How we work: a critical approach to program development to serve library/dh partnerships

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Sarah Potvin

    Texas A&M University

  2. 2. Bruce Herbert

    Texas A&M University

  3. 3. Amy Earhart

    Texas A&M University

Work text
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How we work: a critical approach to program development to serve library/dh partnerships

“‘Some people say, "what you're developing is a Sciences-based model" and no, actually [what] we're doing is this experiential based model that is very much geared toward working in the Humanities. It's just different kind of pedagogy, a different kind of learning, a different kind of research that we're engaged in.'"

-Quoted in Siemens, Cunningham, Duff, Warwick (2011).

In this short paper, we will analyze studies of how digital humanists and scientists work, testing the oft-referenced distinctions and similarities claimed between science and dh models. The three authors of the paper -- a librarian, scientist, and digital humanist -- bring expertise in different domains and traditions to bear. While much dh work has focused on the expertise of technologists and computer scientists, less attention has been paid to the ways that scientific disciplinarity impacts digital humanities work. And yet science and dh exert influences on one another, particularly as practices and tools developed in the sciences are imagined, borrowed, and manipulated by dh, but also as practices and insights from the humanities are applied to science inquiry. We resist a model wherein science is imported into the humanities unidirectionally, without reciprocal influence.

The impact of partnerships between university-based dh and libraries are strengthened through an understanding of these influences on scholarly practices in dh. As Palmer and Cragin (2008, p. 165) argue, “Understanding the nature of information practices and their relation to the production of scholarship is important for both theoretical and applied work in library and information science (LIS). Research on scholarly practices provides a foundation for the development of information systems, services, and tools to support scholarship and science ...” The applied goal of our research is the framing of the question of library-dh partnerships and the crafting of an approach to program development by the Texas A&M University Libraries that emphasizes a broad coalition of interested dh participants. We argue that examining program design through the theoretical lens of communities of practice will further enhance library and digital humanities partnerships.

A rich, existing literature considers co-authorship patterns and collaborative traditions in the digital humanities (Spiro, 2009; Nowviskie, 2011; Nyhan and Duke-William, 2013) and investigates the sociology of work for different disciplines. Recent scholarship has explored the idea of laboratories, an often cited trope in digital humanities literature (Earhart, n.d.). Additionally, epistemological models from the sciences and the humanities (Duschl and Grandy, 2008) provide insight into how disciplines frame and approach knowledge creation. The concept of data and their deployment in scientific and humanistic settings has been something of a touchstone for disciplinary bounding. Indeed, as Drucker argues, the humanities should reconceptualize data as “capta”: “From this distinction, a world of differences arises. Humanistic inquiry acknowledges the situated, partial, and constitutive character of knowledge production, the recognition that knowledge is constructed, taken, not simply given as a natural representation of a pre-existing fact” (2011).

In our research, we will critically evaluate the comparisons drawn between epistemological and labor models in dh and the sciences. This approach is in keeping with recent work cautioning against importing from the sciences without an awareness of the complex systems behind them. Earhart cautions: “it is important not to romanticize the lab. … while we might look to the laboratory as a model, we need to be critical about its implementation in our field” (n.d.). As Unsworth has written: “In humanities, we often emulate what we think the sciences do, but our emulation may not actually bear that much resemblance to the reality of what goes on in science. Often science looks more collaborative because a lot of people get together to write a grant proposal, but that does not mean that they have necessarily figured out how to work together” (Unsworth and Tupman, 2012, p. 232. Cited in Earhart, 2014).

While the “imagined sciences” have not been a major focus on the dh literature, valuable existing work considers the influence of science under the guise of computer science, technology, and library sciences. A growing literature examines how librarians and humanists work on digital projects (Siemens, Cunningham, Duff, Warwick, 2011) and surveys proliferating models for dh-library and dh-librarian collaboration and programming, as well as partnerships and efforts to “reskill” around dh (Posner, 2013; Bryson, Posner, St. Pierre, Varner, 2011). In addition to providing data on influences, these sources will further ground our program design.

University initiatives experience a high rate of failure (Kezar and Eckel, 2002), designed as they often are with simplistic or inaccurate change models. In developing our program, we aim to meet the imperative to design with a community’s needs and practices as its focus, taking the factors and interactions that will affect the success of the program into consideration.

