Last fall, there was a RFP for librarians, technologists, and faculty to create learning communities centered around the digital humanities. My team at Hampshire jumped on this immediately and began tracking down like-minded faculty who might be interested in joining our proposal. We had a number of meetings to develop themes, talk about methods, the future, collaboration within campuses and across the Pioneer Valley. They were fun meetings and we emerged with a successful proposal, entitled ‘Reading, Writing, Looking: New Ways of Knowing in the Digital Humanities.’
We received word that Five Colleges accepted our proposal in January. Our program is in three parts-Reading, Writing, Looking-and we developed programming around each of themes to support our Five College learning community in the digital humanities. Earlier this month, Hampshire College hosted the first event around Reading over lunch.
We were lucky enough to bring Barbara Rockenbach, director of the History and Humanities Library at Columbia University to talk about reading habits of users which she did brilliantly around a talk called ‘Users Unbound: Reading, Libraries, and the Digital Humanities.’
These days, it’s hard to read the Chronicle of Higher Education or The New York Times without finding an article about distracted reading or students with limited attention spans or commentary about the good old days before technology destroyed continuous reading (and civilization as we know it!). For me, and many others, the trope is tired and not a complete picture of what’s happening with our students or scholars for that matter. As Barbara demonstrated in her talk, new technologies and old scholarly traditions can combine to create innovative new models for scholarship and new models for service for libraries. The takeaways:
Digital reading is just another phase in the long dure of reading and book technology. The same crisis of reading happened when civilization moved from manuscript to codex.
Print isn’t dead. According to a user survey in the humanities division at Columbia, students don’t consider ebooks a replacement for print, but rather as a means to facilitate distant/discontinuous reading/ topic modeling to ask new questions in the aggregate. To wit, students want both print AND electronic resources to do humanities work.
Digital Humanities is a new service model for libraries, a great opportunity to facilitate digital scholarship by providing the resources (print & electronic content, special collections) and tools (scanners, software, screens, new types of instruction, and project management support) for our users to participate in digital scholarship.
Copyright fear shouldn’t stand in the way of empowering users to consume content in new ways. No need to be conservative about how much of a book we allow users to scan. The consensus among academic librarians is that nonconsumptive use is fair use. If you haven’t already, check out the librarians’ code immediately. To push further, Rockenbach calls on us to negotiate with vendors and publishers to create a more favorable climate for book scanning and digitization. Finally, she advocates movinge past the age of the monograph into a new age of scholarly communication through open access and institutional repositories: Library as Press & Publisher.
Bring undergraduates into the digital humanities fold through pedagogy. Faculty can engage students through new types of projects, online exhibits, text mining projects, and blogging. Librarians can move past mere information literacy instruction and into teaching with objects and sources to sustain the critical thinking skills necessary to participate in the digital humanities. Collectively, we can build new models for student work that transcend the traditional 10- page research paper to prepare undergraduates to fully participate in the information economy.
It was an energizing event and I for one am excited to get to work on crafting new ways of knowing in the digital humanities in the Five Colleges and beyond. Stay tuned.