CNI fall 2014, Dispatch #1: 12/7 Executive Roundtable on Supporting Digital Humanities

I’m here in Washington, DC for the Coalition for Networked Information‘s 2014 fall membership meeting. CNI meetings are typically attended by heads of libraries and heads of library or campus information technology. I came to participate in yesterday’s Executive Roundtable on Supporting Digital Humanities.

Cliff Lynch, Executive Director of CNI, kicked off the meeting by explaining that this topic elicited so many requests for participation that they created a second Roundtable to accommodate everyone. The discussion topics proposed ahead of time included:

  • Organizational models — institutional units supporting digital humanities and their roles
  • Supporting established projects vs. supporting new projects
  • Providing space, technology infrastructure, hardware and tools, staff expertise, exhibit space (physical and virtual)
  • Providing repository, research data management, and preservation services
  • Supporting digital humanities in teaching and learning
  • Staff skills needed
  • The realities of collaboration between information professionals and digital humanities scholars
  • Digital humanities and e-research in social sciences and sciences – one program or separate programs
  • Assessment strategies
  • Connections with institutional publishing strategies and programs
  • What happens when projects end
  • Funding models
  • Future directions

Cliff framed the discussion by reminding us that, while DH may have started at many institutions through grant funding, we need to think about how to make support for DH sustainable and an option for all scholars at the institution. In particular, he asked why we have such a hard time providing support at scale for digital humanities when we do it well for the sciences.

Since service scalability and sustainability are of particular concern to me and my colleagues, I was looking forward to hearing what others were doing at their institutions. Here is my summary of the discussion that followed.1

Rewards: There was consensus that tenure and review were a challenge for DH. Will untenured faculty risk doing DH work if they may not get tenure for it? How can we create tenure committees that can properly review DH and other cross-disciplinary work?

Funding: Those getting started in DH with grant funding wanted to know what happens once the grant money goes away. In order to develop institutional funding streams, how do you assess and demonstrate the value of this activity? Showing return on investment for the Humanities is not the same as for grant-funded science research? What is the payback?

Humanities Training and Departmental Support: Humanities majors don’t have project-based experiences during their studies (vs. engineers or scientists, who have a lab culture and would never get through their course of study without extensive collaborative project work). Humanities departments rarely have a culture of supporting this kind of work.

Library as Humanities Lab: Some noted that their libraries are well-situated to encourage and support DH on campus, saying that the library is more like a lab for the humanities than it necessarily is for sciences or social sciences. This confirms my own experience at NYU where, in numerous interviews with humanities faculty, they singled out Libraries as a trusted partner for humanities scholarship.

Integration of DH throughout the Library: As library engagement with DH grows, it’s important that it become more integrated within departments and services throughout the library. Library staff need to be more knowledgeable about DH and the services provided; subject liaisons should bring scholars into the center through their liaison work.

Encouraging Cross-Disciplinary Collaboration: How can we encourage computer scientists and others non-humanities scholars to collaborate on DH projects, even though the data isn’t in their discipline? Some are looking for “technology threshold” issues, that hold cross-disciplinary interest. Someone observed that, to be successful at creating cross-disciplinary partnerships, humanists can’t think  “how can I use this technology in my research?” but instead should ask “what are the problems that I want to solve that can’t be solved in any other way but with technology?” These latter are the ones who can inspire excitement among others about their work.

Correlation between Status and Interest in DH: Who is driving support for DH on campus? In some places, it’s the graduate students. What impact does that have on funding? Planning?

As you can probably tell, there were many more questions than answers at this session.

Coincidentally, CNI just released their Digital Scholarship Centers report and web resource. This report is the outcome of an April, 2014 workshop to document the current centers and identify good practice. I haven’t had a chance yet to read the report, but will probably blog about it after I do.

 


  1. Meeting ground rules stipulated that we could talk about the content of the meeting, but that we should not attribute anything to any person or institution without permission. []