Awhile back, a number of librarians met at Penn to talk about DH – the general idea was to push forward the discussion about service design for a somewhat volatile and emerging situation. Service design presents lots of questions:
- How can we present a non-fragmented service interface to our constituents?
- How can we determine what levels of support we should be offering to a widely diverse field of scholarship using a lot of unique-to-one-project workflows and technologies? Which folks in the library should be involved in providing services and what should they do?
- How do we build skills?
In order to think about this collectively – in small breakout groups – the idea was to have each group come up with a shared “mental model” of DH scholarship as a way into the conversation about service design.
The picture included here was the one my group came up with. I’ll give my own remarks about it and let them chime in if they want! Let me first explain the layers themselves, and then how we thought about the players who would be prominent in each of the layers.
Research Methods Layer – this is the top layer, where scholars are grounded in research theory and thinking about research methods. So, I’m not a humanities scholar at all, but let me try to give an example. A theoretical approach might involve looking at the formal structures shared among a group of texts in order to explore connections among writers. This layer is where the thinking goes on about rigorous ways to develop data that would inform this kind of comparison, or even if this kind of comparison is worthy to begin with. And along with research, there’s also teaching about DH – so this would be the layer in which student assignments would be designed.
Tools and Resources Layer – this is the layer where both the established tools are made available and supported, as well as any kind of sandbox that allows users to play at their own risk. In this layer are the labs, workshops, tutorials and so on. It’s the layer where the implementation happens, where the right tools and workflows get matched up with the project at hand. In this layer, the user gets a lot of consultation and support, but is probably going to complete the work themselves.
Bigger Projects Layer – this is the layer where the researcher is dreaming big. The project will clearly involve developing infrastructure or new services or building completely new capacity in the organization. While these kinds of envelope-pushing projects often arrive unannounced, the organization may choose to embrace and support them because we anticipate more like this down the road and we want to use the current project to build capacity. So these are both reactive and anticipatory. And these can be all sorts of things — a major research project, a publishing kind of project, or a teaching project that will involve student work.
You can see from the picture where we tended to see the library players. Liaisons – experts in the subject domain – would play mostly at the top level, at least in the immediate future. Their role would be to understand research theory and methods, and to know how to evaluate what the researcher/teacher is proposing vis a vis library resources, tools, possible implementations. We called that role “project analyst.” Because of their expertise in knowing what would be possible, they could play a role in developing grant proposals. We also saw offering internal grants as a way to help researchers and librarians better learn how to articulate and predict the kinds of support and resources that would be needed. And finally, liaisons would need to be excellent networkers both on their own campus as well as between campuses – the antennae for helping the library to anticipate what might emerge. One strong advantage to seeing liaisons in this role is that the “back end” of the services provided can change as often as needed, without creating a lot of chaos from the researcher’s point of view.
We thought that the players in the tools and resources layer would be DH specialists, IT and ed tech specialists. Their expertise overlaps with the librarian liaisons of course, but they have deep expertise in implementation of research projects, and the design of everything from workflows to databases.
In the heavy duty project layer, we saw libraries putting together either a project intake center or having to put together teams on a case-by-case basis. In any event, because of their heavy cost on resources, libraries would select these projects carefully for strategic reasons and would limit the number undertaken simultaneously.
For me, this event was a great exercise to think about service design. Interesting alternative approaches were offered by other groups – for example, a bottom up approach looked at what skills you might already have in the organization and is there a service design emerging from that. And of course, there is the project at Columbia, where they are building skills, understanding, capacity by immersing themselves in projects:
Breaking the Code: The Developing Librarian Project:
One of the participants offered these two reports as interesting reading for librarians thinking in this problem space—thank you Nicholas Fogle!
The first is the January 2013 special issue of the Journal of Library Administration about DH in libraries: http://www.tandfonline.com/
The second is a series of responses to that issue, posted on the ACRL dh+lib blog:http://acrl.ala.org/dh/
Research & Instruction, Van Pelt Library
University of Pennsylvania
- libraries / archives
- cultural institutions
- digital media innovators
As individuals, we each boast different digital media competencies and interests and are united by an irrational exuberance of the willing–willing to learn, to teach, to collaborate, to create, to pitch-in.
As a group, we represent a friendly peer network of novices and experts alike, dedicated (for now) to the exploration of new ideas, tools, and best practices in the world of digital humanities via forums, workshops, meetups, happy hours and whatever else suits our fancy.
We encourage you to peruse the notes from the first organizing meeting.
If you’re interested in helping with any of the work cells*, you should join the new Google Group for PhillyDH Organizers. If not — yet! — just keep your eyes peeled for announcements of programming/events in the new year.
(*Larry offhandedly proposed the term “cell” instead of “committee.” Much better.)