Digital humanities and the library: Where do we go from here? C-EBLIP Journal Club, October 6, 2016

by Carolyn Doi
Education and Music Library, University of Saskatchewan

Article: Zhang, Ying, Shu Liu, and Emilee Mathews. 2015. “Convergence of Digital Humanities and Digital Libraries.” Library Management 36 (4): 362-377.

In October, the C-EBLIP Journal Club met to discuss an article focused on the evolving domain of digital humanities and its role with the academic library. The article in question, “Convergence of Digital Humanities and Digital Libraries” was published by Zhang, Liu and Matthews in Library Management, a journal that aims to “provide international perspectives on library management issues… highly recommended for library managers.”1 The article discussed ways that libraries might support scholarship in digital humanities (DH), digging into aspects of content, technology, and services that the library might develop for digital humanities scholars. I was compelled to select an article that addressed this subject, as I recently attended a web broadcast of the “Collections as Data” livestream where DH and librarianship were discussed together several times2, leading me to consider my own background in musicology and librarianship and how they might overlap through a digital humanities lens.

The members of the journal club chose to assess the article in question from a few different angles: context, audience, methodology, and findings, and conclusions. Our discussion of the article was aided by use of the EBL Critical Appraisal Checklist.3 Developed by Lindsay Glynn, this tool is made up of a series of questions that help guide the reader through assessment of the study including: study design, including population, data collection, study design, and results.4 We found that using the checklist allowed us to think critically about each aspect of the study design, to assess the reliability, validity, and usability within our own professional context. A summary of our discussion is presented below.

Context & Audience

During our conversation, we noted that this article is aimed at library managers, or those who may be in an administrative role looking to gain a quick picture of the role of libraries in interacting with digital humanities scholars. It was noted that the link between libraries and digital humanities has already appeared in the literature on many occasions, and that to get a fuller picture of how libraries might approach this collaborative work, reading other critical opinions will be of utmost importance. One may want to consult the list of resources provided by the dh+lib folks, which can be found on their website, to get a sense of some of the core literature.5


The methods section of this article describes how the researchers consulted various evidence sources to identify current challenges and opportunities for collaboration between DH and libraries. In this case, the authors state that they have combined findings from a literature review and virtual and physical site visits to “humanities schools, research centers, and academic libraries.” The databases were shared, though search terms were not. We felt that including this information would be helpful both for assessing the quality of the search and for other researchers hoping to replicate or build on the review. The search resulted in 69 articles, 193 websites, and 2 physical site. While discussing the validity of these evidence sources, we felt that while the literature and online site visits may provide a more representative selection of sources to draw conclusions from, the sample of physical sites was not large enough for sufficiently precise estimates.


Zhang, Ying and Mathews’ findings include both challenges and opportunities for collaboration between DH and digital library communities. Description of how the evidence was weighed or analysed to retrieve these results was not clearly outlined in the paper, and we felt that including such information would assist the reader to evaluate the usefulness and reliability of the findings. A summary of these findings is provided in the accompanying chart.

Challenges Opportunities
• “DH is not necessarily accepted as qualifying scholarship… novel methodologies and the theoretical assumptions behind their work have been questioned by their peers from traditional humanities schools of thought.” • Creating “knowledge through new methods”
• “The DH community has unbalanced geographical and disciplinary distributions… Related DH collections are not yet integrated. These digital collections are distributed in different schools, academic units, museums, archives, and libraries. Few efforts have been made to link related resources together.” • Working “across disciplines [that] are highly collaborative”
• “The technologies used in DH create barriers for new scholars to learn and for projects to be sustainable” • Producing a “unit of currency…[that] is not necessarily an article or a book, but rather, a project…usually published using an open web platform, allowing users to dynamically interact with underlying data,”
• Establishing “major scholarly communication, professionalization, and educational channels”


In the conclusion of the article, Zhang, Ying and Mathers present a positive perspective on the opportunities for collaboration between the DH and library community: “To make collaborative work more successful, we, LIS professionals, need to challenge ourselves to continuously grow new skill sets on top of existing expertise and becoming hybrid professionals. The DL community should strive to make ourselves more visible, valuable, and approachable to the DH community. Even better, the DL community need to become part of the DH community.”

On this point, the journal club’s conversation focussed on the capacity of libraries to take on these new collaborations, and whether we are necessarily prepared for such projects. These thoughts are echoed by Posner, who writes in her article, “No Half Measures: Overcoming Common Challenges to Doing Digital Humanities in the Library” that “DH is possible in a library setting…but that DH is not, and cannot be, business as usual for a library. To succeed at digital humanities, a library must do a great deal more than add ‘digital scholarship’ to an individual librarian’s long string of subject specialties.”6

The domain of DH is compelling and creative: it incorporates new methods, produces innovative means of dissemination, and combines diverse perspectives on research. Libraries are well positioned to contribute to this domain, though exactly how this should or can happen is not found in a one-size-fits-all answer. Zhang, Ying and Mathers present some good points that may serve to begin a conversation on how libraries and DH folks might work together. Further research on each of these points is up for further investigation for the librarian or administrator aiming to implement these strategies in their own institution.

1“Library Management.”

2Library of Congress. “Collections as Data: Stewardship and Use Models to Enhance Access” September 27, 2016. Accessed November 4, 2016:

3EBL Critical Appraisal Checklist.

4Glynn, Lindsay. “A critical appraisal tool for library and information research”, Library Hi Tech 24, no. 3 (2006): 387 – 399.

5“Readings” dh+lib. Website. Accessed November 4, 2016.

6Posner, Miriam. “No Half Measures: Overcoming Common Challenges to Doing Digital Humanities in the Library.” Journal of Library Administration 53, (2013): 43-52.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

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