Digital collections and humanities research


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  • The American Memory collections at the Library of Congress, Early English Books Online, ARTStor,Google Books: digital collections are becoming increasingly instrumental in how humanities scholars find and use research resources. For the past couple decades, the focus was on quantity: How much material can a library or museum digitize and post online? (Zick 689) But now we in libraries ask: How can digital collections meet scholars’ research needs? In answer to this question, I’d like to briefly talk about The Bamboo Technology Project and within it, my study of humanities scholars and digital collections.
  • The Bamboo Technology Project, also known as Project Bamboo, is a multi-year Mellon Foundation-funded research initiative to build an e-research platform for humanities scholarship, which for our purposes includes the arts and humanistic social sciences. The Project Bamboo participants are an international consortium of research institutions in the U.S., UK, and Australia and research team members include teaching faculty, librarians, and academic technologists. The project began with a series of workshops/focus groups withscholars on how they conducted humanities research with digital materials (these planning reports are available on the Project Bamboo’s website).
  • And now for the past year and a half, the Phase 1 of Project Bamboohas focused on building tools and shared web services for a humanities e-research environment, such as HUBZero, an e-research platform originally built at Purdue for the sciences and being adapted for humanities e-research. I work on the Collections Interoperability team at the University of Illinois, which focuses on the development of metadata standards and connectors for cross-collection use. But all of the tools developed for Project Bamboo are dependent, of course, on content: What kinds of digital materials will be used with these tools and platforms? The project is starting with Google Books and the Hathi Trust Digital Library, but there are many specialized digital collections that scholars will want to use as well.
  • To determine how digital collections should be prepared to interact with the Bamboo platform, we launched a study this fall to examine these questions: in particular, what do humanities scholars need in the functionalities and features of digital collections in order to use them for humanities research?
  • I am the lead investigator of this study, and I am working with librarians and academic technologists to conduct it at these twelve research universities from the CIC and Bamboo partner institutions.
  • The study components consist of a online survey and forthcoming individual interviews with humanities faculty. The survey is the part of the study that I’ll be discussing today.The survey, which ran from mid-October through the end of December, was distributed to a random one-third of the English and History faculty at the aforementioned research universities and drew 62 responses. In the survey, scholars were asked if and how they used digital collections in their research, and I’d like to highlight just a few of the results from the preliminary data analysis:
  • When respondents were asked what types of digital materials they most frequently used, texts were the top vote-getter, followed by images and maps.
  • When asked how frequently they used digital versus print resources, approximately 37% of respondents said they used print and digital resources in equal amounts, while 29% said that they used digital resources less than half of the time and 20% said more than half of the time. This data suggests that most notably, humanists utilize deeply interconnected and hybrid research practices that must be kept in mind as we develop digital collections.
  • Respondents were then asked to identify the three top features needed for digital collections in each of the following formats: texts, images, and multi-format media (which includes videos, audio files, etc.). For collections of text, the ability to download files and granular search systems were paramount. Some of the respondents’ comments included:“The ability to annotate these texts in private and public environments, where I could keep stuff for myself or share it with others.”“Use of JavaScript or some system that is compatible with software loaded on most research faculty's computers (I have colleagues who often work on out of date computer systems at home)”
  • For collections of images, the most frequently identified functionalities were viewing and zooming tools, high-quality scanned files, and ability to edit and crop images. Some of the respondents’ comments are here and included:“Imaged books must include flyleaves, covers, and marginalia.” “information on permissions and how to request them”
  • And for multi-format media such as video and audio files, the answers were more wide-ranging, but included comments here such as:“ability to embed in other sites (I use my own websites for drafts of work in multi-media)”This also highlights a thematic need that repeatedly emerged in the overall survey data: a desire to take these digital materials and reshape and reconstitute them in visceral ways for research.
  • The respondents were then asked to list functionalities or features that “would induce you to use digital collections more frequently in your research?” This question might have been wrongly phrased, as some respondents gave rather defensive responses such as “I don't need to be induced.” But most respondents gave answers that ranged from the possible to a couple things that are far less likely. The possible ones include these, including one I wanted to highlight:“Ability to create one's own ‘library’ held on the digital database's server space (like Hathi Trust collections allow)”This is possible, but is incredibly dependent on available resources: while the HathiTrust has the server space and infrastructure, many libraries and other smaller institutions may not.
  • But then there were requested features that in the library world, are on the level of Star Trek:“Being able to bookmark particular sequences of streaming video for later replay” Enabling searchability to video is incredibly hard—we’re barely able to adequately catalog them with metadata right now.Themes of personalization, granular searching, access, and high-res digitized files dominated these survey responses, which possibly suggest that digital collections are useable inasmuch as they are adaptable to research needs and technological skills.
  • Now when respondents were asked about the specific uses of digital collections in their own research, these are some of the responses, including:“I frequently need to use Japanese language texts not available in our university library (some not available in the U.S. at all). These materials can be found in digital archives maintained overseas.”As these sample responses indicate, scholars use digital collections as both critical sources and research tools: they mine mass collections of material, verify transcriptions, and access materials that previously would have required a summer travel fellowship.
  • This study is still ongoing with more survey data to be analyzed and a round of forthcoming interviews. But this early data—including this quote here—suggests that humanities scholars are utilizing digital resources in complex ways that mine and manipulate materials in order to weave new webs of intellectual conjecture,.This evolution in scholarly practice lends support to arguments for a humanities cyber-infrastructure and virtual research platforms that has been/will be discussed in this session by Dean and Doug, was a big theme on Thursday at the Future of Higher Ed panel; and has been investigated in research reports by the ALCS and others: Collaborative, networked spaces where humanists can work and interact.
