The Charleston Conference 2016

At the Charleston Conference I tend to seek out sessions that focus on liaison- or user-related issues, but a dominating topic of recent years–user preference for print or electronic books—seems to be moving out of the spotlight, and so I was able to turn to presentations dealing with collections and scholarship in the humanities, primarily “digitally inflected.”

Eric Meyer, professor of Social Informatics at the Oxford Internet Institute of the University of Oxford, addressed the challenge of demonstrating the impacts of digital collections, humanities research databases, and digital primary materials on teaching and research in his session, “Quantifying the Impacts of Investment in Humanities Archives.” Usage data focused on Early English Books Online (EEBO), the House of Commons Parliamentary Papers (HCPP), and The New York Times, and was augmented by qualitative data garnered from interviews with individuals and focus groups across a spectrum of disciplines. The study found multiple but increasing uses even as those contexts changed: EEBO is used heavily in research, HCPP both in teaching and research, and New York Times use is spread out in all types of journals, more than is the case with EEBO or HCPP. Researchers rely heavily on specific digital collections that they return to regularly, and specific database collections rank more highly for their work than Google, general databases, or library catalogs. Resource use in the humanities, he emphasized, is “extremely diverse,” so providing access is challenging, particularly as scholars tend to feel passionately about their particular resources. But digital collections in the humanities is fundamental to modern scholarship.

“Making Visible Changing Scholarship in the Humanities,” presented by Anthony Watkinson of CIBER Research, Susan Doerr of the University of Minnesota Press, and Rebecca Welzenbach of Michigan Publishing, offered an interesting session on new ways in which presses and libraries are experimenting with changing “containers” (a familiar term thanks to the recent MLA 8th edition) as they strive to meet the needs of Digital Humanities  scholars. Welzenbach described how Michigan Publishing is working to promote long forms of Open Access digital scholarship at Lever Press, with an articulated editorial program that emphasizes the importance of retaining peer review rigor and transparency, so scholars can know that a digital project is reputable. She also described a publishing platform funded by Mellon, Fulcrum, as an emerging home for new forms of digital scholarship; it is graced with the essential virtues of durability, flexibility, and discoverability. Doerr discussed another Mellon-funded project at the University of Minnesota Press that will display the various stages of book creation in an “iterative, networked publishing platform,” called Manifold. Here, by re-thinking author processes, a work can be published in pieces (a chapter at a time), thanks to flexibility in adding components from time to time. The platform is also collaborative, permitting interaction between scholarly communities and the scholarly work; by registering with a project, readers can follow its progress, with updates alerting them to new content, and social media permitting annotation and commentary. In addition, rich archives of digital materials can be incorporated as well, such as media, field notes, documents, etc. As the work being produced by digital humanities scholarship moves beyond the confines of the printed page, the broader challenge still lies in acknowledging the legitimacy of non-traditional outputs.

“How to Play a More Active Role in Digital Humanities Research,” presented by Angela Courtney of Indiana University, Caroline Muglia at the University of Southern California, and Harriett Green from the University of Illinois, addressed challenges inherent in supporting coursework, scholarly research and publishing that increasingly utilize DH tools. The panelists responded to a series of questions revolving around such issues as how institutions are organized to incorporate DH, variously described as ”decentralized” with a network of centers and institutions (UIUC), or as characterized by “silos” on the Indiana campus. Another discussion point turned to what publishers can do or not do to enable researchers to access data, hosting archives and collections in such a way that access will not be revoked as a project evolves. The final segment addressed the outlook for DH, with UIUC reporting that DH is now largely project-based, and probably will continue to be so for some time; USC is anticipating a situation that will incorporate larger structural models that are more sustainable; and Indiana has a recent hire, a Professor of Practice in the History Department,  who will work both with DH and Collections Services, and they anticipate that they will see more of that. A general expectation is that DH will be shoehorned into faculty job descriptions, and as another librarian put it, one will no longer single out “doing DH work,” but DH will eventually simply become part of one’s work.