005; Johnson 2005; Siemens et
al. 2009b), but little has been done on the
interaction between these two communities
when in collaboration. Tensions can exist in
academic research teams when the members
represent different disciplines and approaches
to team work (Birnbaum 1979; Fennel and
Sandefur 1983; Hara et al. 2003). Collaborations
can be further complicated when some team
members have more experience and training
in collaboration than other members, a case
which may exist with digital projects involving
librarians and archivists, who tend to have more
experience, and academics, who have tend to
have less. Ultimately, too little is known about

how these teams involving DL and DH members
collaborate and the types of support needed to
ensure project success.
2. Methods
This paper is part of a larger project
examining research teams within the DH and
DL communities, led by a team based in
Canada and England (For more details, see
Siemens et al. 2009a; Siemens et al. 2009b).
It draws upon results from interviews and
two surveys of the communities exploring
the individuals’ experiences in digital project
teams. The findings include a description of the
communities’ work patterns and relationships
and the identification of supports and research
preparation required to sustain research teams
(as per Marshall and Rossman 1999; McCracken
1988). A total of seven individuals were
interviewed and another 69 responded to the
two surveys.
3. Preliminary Findings
At the time of writing this proposal, final
data analysis of the surveys and interviews is
being completed. However, some preliminary
comparisons between the two communities can
be reported.
As a starting point, similarities exist among DL
and DH projects. First, digital projects are being
accomplished within teams, albeit relatively
small ones, as defined by budget and number of
individuals involved. Both communities report
that the scale and scope of digital projects
require individuals with a variety of skills and
expertise. Further, these collaborations tend
to operate without formal documentation that
outline roles, responsibilities, decision making
methods, and conflict resolution mechanisms.
The survey and interview respondents from
both communities report similar benefits
and challenges within their collaborations.
Finally, these teams rely heavily on email
and face-to-face interaction for their project
Some interesting differences between DL- and
DH-based teams exist and may influence
a digital project team’s effectiveness. First,
the DL respondents seem to have a greater
reliance on email as opposed to face-to-
face communications and tend to rate the
relative effectiveness of email higher than the
DH respondents. Several explanations may be
offered for this. According to survey results, DL
teams appear more likely to be located within
the same institution, which means that casual
interpersonal interaction may be more likely to
occur between team members than with groups
that are geographically dispersed, as many
DH teams are. For dispersed teams, meetings
need to be more deliberately planned, which
may mean a higher consciousness about the
importance of this kind of interaction and the
necessity to build this into project plans. Also,
given that many of the DL teams are within the
same organization, team members may be more
familiar with each other in advance of a project
start, meaning that more communication can be
done by email. Less time may need to be spent in
formal meetings developing work processes as is
the case with those teams whose members may
not have worked together on previous projects.
Second, a greater percentage of respondents
(42%) within the DH community indicated
that they “enjoyed collaboration” than the
DL respondents (18%). Comprising of more
academics, the DH community tends to
undertake more solitary work, and therefore
collaboration may be seen as a welcomed change
and may be a deliberate choice that they have
made to undertake this type of work. In contrast,
team work is more the norm for librarians
and archivists, and thus they may feel it is
an expected part of their jobs, rather than
a choice and welcomed activity. As a result,
members of these two communities approach
collaboration from two fundamentally different
positions, which must be understood from the
outset of a digital project in order to reduce
challenges and ensure success.
Further, differences in roles and perceived
status may complicate collaboration. Often,
tensions may exist between service
departments, such as libraries and computer
support, and the researcher, who is perceived
to have higher status (Warwick 2004). These
differences in perceived status can complicate
work process as those with lower status may
have difficultly directing those with perceived
higher status (Hagstrom 1964; Ramsay 2008;
Newell and Swan 2000).
The benefits to the DL and DH communities
will be several. First, the study contributes to

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2010
"Cultural expression, old and new"

Hosted at King's College London

London, England, United Kingdom

July 7, 2010 - July 10, 2010

142 works by 295 authors indexed

XML available from https://github.com/elliewix/DHAnalysis (still needs to be added)

Conference website: http://dh2010.cch.kcl.ac.uk/

Series: ADHO (5)

Organizers: ADHO

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None