  • As this research continues, I anticipate that we will learn how the scholarly process for humanities scholars is undergoing a complex and multi-faceted transformation that involves a recalibration of skills, a re-evaluation of scholarly perspective, and the emergence of a collaborative consortium between scholars, libraries, and technologists. Thank you for your time!
  • Digital collections and humanities research

    1. 1. Digital Collections andHumanities Research: What DoScholars Want?Harriett GreenEnglish and Digital Humanities LibrarianUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignOf King’s Treasuries, (GIGO) Wiki, (anti-) Google, and theE-Protean Invasion: The Evolving Nature of ScholarlyResearch MLA 2012 RoundtableJanuary 7, 2012
    2. 2. Digital Collections: A Bounty
    3. 3. Partner Institutions:Mission:  Australian National University  Indiana University“How can we  Northwestern University  Tufts Universityadvance arts and  University ofhumanities California, Berkeleyresearch through  University of Chicago  University of Illinois, Urbana-the development of Champaignshared technology  University of Marylandservices?”  University of Oxford  University of Wisconsin, Madison
    4. 4. http://www.projectbamboo.orgSEASR andMeandre HUB Zero Oxford Virtual Research Environment for the Woodchipper Humanities
    5. 5. Scholars and Digital CollectionsStudy Why and how do humanities scholars use digital collections in their research? What do scholars need in the functionalities and features of digital collections in order for them to be useful in humanities research?
    6. 6. Participating Institutions Indiana University  University of Illinois Michigan State at Urbana- University Champaign Northwestern  University of Iowa University  University of Penn State Maryland University  University of University of Minnesota Chicago  University of University of Illinois Nebraska at Lincoln at Chicago  University of Wisconsin–Madison
    7. 7. Study ComponentsSURVEY INTERVIEWS Web-based multiple • Follow-up with choice and text entry volunteers from survey survey respondents Distributed to • Faculty from randomly selected performing arts, art one-third of English history, interdisciplin and History faculty ary humanities members at each centers, or digital institution scholarship centers at each institution
    8. 8. Types of Materials Types of digital materials used in scholarship70605040 Number of responses302010 0 Texts Images Audio Video Maps Other
    9. 9. Frequency of Use Frequency of Digital Materials Use 0 5 18 13 Never (1) Less than half of the time (2) Equally print and digital resources (3) More than half of the time (4) Always (5) 23
    10. 10. Text Collection Preferences ―links to related material or bibliographic resources‖ ―metadata must include rigorous bibliographic information and stated principles, either explicitly derived from existing modern critical editions or stated as unique to this database.‖ ―ease of access to items within collection (not half a dozen mouse clicks to get to it)‖ ―capability to be read on multiple devices (e.g., iThing, laptop, desktop).‖ ―The ability to annotate these texts in private and public environments, where I could keep stuff for myself or share it with others.‖ ―Use of JavaScript or some system that is compatible with software loaded on most research facultys computers (I have colleagues who often work on out of date computer systems at home)‖
    11. 11. Image collection preferences ―Imaged books must include flyleaves, covers, and marginalia.‖ ―Images must cooperate with both Powerpoint and Word.‖ ―Ability to export in multiple formats (i.e. jpegs and higher resolution tifs)‖ ―information on permissions and how to request them‖
    12. 12. Multi-media collectionspreferences ―video ability to moderate sound and size‖ ―ability to embed in other sites (I use my own websites for drafts of work in multi-media)‖ ―ability to export and listen/view in another session‖ ―Annotation tools‖ ―detailed metadata, a time counter for audio and video, downloadable‖
    13. 13. Possible To Do ―exporting files and creating my own text and visual files either for teaching or research purpose‖ ―ability to create ones own "library" held on the digital databases server space (like Hathi Trust collections allow) -- a concern for those of us who dont want to eat up all our hard drive space with PDFs. ―knowing what is available! This is not obvious!‖ ―high resolution (I do a lot of on-line work and my eyes are really degenerating)‖ ―More materials—access to obscure or rare materials.‖ ―Ability to know copyright issues or costs up front.‖
    14. 14. Not There Yet ―Being able to bookmark particular sequences of streaming video for later replay‖ ―pdfs on ALL TEXTS IMMEDIATELY AVAILABLE‖ ―interfaces for new devices (iPad, etc.)‖
    15. 15. How do you use digitalcollections? ―I tend to use magazines, newspapers, novels, and any digital manuscript materials that are too esoteric or too far beyond what I use to teach. . . . I use specific sites to see what might be at a collection that is not available online and may require a visit--like the Southern Historical Collection or the Newberry Library.‖ ―I use databases that offer digital collections of all ancient Greek texts ever written to search for specific words and all the texts these words have ever appeared in. . . . I have used digital collections of images of inscriptions to check whether the text is correct or to amend the text. ―I study the mass media, so I rely on databases of old television and radio recordings.‖ ―I frequently need to use Japanese language texts not available in our university library (some not available in the U.S. at all). These materials can be found in digital archives maintained overseas.‖
    16. 16. The Future? ―If I could create a personalized launch page where I can access my most frequently used journals or other electronic texts or images without having to go through a laborious login process.‖  Humanities cyber-infrastructure ―Enabling anything like seamless access to the cultural record will require developing tools to navigate among vast catalogs of born-digital and digitized materials, as well as the records of physical materials.‖—ACLS, Our Cultural Commonwealth report (2006)
    17. 17. Thank you! Harriett E. GreenEnglish and Digital Humanities Librarian University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign Twitter: @greenharr