Digital Humanities + Librarians

For tonight's LBSC 751 I read Matt Kirschenbaum's "What is Digital Humanities and What's It Doing in English Departments?" and two blog posts about the place of Digital Humanities in the (Academic) Library by Miriam Posner and Trevor Muñoz. This is the second or third time I've been assigned the article by Kirschenbaum but the first time I've gotten around to reading all of it (read it first this time). The article was a pretty straightforward history and definition of Digital Humanities prior to a quick overview of the benefits of Digital Humanities for university English departments.

I found the two blog posts and their accompanying comments incredibly engrossing. Posner's blog eliciting feedback on the challenges of doing Digital Humanities in libraries for an upcoming article listed several difficulties and I had issues with most of them. So I'll just go down the list addressing each:

Insufficient Training Opportunities
If you are interested in doing DH, then attend a conference or take an introductory computer programing course (in any language, the basic structure will probably be transferable). If these options are too expensive (and your boss isn't willing to pay for your professional development - boohoo) start reading everything you can find in print or on the web about DH or play around on DH sites to figure out what is being done. Just start somewhere and once you do a path forward will become clear.
Lack of Support for Librarian-Conceived Initiatives
Actually the argument was more that DH doesn't meet a need of library users. Which I entirely disagree with. DH projects should create resources that increase the usability and usage of special collection materials. If a librarian can't explain why a DH project would be beneficial to a larger academic audience then that individual needs to work on their presentation skills or maybe their project really doesn't have any value.
Too Many Tasks, Too Little Time
Possibly a lamer excuse than insufficient training opportunities. You make time for what's important to you and if you can't do it all by yourself then ask for help.
Lack of Authority to Marshall Appropriate Resources
If a faculty member asks a librarian to help them with a DH project then the faculty member should be the one assembling the team. Additionally, why isn't the project being proposed to a DH center, you know the experts at DH scholarship? If a faculty member is trying to create a DH project without the expertise of a DH center, then they should probably be drawing from the best available individuals at their university, you know the other faculty that are paid to do research, rather than relying solely on library staff.
Lack of Incentive
Everyone who participates in a DH project should get credit commensurate with their participation. If that isn't made clear up front, then don't participate! Also, as a member of an academic library doing research should be looked on favorably. Even if the librarian involved isn't "faculty status", research in that setting should be seen as beneficial to the library and the college / university. If it's not then your institution has big problems.
The Complexity of Collaborating w/ Faculty
Posner states here that faculty are likely to treat librarians involved in DH projects as assistants rather than full partners. So I have to go back to my ...appropriate resources response. A librarian shouldn't agree to be a member of a DH project that they will not be treated as an equal in. And if the faculty member is assembling a team of experts to undertake DH scholarship then the team should work out acceptable responses when individuals are not keeping up their part of the effort.

A comment by Jenn Riley spoke about how at her library subject specialists are deciding if they should complete full lit reviews for faulty members. The fact that this was up for discussion in an academic library totally riled me up. NO! Faculty are paid to be professional researchers they should be doing their own lit reviews! And they have grad students and undergraduate students who can do it for them if they are so lazy. (Sorry I had to take a momentary time out.)

I honestly did not understand this reason. If a librarian wanted to write a book would they need the permission of all the people Posner mentions? Are those people's permissions only necessary because it's a DH project? - I don't get it.
Lack of Real Institutional Commitment
I agreed with this reason. But still feel like its based on a flawed premise of the library providing all the resources for a faculty member's DH project. If it's a faculty member's project then they need to find the resources. If the library wants to do DH then they need to be all in. But that is a decision that the dean of the libraries and the university president will be making, not the individual librarians.
Overall, I found most of Posner's excuses for not doing DH projects as a librarian very whiny. If an individual wants to be involved in DH, they should figure out what they have to contribute to DH and then find a project/center to work with. If a faculty member wants to do a DH project then they should find the appropriate individuals and resources to get the project done (a librarian could be an excellent resource but only if that librarian has an interest in, or job responsibility including, DH projects). If a library wants more of their librarians participating in DH projects then they should probably allocate the resources necessary to make that happen.

I preferred Muñoz Blog as he seemed to take as much offense at the way Posner expects librarians in DH to be treated as I did. Both of our reactions probably come from experiences at UMD which, given MITH's status in the libraries, might sway our response. I also appreciated the links to new DH & Librarianship blogs. After defending librarians as full partners in DH, Muñoz went into detail about how University Libraries at Maryland is trying to train staff in DH through a series of workshops (which I am looking forward to participating in as well as DHWI 2013).

Muñoz was kind enough to come to our class tonight to discuss DH and the statements he made in his blog post. Listening to students ask questions and the answers Muñoz provided I found myself having difficulty with his position this time. In the beginning Muñoz came across as another academic only interested in research when it comes to DH projects (more ivory tower navel gazing :/). What I've read and listened to from some professional DHers frequently ends up making me feel like I don't really belong in DH. As I listened tonight I felt more and more that I believe DH is a service. As I was processing this, the following questions started to take form:

  • If DH is not a service, then how is it relevant?
  • Is DH supposed to be useful to anyone other than the creators/researchers?
  • If DH is only useful to it's creators, then how can we justify the expenditure of public funding for it?
  • Which led me to the following question:
  • Who is humanities research for? Who benefits?
  • This is the real question and something that DH seems to be trying to answer with: it's the general public.
Fortunately before I could finish working through all this another student brought up the role of the 'user.' Muñoz agreed that the resulting DH website / application is a service for the user. The instructor added that there is a segment of DHers steadily focused on the users. Suddenly, I felt like I might really fit with DHers somewhere. I believe that DH is a service to the user. I want to be involved in DH projects that will improve teaching and learning.

Have a great day and keep smiling! :)

Kirschenbaum, Matt. (2010). What Is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments? ADE Bulletin, 150. Retrieved from

T Muñoz. (2012, August 19). Digital humanities in the library isn't a service [Web log comment]. Retrieved from

M Posner. (2012, August 10). What are some challenges to doing DH in the library? [Web log comment]. Retrieved from