Monthly Archives: June 2018

Libraries as the Third Wheel? Integrating Digital Humanities and Libraries (a data science perspective)

Last week I had the honour to be invited by Michiel Cock, Esther ten Dolle and Steven Claeyssens as a panel member to their very timely round table discussion at DHBenelux 2018 about “Integrating libraries and Digital Humanities “. My fellow panelist were Hilde De Weerdt, Max Kemman, and Sally Chambers. Each of us was asked to prepare a short statement to reflect on the libraries role in the Digital Humanities.

There is definitely a lot to say about the libraries role in the Digital Humanities as the full room and the heated discussion that was fueled by controversial statements made up by the organizers of the Round Table for the audience to vote on via Kahoot (what a great idea, note to myself!) showed. While there was a tendency to assign to libraries an omnipresent role (because there were many librarians in the room?) there was also the perspective, drawn from Max Kemman’s research, that libraries are more like a third wheel in the Digital Humanities (Note: Max left the room alive!).

We all agreed that more research should be published Open Access. This is definitely an area where libraries a destined to play an important role! While, like so often, I am convinced that the answer is somewhere in the middle and libraries are not the Third wheel, but a partner of the Digital Humanities, I would like to share my 3 min. statement that I was asked to prepare on “support for DH: the library as a center for expertise on data science”? Once the organizers share their wrap up of the discussion, I will share the link too.


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My statement “support for DH: the library as a center for expertise on data science?”

Preamble: What is Data Science? There are many definitions, I go along with:

“Data science exists on a spectrum and can span work that requires deep statistical and software engineering skills, to work focusing on advocacy, policy development, data management planning, and evidence-based decision making.” (Matt Burton, Liz Lyon, Chris Erdmann, Bonnie Tijerina, Shifting to Data Savvy: The Future of Data Science In Libraries, 2018, p. 6)

Data Science is undeniably at the heart of the Digital Humanities. So, what is the library’s role related to DH and Data Science? In my opinion the DH and libraries are destined to be “partners in crime” related to Data Science. I see this as a continuation of the traditional role of libraries adapted to the requirements of the digital transformation. Libraries can (and often are already) playing a role in DH as centres for Data Science along the phases of the research (data) lifecycle. They:

  • provide data fit for computational use of cultural heritage collections (collections as data paradigm) that are open: technical aspects and paradigm change
  • provide tools and infrastructure
  • support for Research Data Management (Planning)
  • are involved in Data Science education (courses, trainings, and training materials for researchers, involvement in teaching curriculum) > standards
  • consult on principles, methods, and tools

To sum up: libraries and librarians role related to Data Science lays:

  1. in the area of initial consultancy about concepts, methods and tools
  2. in providing skills, know how and tools/infrastructure to support researchers

These forms of support can be institutionalised as data librarians, collaboration on projects, or libraries can be facilitators or partners of Digital Humanities centres.

However, there are some clouds on this clear blue sky which I would like to address …

  • There are changes/adjustments necessary on the side of the library : we have to pay attention to the skills and knowledge that librarians need to fulfil THEIR role in the DH: Coming from an institution that educates future librarians, first of all I think here of the integration of new topics and skills into education curricula of librarians (bachelor and master degree level) as well as continued DH and data science training for librarians (e.g. Trainings to embrace Open principles, technical upskilling) (last but not least, give them time for education and provide suitable opportunities!)
  • Closely related to this topic is the need for a closer integration of libraries into the DH, round tables like this are a clear sign that this is changing.
  • Last but not least, I would like to stress that the library is not alone in this task (and doesn’t have to do it all!): Seek and act in collaboration with Computing Centres etc. and bundle the available data science competencies at the library and beyond in some kind of virtual DH centre and “advertise/communicate” them to the scholarly community, this is often already a great improvement!

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