To that end, we will need to match our programming to the particular context of Texas A&M University. As a first step, we will attempt to serve this need through the creation of an institutional profile assessing publication patterns of university faculty. How do rates of, for example, co-authorship or patterns of citations on blogs for humanities faculty at A&M compare with humanities faculty at other institutions? A land-grant, sea-grant, space-grant university with more than fifty thousand enrolled students, A&M has evolved from its historical emphasis on agricultural and mechanical education and become known as a science- and engineering-oriented research institution. Have expectations around the sciences, dominant as they are at the university level, shaped dh work at A&M more profoundly? Is this evidenced in publications?

Taken in combination with our creation of an institution profile, our research into the influences between the sciences and the humanities will provide a framework for the design of a library-dh program. Understanding the “science-based model” and its effects on dh will further inform the development of a system of personas matched to dh needs, barriers, and opportunities on campus. We believe that this research-based approach to dh partnership development will interest the larger dh community.

Bryson, Tim; Posner, Miriam, St. Pierre, Alain; Varner, Stewart. (2011). SPEC Kit 326: Digital Humanities. (Association of Research Libraries).

Drucker, Johanna. (2011). Humanistic approaches to graphical display. Digital Humanities Quarterly 5, no. 1.

Duschl, R.A., and R.E. Grandy. (2008). Teaching scientific inquiry: recommendations for research and implementation. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers

Earhart, Amy. (n.d.) The Digital Humanities as a Laboratory. In Humanities and the Digital. Ed. David Theo Goldberg and Patrik Svensson. Under advance contract, MIT Press.

Huang, Mu-Hsuan and Yu-Wei Chang. (2013). Quantifying the value of knowledge exports from librarianship and information science research. Journal of Information Science 39: 141-150.

Kezar, A., & Eckel, P. (2002). The effect of institutional culture on change strategies in higher education: Universal principles or culturally responsive concepts?The Journal of Higher Education, 73(4), 435-460.

Nowviskie, Bethany. (2012). Evaluating Collaborative Digital Scholarship (or, Where Credit is Due).Journal of Digital Humanities 1, no. 4.

Nyhan, Julianne and Oliver Duke-William (2013). Joint and multi-authored publication patterns in the Digital Humanities. Digital Humanities 2013 Conference Proceedings.

Palmer, Carole L. and Cragin, Melissa H. (2008). Scholarship and disciplinary practices. Annual Review of Information Science and Technology 42.

Posner, Miriam. (2013). No Half Measures: Overcoming Common Challenges to Doing Digital Humanities in the Library. Originally published in Journal of Library Administration 53, no. 1. Special issue: Digital Humanities in Libraries: New Models for Scholarly Engagement.

Siemens, Lynne; Cunningham, Richard; Duff, Wendy; Warwick, Claire. (2011) "A tale of two cities: implications of the similarities and differences in collaborative approaches within the digital libraries and digital humanities communities." Special issue: Papers from Digital Humanities 2010, King's College, London. LLC 26, no. 3: 335-348.

Siemens, Lynne. (2009). “‘It’s a Team If You Use “Reply All” ’: An Exploration of Research Teams in Digital Humanities Environments.” LLC 24, no. 2: 225 -233.

Sin, Joanna Sei-Ching. (2011). International coauthorship and citation impact: A bibliometric study of six LIS journals, 1980-2008. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 62, no. 9: 1770-1783.

Spiro, Lisa (2012). ‘’This Is Why We Fight’: Defining the Values of the Digital Humanities.” In Matthew K. Gold, ed., Debates in the Digital Humanities (University of Minnesota Press).

Sula, Chris Alen and Matt Miller (2013). Citation studies in the humanities. Digital Humanities 2013 Conference Proceedings.

Unsworth, John and Tupman, Charlotte. (2012). Interview with John Unsworth, April 2011, carried out and transcribed by Charlotte Tupman. In Collaborative Research in the Digital Humanities, ed. Marilyn Deegan and Willard McCarty. London: Ashgate. pp. 231-9.

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2014
"Digital Cultural Empowerment"

Hosted at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Université de Lausanne

Lausanne, Switzerland

July 7, 2014 - July 12, 2014

377 works by 898 authors indexed

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Attendance: 750 delegates according to Nyhan 2016

Series: ADHO (9)

Organizers: ADHO