Re-Skilling for Research

I am interested in discussing the notion of “re-skilling” or training librarians, most of whom have spent their careers as subject liaisons, with the specific knowledge and skills necessary to support digital scholarship. Two recent studies in particular have highlighted the gaps in librarian skills in relation to new research needs: the Research Libraries UK report “Re-Skilling for Research” and the Ithaka S+R History study (“Support Services for Scholars: History Project Interim Report”). Both studies cite the need for librarians to better understand data management and the tools and methods being used by researchers.

The turn to digital in humanities scholarship has been significant. Yet, this change in research behavior has not been accompanied by a major change in the profession of librarianship. While many reference desks are now virtual rather than physical, more research materials are purchased through automated approval plans, and the majority of materials acquired are digital, the fundamental service model of librarianship has not changed. Librarians are still being trained to assist scholars in their research process by purchasing materials, helping with discovery of those materials, and preserving the materials for future generations of scholars.

The staff of digital humanities centers or labs sited in libraries are most often comprised of humanities scholars, Web developers, and programmers. Librarians are sometimes included on staff, but more frequently they serve as consultants on specific projects rather than as full-time members of the center. I would like to explore the idea of a service model for DH with librarians at the center rather than at the margins, envisioning librarians as full collaborators in the scholarly process.

Categories: General, Session Proposals |

About brockenbach

I am the director of the Humanities and History libraries at Columbia. I have been a humanities/art librarian for the past twelve years, previously at Yale and at JSTOR. I am interested in the intersection of technology, content and pedagogy and the digital humanities. I have an MA in Art History, MLS, and a BA in English. My research interests are information ethics, innovative uses of pedagogy in libraries, and digital humanities. I am currently guest editing an issue of the Journal of Library Administration on dh as a change agent for libraries.

7 Responses to Re-Skilling for Research

  1. Jennifer Vinopal says:

    YES! Let’s talk about this!!

  2. Related to this, I was hoping to talk about some good basic strategies for bringing subject librarians along in DH support. I would love to hear about some ideas for getting them involved in DH in a non-overwhelming way.

  3. Sara Schmidt says:

    I really like this topic.

  4. Trevor Munoz says:

    Great session proposal—looking forward to talking about this. At Maryland, a big part of the collaboration between the Libraries and MITH (the DH center here) is focused around preparing and supporting librarians in originating, advocating for, and leading DH research. There’s a basic description of our “DH Incubator” on the MITH website:

  5. Looking forward to this session too, and I’m particularly interested in learning more about Trevor’s Incubator program at Maryland.

  6. Heck yeah. In response to a recent mandate from adminitrators to re-org library technology groups in the IU Libraries (still ongoing), I drafted the following in response to the proposed changes from administrators:

    If it is indeed the goal of the IU Libraries to make the “digital” pervasive, it behooves us all as information professionals to look closely not just at the units in which IT-related work is conducted, but all units across the IU Libraries, from catalogers to subject librarians. If we sincerely want to embark on transforming our role in the academy, it’s time for a sweeping cultural change, not just an organizational change.

    We are not alone in this sentiment, and we have begun to see initiatives and trends happening at peer academic libraries like University of Virginia and University of Maryland, College Park with impressive collections, strong digital infrastructure, and renown digital humanities research conducted in partnership with the library: IATH at UVa and MITH at Maryland. At UVa, library staff follows the 80/20 research model, where librarians, technologists and other library professionals are able to dedicate 20% of their time pursuing their own research and creative interests. As in the case of UVa some of these endeavors become important software solutions like Blacklight. Bethany Nowviskie’s celebrated blog post, “a skunk in the library,” illustrates the importance of keeping library professionals engaged and skill sets current – in ways that are meaningful and in the spirit of recognizing librarians, technologists and archivists as the researchers and equal collaborators that we are. The 20% would allow us to experiment, innovate, and simply grow professionally regardless of the end result, but we suspect in most cases the end result would form the basis of supporting services moving forward. Bethany discusses this approach to professional development in the context of the Scholar’s Lab, but this approach is being more widely adopted across the UVa Library.

    At Maryland, Trevor Muñoz highlights a new albeit experimental initiative undertaken in partnership between the library and MITH, in which librarians are recognized as digital humanists in their own right in his post “Digital humanities in the library isn’t service.” The initiative is known as the Digital Humanities Incubator, and is very much inspired by Bethany Nowviskie’s “skunk in the library” blog post and the UVa Scholar’s Lab Praxis Program . The Incubator provides a collaborative space with technical resources and training opportunities that will allow for librarians to realize their own digital research projects without necessarily having to attain approval or partner with teaching faculty. Instead they are afforded some percentage of time, along with dedicated resources, to pursue this endeavor.

    At the recent HathiTrust Research Center Uncamp, we learned that other academic libraries are transforming their librarians and professional staff in relevant ways. Columbia University under Alex Gil’s direction is in the process on defining a two-year, hands-on training program modeled after the Praxis Program to prepare subject librarians to take the front lines in their digital humanities efforts. We learned of other academic libraries in the process of embracing this shift – University of Minnesota, Johns Hopkins and others. We are not alone in reconceiving our reference services or our digital library/humanities initiatives. Nor should we do so in a half-hearted manner or without consulting other groups who have led the way.

    In truly embracing a radical shift in how we do our work and how we value research and creative output by librarians and library professionals, we not only do we keep growing and learning, but we also make the Indiana University Libraries a coveted place for prospective employees and cross-campus partnerships.

    So yeah, this is on my mind.

  7. Pingback: Let’s dump out all the crayons and make a mess or How long would it take to get at all the cool digital stuff our libraries have? | THATCamp Digital Humanities and Libraries 2012

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