In my role as the digital scholarship librarian at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, I often feel as though I am mostly DH adjacent. Basically, if a humanist wants to incorporate some technology into a research project, I am there to help. Whether or not the project needs to be called DH is probably another matter and, mostly, I don’t actually care. While I try not to get hung up on labels, I DO care about what kinds of things people are doing, how they are doing those things, what problems they are having and how libraries can help. So I spend a fair amount of time trying to keep up with the ever-expanding range of DH work and I pay particular attention to how it does/could/should intersect with libraries.
In doing so, I am guided by my commitment to libraries and my profession as a librarian. For me, this implies a certain stance and certain set of values. It means I think access to information is a social justice issue and I want to see people empowered to use information for the common good. Barbra Fister, librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College, wrote a concise and straight-forward post titled Some Assumptions about Libraries for Inside Higher Ed that to which I often return for inspiration.
It’s worth reading the whole post but I want to focus on is her point about not wanting libraries to let “productivity” become the way we define success. This is crucial to reminder as we think about partnering on digital projects. DH is famously interested in building and will occasionally proclaim “less yack, more hack.” Furthermore, libraries often get involved in DH projects specifically for their production capabilities. While I don’t think Fister is suggesting that any of this is wrong, she reminds us that building and hacking are never the whole story. For one thing, hacking is often experimental and playful rather than rigidly productive. Even when we do get down to the business of building, this is only one part of a much larger process that involves developing community, exploratory learning and critical reflection. Facilitating, even encouraging, all of this and giving scholars the physical and mental space to work is how libraries collaborate and it’s what makes us partners and not just customer services providers.