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.

Oh, the Digital Humanities! C-EBLIP Journal Club, November 13, 2014

by Shannon Lucky
Library Systems & Information Technology, University of Saskatchewan

The most recent meeting of the C-EBLIP Journal Club was my chance to select an article and lead our discussion. I was intrigued by our previous conversations about strategic publishing choices, open access journals, the perception of different publishing outlets in our field, and alternatives to traditional scholarly publications (like blogs!) and wanted to keep that discussion going. An announcement about the recent digital humanities project The Exceptional and the Everyday: 144 hours in Kiev landed in my inbox and I thought it could ignite a great conversation about alternative research communication options – but it is decidedly not a traditional journal article. Although this goes against the basic organizing principle of a journal club, Virginia encouraged me to take some liberties with the definition of an article and it led to a lively discussion that ranged from the audience(s) for research, to selfies, to peer review and anxiety about wanting to experiment with your research, but also wanting to get tenure.

The Exceptional and the Everyday: 144 hours in Kiev comes from Lev Manovich’s Software Studies Initiative and uses “computational and data visualization techniques [to] explore 13,208 Instagram images shared by 6,165 people in the central area of Kyiv during 2014 Ukrainian revolution (February 17 – February 22, 2014).” I will state my bias up front – I love this kind of stuff. This is a very “DH” (digital humanities) project – I wondered how researchers from other disciplines (like libraries) would feel about putting their resources into creating a website where they release everything (findings, data, and research tools) rather than focusing on getting that highly regarded publication accepted first.

A recent theme that has been running through our meetings is standards for promotion and tenure at our institution and how the collegium values research work and output. There are so many different ways we all engage with research and share the things we learn, but the gold standard remains the traditional peer reviewed, high-impact journals. We had previously talked about the tension between publishing in the most appropriate or interesting place vs. traditional, highly regarded library journals. I wanted to talk about how a project like this breaks the expectation of how research is communicated and if this format is effective, persuasive, authoritative, or just a gimmick.

This publishing format is certainly out of the ordinary but one of the biggest benefits was the ability to get information out FAST. The event this project studied happened less than eight months before the day I got that announcement in my inbox. That kind of production time is basically unheard of in traditional publishing, even for electronic journals. The downside is there is no time for peer review. Post publication peer review was mentioned as an option to keep the timely nature of the publishing cycle while maintaining the important value of peer review. I am very curious what that would look like for this project and how that peer review would be communicated to readers.

Perhaps my favourite comment from our discussions was “This made me feel like the oldest fogey ever”. While a hysterical comment coming from a room full of people who love new research, it nicely described the feeling several of us had trying to read this project like a journal article. As we picked our way through the site we acknowledged that most of the information we look for in an article was there (except an abstract!), but not having it in the familiar linear format was disorienting. The project checks all of the boxes in term of citing sources and uses research methods we recognize, but nothing is where you would expect it to be. It is both easy to browse and difficult to skim for information. We need to develop new literacies to become more comfortable with this format or at least check our assumptions that the best way to communicate research findings is the way we do it now.

Although the project proved complicated to read in the same way we understand journal articles, this format does have major benefits. This kind of project allows you to publish everything – multiple articles or essays, your dataset(s), huge full-colour graphics, interactive visualizations, the digital tools you used to do the research, and you can update all of this stuff on the fly with no extra cost. This is only good if all of that information is useful (or at least beautiful to look at) but it does give the opportunity to understand the methodology and process better by revealing multiple aspects of the research, particularly if the research subject exists online.

All of this analysis and comparison to traditional academic publishing kept coming back to the question of who the audience is. Who is this research for? We didn’t come to a consensus on this question. We did wonder what the altmetrics for something like this would look like and what the benefits are in pursuing this publication model. The project didn’t show up in Google Scholar at all, but it did have over 800 hits from a regular Google search (many from social media). In the end we posed the question: What is more valuable for your research, having a paper peer reviewed and read by your academic peers or seen by thousands of people outside your field and likely outside academia? I can’t imagine building an academic career based on web projects (without peer review) at the moment, but who can tell the future? Things are changing all of the time. Besides, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some peer reviewed articles about 144 Hours in Kiev pop up in Google Scholar in 2015.

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.