The (In)Visibility of Digital Humanities Resources in Academic Contexts

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Nikoleta Pappa

    School of Library, Archive and Information Studies - University College London

  2. 2. Claire Warwick

    School of Library, Archive and Information Studies - University of Sheffield

  3. 3. Melissa Terras

    School of Library, Archive and Information Studies - University College London

  4. 4. Paul Huntington

    School of Library, Archive and Information Studies - University College London

Work text
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This poster aims to determine how easy is to find digital resources for humanities use, and whether
links are made to such resources or portal sites (such
as Humbul and AHDS) from library and humanities
department websites. We have undertaken this task
because one hypothesis about low levels of usage of digital
resources by humanities scholars is that there is a lack of knowledge about appropriate resources. (Warwick, 2004) Thus if we determine that it is difficult for users to find information or resources, and that digital humanities projects are not promoted within academic contexts, then this would support such an explanation.
This research is being undertaken as part of the
LAIRAH project (Log Analysis of Internet
Resources in the Arts and Humanities, (, a collaboration between two
research centres at University College London (UCL): the
Centre for Information Behaviour and the Evaluation of Research (CIBER, (, and the newly created Cultural Informatics Research Centre for the Arts and humanities (CIRCAh ( The aim of the LAIRAH survey is to
investigate what influences the long-term sustainability
and use of digital resources in the humanities through the analysis and evaluation of real-time use. This will
provide comprehensive, quantitative, qualitative, and robust
measures for evaluation of real-time use, utilising deep log analysis techniques on automatically recorded server data, and undertaking user analysis of digital humanities projects. The results of this research should increase understanding of usage patterns of digital humanities
resources; aid in the selection of projects for future
funding, and enable us to develop evaluator measures for new projects.
Since 1998, over 300 projects have been funded by
the Arts and Humanities Research Council in the UK to produce digital resources in the humanities, but while
some of them have made an impact on humanities
scholarship and are frequently used by scholars others have been relatively unsuccessful indicating financial and intellectual wastage. Limited research has been done into whether user centred factors determine usage (Warwick et al, 2005)
Through early CIRCAh group discussions we identified a limitation in the knowledge of how users access and locate digital resources for the humanities. Information seeking itself is a well researched area. As Dalton and Charnigo argue, in recent years the amount of literature about scholars and their information needs and information seeking behaviours has become a flood. Although useful
recent work on humanities scholars has been done by Talja and Maula (2003), Greene (2000) and Ellis and Oldman, (2005) much of the literature tends to conflate information seeking and information needs in relation to humanities scholars. In the area of information needs, seminal work done by Stone (1982) and Watson Boone, (1994) showed that humanities users need a wide range of resources, in terms of their age and type. This is still true in a digital environment, where humanities users continue to need printed materials, or even manuscripts as well as electronic resources, which by their nature may imply a much greater age of materials than those used by scientists. (British Academy, 2005) Nevertheless, we are
not aware of a study that has looked specifically at
how or indeed whether humanities users seek digital resources. Thus this relatively small scale study should give rise to interesting findings, to be compared with the more general work of others.
Our study uses the methodologies of chaining, a term first coined by Ellis (1993), to describe the location of resources by information seeking by making links from references in text, and of browsing rather than key word searching. This is because these techniques are known to be widely used by humanities scholars (Bates, 2002). Humanities scholars do of course use keyword searches on Google. But to gain meaningful results from such a search scholars need to have enough knowledge
to decide which terms to use. They may therefore
prefer to chain or browse before they do so. Therefore the
researcher, who is an experienced information searcher but does not have a background in digital humanities - thus eliminating the effect of knowledge transfer - will attempt to find digital resources for humanities scholar.
The researcher plays the part of an interested but not
particularly expert humanities scholar or graduate
student researching a project or looking for information
about a specific topic
Our sample takes 16 UK Russell Group universities, and will compare these to a sample of 16 UK post 1992 universities. The two types of university were chosen to represent a sample of the range of different universities in the UK higher education system. New universities are in general not as research intensive as older universities, and may teach subjects in different ways. Our sample was therefore chosen to avoid a concentration on one type of institution. The researcher searched for links to digital
humanities resources and projects by using the university
library websites and through websites for humanities departments or, if they are evident, scholars’ web pages within these sites.
