Digital Humanities Services in Academic Libraries: A Design Thinking Approach to Center Inclusive and Anti-Oppressive Approaches for DH Services

workshop / tutorial
  1. 1. Jennifer Nichols

    Libraries - University of Arizona

  2. 2. Niamh Wallace

    Libraries - University of Arizona

Work text
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This workshop aims to critically situate DH and academic librarianship within a design thinking framework; attendees will be led through equity-centered design thinking strategies that explore empathy building and critically work through the practice of defining problems; attendees will leave with practical strategies to systemically center inclusive and anti-oppressive within their own local contexts.

Academic librarians and information professionals who want/are supporting digital humanities efforts in their own library/local context, but are lacking equitable and anti-oppressive strategies. This includes library school/iSchool faculty who train librarians. All levels of experience and technical expertise are encouraged to attend. No special software or hardware is required to attend.

Intended length
: 4 hours (morning or afternoon)

Introduction and overview - 30 mins
Empathy and cultural norms - 30 mins
Defining problems - 30 mins
Break - 10 mins
Topic and team selections -15 mins
Ideation session - 60 mins
Break - 10 mins
Share-out - 40 mins
Wrap-up and next steps - 15 minutes


Jennifer Nichols
is an Assistant Librarian and Director of the Catalyst Studios at the University of Arizona Libraries in Tucson, Arizona. She led the growth and development of the iSpace, the first publicly accessible and interdisciplinary makerspace in the Albert B. Weaver Science-Engineering Library. Prior to this role, she was the Digital Scholarship Librarian, and coordinated training and digital scholarship support services for campus and the local community, including the successful annual

UA Women’s Hackathon

and Research Bazaar. Her current research centers around designing for equity and inclusion in digital spaces, library services, and makerspaces. She has presented workshops and papers about makerspaces and digital scholarship practices at the Southwest Popular and American Culture Association, the American Library Association Annual Conference, the Association for College and Research Libraries Conference, the Digital Library Federation Forum, and the Coalition for Networked Information.

Niamh Wallace
is a social sciences research and instruction librarian at the University of Arizona Libraries. She has published and presented on affordable course content initiatives, the changing research needs of students and faculty, and library support for digital scholarship in the social sciences and humanities.

The problems this workshop address include the following:

Academic librarianship has predominantly been a white space or domain, and DH is no different. How then do we negotiate supporting equitable, safe, and supportive DH initiatives and academic librarianship when both domains are fraught with complex systems complicated by historically oppressive structures? How do we ensure that we do not pass on ideologically problematic approaches to knowledge acquisition and meaning making?
Academic librarians’ roles are growing increasingly complex. In addition to providing traditional reference services and research consultations, academic librarians are tasked with supporting/building out highly complex, computational, DH projects. Librarians often enter these positions without formal training, and typically must obtain these skills on the job or during their personal time.
Academic libraries have been increasingly adding digital humanities/digital scholarship support over the past decade, with a sharp increase in the last five years. The definition of Digital Scholarship Librarian varies widely, and there is yet to be a shared understanding of what the portfolio of a Digital Scholarship librarian should look like. Is it to train humanist scholars to be more technically proficient? Is it to build their projects for them? Is it to simply show them what is possible? Or merely host and preserve their projects?
MLS curricula across the United States does not adequately reflect the changing landscape of academic libraries where DH support/services are increasingly located. It is a ‘pipeline issue’ that further perpetuates and exacerbates the already existing burdens on librarians to develop more skills ‘on the job’.

Responding to Hutner and Mahamed’s call for a New Deal in their book
A New Deal for the Humanities,
and specifically Nowviskie’s chapter
Graduate Training for a Digital and Public Humanities
, we propose what academic libraries can do, not just to augment the potential for the already-enrolled, participating graduate students in Humanities, but for the pipeline that feeds it. As she, and others argue, the pipeline problems are very much our problem too, and by concentrating on training and supporting undergraduates in cross-disciplinary ways, we not only build computational literacy for humanists, but simultaneously build greater potential for more future graduate students.

This workshop will use tools created to cultivate anti-oppressive, equity-centered learning environments, including the tools and resources listed below:  

Equity-Centered Community Design

Equity Design Collaborative

Liberatory design toolkit

Equity-Centered Design Thinking


Hutner, G., and Mohamed, F
. (2015)
A New Deal for the Humanities: Liberal Arts and the Future of Public Higher Education
. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP

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