This article is the third in a series about creative spaces in libraries. To read the other articles in the series, please visit the Library Connect article page.
Whether researchers are making use of text mining and analysis to look at works of literature from a new angle or creating an interactive webpage that delves into themes in a particular artist’s work, the new methodologies used in humanities research represent great technological strides. Digital humanities, or DH, is an exciting field that has gotten considerable attention in the academy and on college campuses in recent years, most notably for its methods of secure grant funding. These methods may require deep knowledge of programming, web design, and other technology-rich fields, which require faculty to engage in professional development or seek expert help. Libraries have responded to this need by offering a new type of creative space: the digital humanities lab.
A digital humanities lab is a space that includes technology such as multimedia software and high-powered computers. Some hybrid spaces, such as Georgia State’s CURVE (Collaborative University Research and Visualization Environment) lab, also have visualization screens. Another important aspect of DH labs is the types of meeting and work spaces they can offer to scholars. Duke University even offers lockers where faculty can store research materials. Most DH labs have a strong web presence that showcases the projects that researchers have created. The websites vary from blogs to digital collections (many of them created with Omeka software).
The main users of digital humanities labs are faculty members; however, graduate students and undergraduate students also use DH labs, usually for a dissertation or as when acting as research assistants for faculty researchers. Several DH labs give out mini-grants as a kickstarter for digital humanities projects. External grants are also common, with scholars applying for funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities in the US, or from the European Association for Digital Humanities in Europe.
Services and training are normally offered by specially trained librarians or faculty who are already engaged in DH research. These may take the form of one-on-one consultations, group consultations, or workshops. Graduate students with backgrounds in other fields, such as computer science, are sometimes employed to help fill in the knowledge gaps of full-time lab staff. A survey conducted by the company Gale Cengage and the publication American Libraries (2015) listed the following roles played by libraries in supporting digital humanities:
- Initial project development consultations
- Infrastructure for digital repositories
- Digital project management
- Grant writing / co-sponsoring grant applications
- Outreach and marketing
- High-powered computing
- Helping scholars plan for preservation needs
- Creating avenues for scholarly use and enhancement of metadata
- Working to spur co-investment in digital humanities across institutions
- Advocating coordinated digital humanities support across the institution (Cengage Learning and American Libraries, 2015)
My book, Development of Creative Spaces in Academic Libraries: A Decision Maker’s Guide (2018) from the Chandos Information Professional Series, includes a literature review and case studies that feature some innovators of the digital humanities lab model in the library field. They include Yale University, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Duke University’s Ruppert Commons for Research, Technology and Collaboration (“the Edge”), and the CURVE at Georgia State University. Yale University’s webpage for its DH lab lists faculty projects; visit http://dhlab.yale.edu/projects.html. To see examples of projects at the CURVE, visit http://sites.gsu.edu/curve/.
We are pleased to offer our Library Connect readers an exclusive look at the book by providing a PDF of “Chapter 23: Case Study: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Digital Humanities Lab.”
Webb, K.R. (2018). Development of creative spaces in academic libraries: A decision maker’s guide. London, U.K.: Chandos Information Professional Series.
Cengage Learning & American Libraries Magazine. (2015, December). Digital Humanities: Librarian survey results. https://www.americanlibrariesmagazine.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/digital-humanities-librarian2.pdf