A total of eight History departments, eight English
departments, eight Modern Languages departments
and eight Film or Media studies departments were
investigated. In each case four were from a new
university and four from an old one. The universities were not duplicated (in other words we did not use both the English and History departments from UCL, but to chose those from different universities).
The researcher also used websites for the few research
centres or courses on digital humanities that exist, as a starting point for her search. In the UK only 6 universities run such courses or host research centres. They are:
1. Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King’s College London (U.K.)
2. Centre for Technology and the Arts, De Montfort University, Leicester (U.K)
3. Humanities Advanced Technology and Information Institute, University of Glasgow (U.K.)
4. Pallas (Humanities Computing), Exeter University (U.K.)
5. School of Library, Archive and Information Studies, University College London (U.K)
6. Humanities Research Institute, Sheffield University, UK
These were chosen because scholars may choose to start searches from the pages of known centres of excellence in digital humanities research and teaching.
Initial findings indicate that locating and using digital
resources for the humanities is a difficult and time
consuming task which may help to account for low
levels of use. For example, from eight universities
providing courses in film and media only two have digital resources links in their course/department web site. One has an easy accessible digital resources library catalogue,
two have digital resources library catalogues but it is
almost impossible to find them. The user has to be expert
in information seeking in order to locate and access them (the researcher was able to find them only by accessing the web site map, something that a less experienced user would find it difficult to find). Finally three of the eight universities had no link at all in digital resources for film and media specifically and humanities in general. This represents only a quarter of our expected results, and we have chosen to present a poster because at the time of submission research is not yet complete. Thus we do not yet know how typical such results may be. However, the detailed results of further topics in this study will be analysed and presented at the conference to illustrate our findings, should the poster be accepted.
This study should prove illuminating, because of the lack of work that has been done on how humanities scholars find digital resources when beginning from web sites themselves. In the LAIRAH project, our overall aim is to discover the factors which make a resource usable,
and one of these must be visibility. If users cannot
discover that a resource exists, evidently they cannot use it. Our study therefore presets a small but important
subset of results, which will inform our final findings about
how resource creators and information professionals
might make digital resources more usable to future
Bates, M. J.,( 2002) The cascade of interactions in the digital library interface. Information Processing & Management. 38: 3 381 -400
British Academy (2005), E-resources for Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences - A British
Academy Policy Review. section 3.5 Available from
Dalton, M. S, and Charnigo, L. (2004) Historians and their information sources. College & Research
Libraries. 65 (5) 400-425.
Ellis, D. (1993) Modelling the Information Seeking
Patterns of Academic Researchers- a Grounded Theory
Approach. Library Quarterly 63 (4): 469-486
Ellis, D. and Oldman H. (2005) The English literature
researcher in the age of the Internet. Journal of
Information Science, 31 (1): 29-36.
Green, R., (2000) Locating sources in humanities
scholarship: The efficacy of following bibliographic references. Library Quarterly. 70 (2): 201 -229
Stone, S. (1982) ‘Humanities Scholars-Information needs and uses’ Journal of Documentation. 38 (4): 292-313
Talja, S. and Maula, J. (2003) Reasons for the use and non-use of electronic journals and databases -
A domain analytic study in four scholarly disciplines.
Journal of Documentation. 59 (6): 273-291
Warwick, C. (2004) ‘Digital resources and Print
Scholarship’ in Ray Siemens, Susan.Schreibman and John Unsworth (eds.) Blackwell Companion to digital humanities. Oxford, Blackwell. pp. 366-383.
Warwick, C., Blandford A. and Buchanan, G. (2005) User Centred Interactive Search: A study of humanities
users in a digital library environment. Presented at he Association for Computers and the Humanities- Association for Literary and Linguistic Computing, Conference 2005. University of Victoria, Canada, June 15-18.
Watson-Boone, R. (1994) The Information Needs and Habits of Humanities Scholars, Reference Quarterly, 34, 203-216

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Conference Info



Hosted at Université Paris-Sorbonne, Paris IV (Paris-Sorbonne University)

Paris, France

July 5, 2006 - July 9, 2006

151 works by 245 authors indexed

The effort to establish ADHO began in Tuebingen, at the ALLC/ACH conference in 2002: a Steering Committee was appointed at the ALLC/ACH meeting in 2004, in Gothenburg, Sweden. At the 2005 meeting in Victoria, the executive committees of the ACH and ALLC approved the governance and conference protocols and nominated their first representatives to the ‘official’ ADHO Steering Committee and various ADHO standing committees. The 2006 conference was the first Digital Humanities conference.

Conference website:

Series: ACH/ICCH (26), ACH/ALLC (18), ALLC/EADH (33), ADHO (1)

Organizers: ACH, ADHO, ALLC

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